If Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez can stay healthy, tight end will continue to be a position of strength for the Patriots.
Overview: Injuries to Gronkowski (a twice-broken forearm) and Hernandez prevented the duo from repeating their 2011 season, but long-term extensions given to each prior to the season reaffirmed that they will be a focal point for many years to come, assuming good health. Gronkowski is the most dominant tight end in football, with overwhelming physical traits that render him virtually uncoverable. When he was on the field, he was Brady’s best weapon, but the forearm injuries cost him six full games. Hernandez is an X factor on offense, with unique versatility and athleticism for the position. A Week 2 ankle injury lingered for much of the season, but he had a strong performance in the playoff. This duo gives the Patriots building blocks for many more seasons, but 2012 illustrated just how key their health, as well as depth behind them, truly is. Hoomanawanui proved to be a solid pickup off the Redskins’ practice squad, leapfrogging Fells on the depth chart. Fells did not become a regular part of the rotation, something that was expected based on the contract he signed before the season.
2013 Personnel Preview: Gronkowski and Hernandez are locked up for years to come, and Hoomanawanui is a restricted free agent. Given Fells' 2012 season and his contract, he was colleague Mike Rodak’s pick as most likely player to be released. One under-the-radar name to keep in mind is Jake Ballard, who spent the 2012 season rehabbing from major knee injuries. He can help as a blocker and receiver.