When the New England Patriots chose Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in this year's draft, the expectation was that they would be inserted into the lineup immediately. Long-time starter Benjamin Watson had left for the Cleveland Browns, and the only tight end of relevance left on the roster was blocker Alge Crumpler. Even after flashes of brilliance in the preseason, though, we were skeptical of how much Gronkowski and Hernandez could contribute to a Patriots offense that already seemed to be full of receiving options.
With the regular season now in the books, it's clear that both Gronkowski and Hernandez have had an impact far beyond what we expected. Each of them has put up statistics that rank among the most impressive rookie seasons in NFL history for tight ends, and yet, history also suggests that there may not be much in the way of improvement for them going forward.