The Patriots’ Tight End Situation

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave or under a rock for the past week, then you probably know all about Aaron Hernandez’s legal troubles. You also probably know that the New England Patriots decided to wash their hands of the entire situation by releasing Hernandez on Wednesday, a move that no one questioned. However, with plenty of uncertainty surrounding Rob Gronkowski’s availability at the beginning of the upcoming season, the one thing fans are questioning is what the Patriots will do regarding their tight end position.

Potentially missing two pro bowl-caliber players will most certainly change the look, the approach and the effectiveness of the Patriots offense, but that doesn’t mean the Pats don’t have other options and can’t find a way to get production out of the position. And with a crafty, creative head coach in Bill Belichick still leading the charge, I wouldn’t expect the Pats to abandon using their tight ends as offensive weapons.

After all, it wasn’t long ago when Gronkowski and Hernandez were virtual unknowns. Now, it may be time for someone else to step up and with five other tight ends currently on New England’s roster, there could be another big name waiting to emerge.

In most estimations, Jake Ballard is next in line to earn the starting tight end spot. As he enters his fourth NFL season, Ballard has 38 career catches and four touchdowns, showing that he is capable of getting loose and finding the endzone.

Then again, Ballard hasn’t played a regular season snap since the Pats lost Super Bowl XLVI, so he may need some time to break back in and find a groove. Fortunately, we’ve got training camp and preseason, which could take care of that.

Of course, if New England wants to continue to run its two-tight end offensive set, then it will need not one, but two new players to take on bigger roles and after Ballard, the field is more wide open.

As a six-year veteran, Daniel Fells has the most experience of the group with 92 career catches and eight touchdowns. He even played a little last season, nabbing four catches for 85 yards.

However, if the Pats want to go a bit younger, they’ve two got rookies to choose from with Brandon Ford and Zach Sudfield. Ford, an undrafted first-year man out of Clemson, has a similar build to Hernandez and is a converted wide receiver who has some speed, but there’s no telling if either Ford or Sudfield will even make the team, as they’ll be going up against more experienced and proven vets.

Then, of course, there’s the x-factor – Tim Tebow. Ever since Hernandez was cut from the squad, there have been rumblings that Tebow may get a shot at tight end and considering Belichick’s track record of using players at several different positions, it’s not out of the question. In fact, it could be the reason why the Pats brought Tebow in. However, for now, Tebow is listed as a QB and unless that’s a way to throw other teams off, quarterback is probably the position Tebow will remain in. Let’s also not forget that Tebow himself said he wasn’t keen on switching positions when asked about it this offseason.

While we can’t rule any of these options out, my guess would be that the Pats go to Ballard first and then if he doesn’t work out, go on down the depth chart. It’s also possible the Patriots could go after a free agent. But no matter which route the Patriots go in, fans and bettors should realize that their offense – although maybe slightly more limited – should be just fine. Don’t expect their chances to win the AFC East and make the playoffs to diminish much, if at all.

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