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New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had an unbelievable season in 2011, catching 90 passes for 1,327 yards and an amazing 17 touchdowns. He was so dominant that he has forced AFC East teams to change personnel and draft players with the idea of containing him or slowing him down.
So, with such a great year behind him, how could we possibly predict that he will be taking a step backwards in 2012?
First of all, the New England offense will be different in 2012. Gone are players like Chad Ochocinco, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk.
In 2012, the offense will be generating more touches for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, in addition to touches for the many newcomers like Joseph Addai, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth. Where will the new players' touches be coming from? Most likely, from Gronkowski and Wes Welker.
There are other factors involved in Gronk's predicted statistical decline. What is his health like? Will be be a step slower in 2012 due to the ankle surgery? What about defensive coverages? Will teams aim to shut down Gronkowski, thereby opening up other options in the Patriots offense?
Finally, there is the Aaron Hernandez factor. The Patriots were starting to experiment with Hernandez towards the end of the 2011 season in an H-back role. That looked like it could be a successful experiment, so if more touches are going to Hernandez, then that should yield fewer touches for Gronkowski.