So you have a team whose tight end has unmatched talent. This tight end, with his Hamburger Helper gloves, has a catch radius so vast that anything thrown in his direction is an expected catch. This player gets separation from linebackers and is too big for safeties to cover. Go ahead, put a cornerback on him and watch him get dusted. This young man (and he’s still young, chronologically) has so much talent that teams in your division and in your conference game plan, draft, and sign free agents with an eye on stopping this mega-star. I’m certain that in every draft “war room” owners are telling general managers to “get me a Gronk.” Rob Gronkowski has changed the game. Sadly, Rob Gronkowski cannot stay on the field.
There is no doubt that when he is healthy, Gronk is unstoppable. Healthy is the problem. It really began in the AFC Championship game a couple of year ago when Bernard Pollard rolled Gronk’s ankle, essentially making him useless in the Super Bowl. With a healthy Gronk, the Pats would have rolled over the *%&$# Giants. The next season, he played 11 games; missing several with a broken forearm. He tried to come back in the playoffs, on to re-injure it. He began last season recovering from the forearm and back issues. Then his season was ended by TJ Ward, who shredded his ACL and MCL, making his availability for the beginning of 2014 very much in doubt.
Because of his unreliability, the Pats need reinforcements not named Mulligan and Hoomanawanui.
Michael Hoomanawanui is a solid third tight end who was thrust into the starter’s role because of Gronk’s absence. He blocks very well, but his 13 games 12 catches is totally underwhelming. An upgrade needs to happen. That upgrade wil not, nor should it, come from the limited free agent pool.
The upgrade should come from the draft. In the first round the Patriots should use the 29th pick to draft Troy Niklas of Notre Dame. As much as I dislike ND, I hated typing that last sentence; however, if you watched Niklas you see a 6’6”, 270 behemoth, with good hands and decent foot speed. There are almost Gronk-esque highlights of Niklas running down the field with opponents bouncing off of him and needing three or four of their buddies to bring him to the ground. I know that ND plays Navy and Air Force and Mass Maritime, but they also play the big boys. Niklas performed well against both the second tier teams and the elite programs. Niklas will become the Red Zone target the Patriots lacked when Gronk was out.
With their fourth round pick they should draft Arthur Lynch of Georgia. Lynch is a local kid (Dartmouth High) who is 6’5”, 260. Lynch is a tremendous blocker and a more than adequate receiver. Lynch played in the SEC, which means he lined up against grown men every week. He also lined up at the H-back spot, which gives him the versatility the Pats love.
If Niklas and Lynch are added, the damage of any time missed by Gronk will be minimized, not completely alleviated. It is a step in the right direction.