For the past two seasons, the New England Patriots have boasted arguably the best tight end duo in the NFL with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Both were match-up nightmares who used their size, strength, and speed to wreak havoc on opposing defenses and put points on the scoreboard. In 2011, Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 169 receptions, 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns, breaking the record for receptions, yardage, and touchdowns by tight ends on a single team. Injuries spelled the decline of the deadly duo’s prowess last season, however. Gronkowski only played in 11 games and logged 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hernandez played in 10 games and logged 51 receptions for 483 and five touchdowns.
Though the Baltimore Ravens have a pair of talented tight ends in Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, they’ve taken their time in developing them on the field separately. In 2011, Dickson and Pitta combined for 94 receptions, 943 yards, and eight touchdowns, with Dickson carrying the majority of the workload. Pitta emerged as a more reliable and versatile target in 2012, however, leading to an increase in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns. Dickson struggled with injuries in 2012 and missed three games, which negatively affected his performance. He reemerged as a dependable receiver in the playoffs, however, notching six receptions for 90 yards.
Due to Gronkowski’s dubious injury status and Hernandez’s release (and subsequent incarceration), the 2013 season could shift the tight end battle in Baltimore’s favor. With the loss of Anquan Boldin, Pitta and Dickson could very likely share some snaps to make up for his lost production. Although it’s unlikely they could ever produce the numbers Gronkowski and Hernandez did in 2011, their paired play could elevate Baltimore’s passing game, as well as Joe Flacco‘s numbers. Pitta will likely be mostly utilized in the slot, while Dickson could climb over the top and serve as a deep threat. If both tight ends can stay healthy in 2013 — a contract year for both — there’s no limit to what they could achieve.