New England Patriots: 5 Reasons Aaron Hernandez Is Primed for a Breakout Season
Aaron Hernandez is about to blow up. He had a great rookie campaign in 2010, but he lost some of the spotlight to fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski as the year progressed.
This year, Gronkowski should still be a big part of the offense, but I expect him to have to share that spotlight with the new No. 81 (I still think Hernandez made it too easy for Chad Ochocinco to take his No. 85).
Hernandez has all the tools to be great, and if these pieces fall into place this year, you'll be hearing his name mentioned all season long.
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When Hernandez started the 2010 season, he was the youngest player on any active roster in the entire NFL, coming off an All-American season as a Florida Gator.
He went off in week 2 against the Jets to the tune of 101 yards, becoming the youngest player since 1960 to gain 100 yards receiving in a game.
He's still only 21-years-old and continuing to learn the intricacies of a complex New England system.
Now that he has a year under his belt and a bit more of an understanding of how to play in the NFL, his youthful body is that much more of an advantage over potentially banged up veterans dealing nagging injuries.
Hernandez is a physical specimen with all the tools to be a star. He has better than average speed, better than average hands and is a great route runner.
Bill Belichick loves guys that can contribute in more than one way and Hernandez is a perfect example of that.
He can run deep downfield routes, he can run screens, he goes over the middle, he can work the sidelines, and he is great at finding open space.
The Pats use him at the goal line, in Jumbo sets, in 5-wide sets, and even occasionally out of the backfield or on end-arounds.
His blocking may suffer at times but he more than makes up for that with all the other skills he brings to the table.
His Fellow Tight Ends
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Alge Crumpler was a huge part of the development of New England's rookie tight end tandem in 2010.
His veteran presence and wisdom helped to make the transition to the NFL smoother and provide some guidance for the youngsters.
Now that Crumpler has been released, Hernandez and Gronkowski are on their own and will need to depend on each other.
With the second half of the season Gronkowski had last year, defenses will be keeping a close eye on him.
That should leave some more open looks for Hernandez when the Pats run multiple tight end sets, which they do often. Not only that, but Gronk could also help Hernandez improve his blocking.
The other tight ends on the roster, Carson Butler, Lee Smith and Will Yeatman,should not pose any threat of stealing snaps meaning Hernandez will have plenty of time on the field to show what he can do.
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There isn't much that can be said about Tom Brady that hasn't been said before.
He's a first ballot Hall of Famer who is still very much in his prime, coming off the first ever unanimous MVP season in NFL history. Having a guy like that throwing you the ball is a good way to succeed.
Brady looked to Hernandez early and often in 2010 and this preseason has been no different. Hernandez is leading all pass catchers this preseason with 14 receptions for 156 yards after three games.
Brady is notorious for spreading the ball around and finding the open man regardless of who that may be. The good news for Hernandez is that more often than not, he is the open man.
And should disaster strike and Brady ends up injured and unable to play, Hernandez has shown great chemistry with Brian Hoyer as well.
The New England Patriots are simply good. They've added some weapons in the off-season after going 14-2 in a supposed rebuilding year and are looking very good again this season.
It's a team loaded with veteran leadership and a winning mentality and is a breeding ground for players to excel.
With so many weapons it will be very hard for defenses to contain this New England offense which means big stats for Brady's favorite targets.
The offensive line should be improved meaning more time in the pocket for Brady, and meaning more time for Hernandez to use his speed to get open.
The Pats beefed up their defensive line, have a linebacking corps that is coming into its prime, and drafted a good cornerback in Ras-I Dowling to add to an already impressive group of young defensive backs.
The defense has looked great this preseason which would keep the offense on the field if they can carry their success over to the regular season.
And lets not forget that he has the benefit of learning from the best head coach in the league. Hernandez has all the natural talent in the world and Belichick thrives on putting that type of player in a position to succeed.
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All of these factors should combine to allow Aaron Hernandez to build on his stellar rookie season and emerge as one of the elite tight ends in the NFL.
Don't be surprised to see him finish with 900-1000 yards and 10 touchdowns as the Patriots keep rolling.