The two tight ends, who were drafted in 2010, have recorded a combined 256 receptions for 3,346 yards and 41 touchdowns in two years, making the Patriots offense one of the most dominant units in the NFL.
It’s an amazing achievement and a testament to Hernandez and Gronkowski that the Patriots have done all of this while often carrying only two tight ends on the roster. With the exemption of veteran run-blocker Alge Crumpler in 2010, the Patriots have not had a third tight end stick on the roster for an extended period of time.
That could all change this year as the Patriots project to have four tight ends on the roster, with the addition of veterans Daniel Fells and Visanthe Shiancoe. Both are versatile tight ends; Fells is a great blocker and Shiancoe is another terrific receiving target for Tom Brady.
Now the question is: Could we possibly see the Patriots run out a formation featuring all four tight ends on the field at the same time?
It’s entirely plausible as all four tight ends have the versatility to play on the line, at lead blocker out of the backfield and out wide at receiver. Aaron Hernandez has shown that he can even line up at running back or take reverses.
A formation with all four tight ends along with a receiver or especially a running back would be, in my opinion, indefensible.
Assuming a formation of Gronkowski and Fells on the line, with Shiancoe the “move” tight end, Hernandez split out wide and Stevan Ridley in the backfield, how can a defense stop that?
Does the defense load up on linebackers to stop the run with three blocking tight ends on the field? Well then, how will the defense stop the potential receiving threats of Hernandez, Gronkowski or Shiancoe?
These are three players who match up extremely well against linebackers.
The defense could switch to a dime or nickel defense featuring plenty of safeties and corners. But then New England can just run the ball down their throat as Gronkowski and Fells are among the best blocking tight ends in the NFL.
The above formation is just an example, as many more exotic formations featuring four tight ends could be used. How about Hernandez lined up at running back and Gronkowski out wide?
What about Shiancoe at fullback and Gronkowski and Fells on the line?
The possibilities are endless as this tight end “overload” formation can be used anywhere on the field and on almost any down or distance situation. But where the formation could be truly lethal is the red zone.
Visanthe Shiancoe and Daniel Fells both stand 6’4’’ while Rob Gronkowski is a 6’6’’ monster made for the red zone.
Giving Tom Brady three targets of that size along with Aaron Hernandez and a player like Brandon Lloyd or Wes Welker would be indefensible in the red area. Bill Belichick often talks about the importance of converting red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, and running out four tight ends at once may be the most efficient way to do that.
Furthermore, by playing all four tight ends at once and keeping the defense guessing, the offensive line is greatly helped out.
The struggles of the offensive line have arguably been the story of the preseason for New England, as a mixture of injuries and inconsistent play have crippled what was once a great line.
Adding tight ends to the line will provide much-needed help in pass protection as well as run-blocking.
Gronkowski and Fells in particular have excelled as in-line blockers.
All things considered, this season’s New England Patriots will have a dominant offense with a lot of versatility. With a new downfield threat in Brandon Lloyd and the return of Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ figure to throw a lot of different formations and schemes at opposing teams.
However, it could be the four-tight end formation that causes the most confusion for opposing defenses, and it could be the most unstoppable formation in the National Football League.