-- With only one tight end on its roster with NFL experience in the recently signed Alge Crumpler, the Patriots desperately needed to pick up a tight end in the Draft who could make a major impact.
They did that when they traded their 44th and 190th picks with Oakland to move up and select Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, who became the Wildcats' most dangerous weapon during his short time with the team.
In just 22 games at Arizona, he shattered all of the school's receiving records for tight ends, including career, season and game marks. Blessed with elite size, speed and athleticism, Gronkowski gave defensive coordinators across the Pac-10 Conference headaches with the mismatches that he created.
Gronkowski was selected as a third-team All-American in 2008 but he missed his entire senior year in 2009 after having back surgery. He amassed a school-record for tight ends 75 receptions for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns in less than two seasons at the school.
Gronkowski was regarded as one of the nation's biggest receiving threats at his position before having back surgery. He has surprising speed to turn short passes into long gains, and he has shown significant improvement as a route runner since his freshman year when he caught 47 passes. Twenty-four of those went for more than 20 yards.
He is also a good blocker in the running game, and he has been compared by some scouts to All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons.
Athletics run in Gronkowski's family. His brother, Dan, plays tight end for the Detroit Lions, and another brother, Gordie, was selected in the 49th round of the 2006 Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Angels. His great-grandfather, Ignatius Gronkowski, was a member of the 1924 U.S. Olympic cycling team in Paris. His father, Gordon, owns a string of national fitness retail outlets and lettered as an offensive guard at Syracuse (1977-81).
Along with Crumpler, the Patriots also have tight ends Rob Agnone and Rob Myers on their roster. Ben Watson, who the Patriots drafted in the first round (32nd overall) in 2004, and Chris Baker, who the Patriots signed as a free agent in February of 2009 before cutting him last month, both signed with other teams this offseason.
Watson signed with the Cleveland Browns and Baker inked a two-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks.
Here is his draft profile that recently ran in the Providence Journal
Position: Tight End
Weight: 265 pounds
Combine Numbers: Gronkowski only participated in the bench press at the Combine where he achieved 23 reps in the 225-pound bench press. At his Pro Day workout, Gronkowski ran a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash.
Senior Year: None. Gronkowski missed the entire 2009 season after back surgery and decided to forgo his senior year and enter the draft.
Honors: In 2008, Gronkowski was named first-team All-Pac 10 by the league's coaches, and third-team All-American by the Associated Press. In 2007, Gronkowski was named as a freshman All-American by the Sporting News and Rivals.com, and was named to the All-Pac 10 honorable mention team by the league's coaches.
Could he be a Patriot? With only one tight end with NFL experience on its roster in Alge Crumpler, who is mainly a blocking tight end, the Patriots chose Gronkowski who has big play ability and he has the potential to be that playmaker. He has the prototypical size and speed of an NFL tight end, and he runs precise routes. He is also a solid blocker in the running game.
Durability is a concern however. He missed 16 games at Arizona with various injuries and illnesses, including the entire 2009 season after having back surgery. Even so, when he arrived on Arizona's campus in 2007, he made an immediate impact. As a true freshman in 2007, he caught 28 passes for 525 yards and six touchdowns. His 18.8 yards per catch was the best on the team and his receiving yards were then a single season school record for a tight end. Despite missing the first three games of his 2008 season, Gronkowski still amassed 47 receptions for 627 yards and a team best 10 touchdowns. His size, athleticism, strength and soft hands make him a terrific tight end prospect.
He became Arizona's all-time leading tight end in less than two full seasons, finishing his career as the career leader in receptions (75), receiving yards (1,197) and touchdowns (16).