Starters -- Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez.
Backups -- Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard, Tyler Urban.
their third year together, Gronkowski and Hernandez form arguably the
best tight-end duo in football.
Gronkowski is the true, traditional
tight end coming off the greatest statistical season in the history of
the NFL at the position. Though rehab from ankle surgery has limited
his offseason a bit, he's expected to be at full health for the regular
season. His numbers may come down a bit from his 90 catches for 1,327
yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago as defenses focus more on Brady's
huge target, but Gronkowski will remain a key figure of the passing
Hernandez is really almost a slot receiver for the Patriots and
could be even better this fall after catching 79 passes for 910 yards
and seven touchdowns despite missing two-plus games in 2011. As
defenses focus on Gronkowski and some of the other options in the
passing attack like Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, Hernandez could find
even more space to work. If he can stay healthy and cut down on his
drops, he could put up huge numbers this fall.
Ballard was claimed,
somewhat controversially, off waivers from the Giants. He's recovering
from ACL and microfracture surgery, after suffering the knee injury
against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He'll miss all of 2012 on
physically unable to perform, but will be in the mix a year from now.
[Editor's Note: This was written prior to the
addition of TE Visanthe Shiancoe]