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Jake Ballard is part of an endless tight end corps.
We don't have to concern ourselves with anyone taking the starting jobs of Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez. While both have hit speed bumps in the health department, both are still two of the youngest and brightest "Y" and "U" tight ends in the NFL.
The No. 3 tight end position behind Gronkowski and Hernandez is much less certain, however.
There are a slew of options on the depth chart, and at one point the Patriots had more tight ends on the roster than wide receivers. Needless to say blocking pass-catchers play a more important role than ever before, especially considering the scarcity of fullbacks in the league.
So who could seize the versatile but necessary third tight end spot in New England's offense? Let's go down the list of possibilities.
Despite being an undrafted rookie out of Clemson, you can't sleep on Brandon Ford. Ford has a unique set of skills as a converted wide receiver. The 6'4", 245-pound Tiger broke out as a senior, catching 40 passes for 480 yards and eight scores. He lined up anywhere from H-Back to the slot. Yet at this point, he's likely more of a practice squad option.
Another undrafted greenhorn, Zach Sudfeld is gaining steam after an injury-plagued career at Nevada. A 6'7", 253-pounder, Sudfeld has unbelievable size for the position and can create mismatches wherever he is implemented. He could certainly compete for a roster spot, but he is facing some wily veterans.
The 29-year-old Daniel Fells recorded a mere four receptions for 85 yards in 13 games last season. He was used more so as a blocker and helped filter in when Gronkowski and Hernandez missed time. With that said, it remains to be seen what Fells's future entails. The 6'4", 265-pound vet has a salary cap hit of over $3.8 million through 2014, per Spotrac.com.
The 24-year-old Michael Hoomanawanui doesn't do anything great, but he's a serviceable tight end who can help out as a run-blocker and occasional receiver. An Illinois product, "Hooman" caught five passes for 109 yards in 14 contests last season. Registering starts in five games, the Patriots have gotten the most out of the ex-St. Louis Ram. He is due just over $1.3 million next season, cites Spotrac.com.
Bill Belichick had plans in mind when he claimed injured ex-New York Giant Jake Ballard off the waiver wire last summer. And although he was put on ice for all of 2012 as he recovered from knee surgeries, the 6'6", 275-pound 25-year-old should be in the conversation for the start of 2013. Because Ballard didn't play last season, his contract was tolled, according to Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald. Ballard caught 38 passes for 604 yards and four TDs in 2011.
Winner: Jake Ballard