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Potential Replacements For Former New England Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez

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New England Patriots: 5 Possible Replacements for Aaron Hernandez

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have gone from the team with the most depth at the tight end position in the NFL, to a team looking for multiple tight end replacements seemingly overnight. Rob Gronkowski has struggled with injuries for most of his career. Late last season, he broke his forearm and has had multiple surgeries on that injury. Also, Gronkowski has recently had back surgery. It is currently unknown if the Patriots will have the All-Pro tight end to start the season.

One guy that they will most definitely be without is Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots cut Hernandez on Wednesday because of his apparent connection to the murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. Lloyd was considered a friend of Hernandez and was dating his fiancée's sister. Lloyd's body was found about a mile down the road from Hernandez's house. It is currently unclear whether the former Patriots' star committed the crime, but it appears that police are considering him a suspect. Hernandez was taken in to custody by the police on Wednesday, about two hours before it was announced that the Patriots were releasing him. It is currently unknown why the police have taken Hernandez under custody. I am sure we will hear more on this story soon.

Releasing Hernandez before knowing the whole story may seem like an irrational decision being made by the Patriots. Personally, this does not surprise me. Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization do not like distractions. This is starting to become a huge distraction and if Hernandez is being charged with homicide, he will not be playing football anyway. Now when anybody on the Patriots gets asked about Hernandez, as they surely will, all they have to say is he is no longer part of the team.

Hernandez has been a huge part of the Patriots offense since he arrived in the league in 2010. In three seasons, Hernandez had 175 receptions for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns. He has been very versatile for the Patriots as a TE/WR hybrid and even occasionally lining up in the backfield. Obviously, the Patriots cannot replace the production that Hernandez gave them easily. It will probably be some sort of group effort. There are a handful of players who now must step up and take on a larger role within the Patriots' offense, especially if Gronkowski is unable to go Week 1. Here are five possible replacements for Hernandez.

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Daniel Fells

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Fells played in 13 games for the Patriots last season. He was mostly used as a blocker as his 4 receptions for 85 yards indicate. He has had some past success with both the Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams. With his experience, Fells will surely be in the mix to help replace Hernandez.

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Jake Ballard

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Jake Ballard was picked up on waivers last season by the Patriots from the New York Giants. He sat out last year due to a knee injury, but the 6-foot-6, 25-year-old tight end is expected to be ready to go this season. Ballard will definitely help the Patriots as they look for tight end depth.

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Zach Sudfeld

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The Patriots signed the 6-foot-7, 255-pound monster tight end Zach Sudfeld as an undrafted free agent. Sudfeld would probably be more suited for the Gronkowski role of the Patriots offense, but any depth at the position is nice to have. If he can have a solid training camp and preseason, I think Sudfeld will make the roster due to a numbers crunch.

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Josh Boyce

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The Patriots drafted Josh Boyce in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Boyce is considered to be a wide receiver that can line up all over the field. Fellow rookie Aaron Dobson is believed to have the inside track to becoming a starter, so Boyce will now have to step up his role as a part time replacement for Hernandez. Even though Hernandez is listed as a TE, he lined up as a WR more than he did with his hand in the ground. Boyce's versatility, toughness and outstanding quickness will be key for the Patriots

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Tim Tebow

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Nobody knows whether Tim Tebow can actually play some tight end. I think that he does have the skill set to pull it off, and with the sudden lack of depth at the position, the Patriots should look to see what they have here. I highly doubt he becomes a starting tight end in the NFL, but I think he could help out there as a part-time player.