Due to a lack of depth at the wide receiver position in 2011, the New England Patriots used tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski as major receivers for a majority of the year. That’s likely to change in 2012 as the Patriots have made the receiver position their primary concern in free agency. So what does that mean for the two star tight ends?
With receivers Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Chad Ochocinco returning and new acquisitions Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth joining the receiving corps it’s unlikely the Patriots will run the dual tight end set they have become known for. In 2011 the Patriots relied a great deal on the two sophomores as Hernandez had 79 receptions and Gronkowski had 90 receptions in the regular season.
The main reason that these two tight ends were used in such a way was due to the lack of depth in the receiving corps. However, with the recent acquisitions, their services as primary receivers in the passing game will no longer be needed.
Gronkowski was used more often in the passing game than Hernandez in 2011 recording 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns during a record breaking season. If one of the two tight ends is to remain as a key component in the passing game, it will likely be Gronkowski. Also of the two, Gronkowski has been used much more in pass blocking which likely means he will be used as a prototypical tight end in 2012.
While Hernandez played the majority of the season in the same way as Gronkowski, the Patriots showed fans something new during the postseason when Hernandez lined up as a halfback. When asked about the new position, Hernandez said he enjoys the role and would like to line up in the backfield more often.
With Gronkowski a better blocker and used more in the passing game, this may be the role the Patriots give more often to Hernandez. The Patriots lost starting running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis this offseason and have a very inexperienced backfield. With the new additions to the receiving corps and letting Green-Ellis walk, Hernandez in the backfield more often may be on the agenda.
No matter what the Patriots do with their two star tight ends, it’s likely their roles will change. The idea of two tight ends being used as primary receivers was not done out of choice but out of necessity. With the moves made by the Patriots during free agency, that strategy is no longer needed.