Here’s a topic for debate: Which player is more important to the Patriots today and going forward, Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski?
While your first inclination might be to say Brady, the case for Gronkowski is very strong.
Gronkowski is already the game’s best tight end – and yes, Tom Brady has something to do with it. But at 26 years old, Gronkowski is just entering the prime of his career. Brady wants to play into his 40’s, but at 38-years-old he’s climbing up there in age.
After breaking onto the scene in 2011 with 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and a record-breaking 17 touchdowns, Gronkowski battled injuries for two seasons.
But everybody saw what a strong Gronk meant for the Patriots in the 2014 season, as he caught 82 balls for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns in 15 regular season games, and more importantly remained a big target for Brady in the playoffs as the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX.
It’s pretty simple: when it comes to the end zone, there aren’t many bigger and better targets than Gronkowski. As long as he stays healthy, that isn’t going to change.
That’s why the Patriots haven’t suited Gronk up in either of the first two preseason games. While big names like Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin and Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson have gone with season-ending knee injuries, Gronk is tucked away on the sidelines letting these meaningless games go by.
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The Patriots are already banged up at wide receiver as Julian Edelman has barely touched the field and Brandon LaFell is still on the PUP list. Without knowing the significance of those injuries, Gronk’s health is even that much more important.
So who joins Gronkowski in the tight end department?
We have a feeling that Scott Chandler – once he gets healthy – will make a nice Gronkowski Lite for the Patriots.
Chandler, like Gronk, is a big boy. He’s actually listed one inch taller than Gronk, and taking a look at his highlights over his last four seasons in Buffalo, it’s easy to see why he could be a breakout No. 2 tight end for the Patriots now that he has an actual quarterback throwing him the ball. Since 2011, Chandler’s caught 181 passes for 2,112 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Though he’s missed most of camp, health has been on Chandler’s side throughout his career, as he hasn’t missed a game since 2012 and missed just three since 2011.
Fellow tight end Michael Hoomanawanui provides necessary blocking from the tight end spot and fills a valuable role on the team.
The Patriots are also working on making Jake Bequette into a tight end after drafting him as a defensive end in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Asante Cleveland, who the Patriots recently acquired in a trade from the San Francisco 49ers, will compete for a roster spot with undrafted rookie Jimmay Mundine.