NFL Draft Talk Volume XXIII
As the NFL draft draws closer and closer here are some questions that are circulating that pertain to prospects and their draft stock as well as their potential and projected impacts at the next level. How does Rob Gronkowski’s not so unexpected retirement impact the Patriots draft strategy in the first round? The New England Patriots just lost the most dominant and clutch tight end of the last decade after Gronk officially announced retirement from the NFL on Sunday. He was is viewed as the most complete and all-around player at his position in league history and while he hadn’t been producing at his usual Pro Bowl rate in recent years because of injuries, he has still been an integral piece in Pats offense. Replacing one of Tom Brady’s favorite and most reliable targets as well as one of their best blockers is not going to be an easy task for Bill Belichick but there is a chance that they could find a potential successor in this year’s draft as there are a trio of talented tight ends that are expected to go in the first round but might be gone by the time they are on the clock. They hold the final selection in the opening round of the draft at pick 32 and they have a total of 12 picks in the entire draft so they have ample ammunition to move up and snag one the stud tight ends from the University of Iowa in TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant or could go the with Alabama tight end Irv Smith. Why Hockenson: He is the prospect with the most likeness to the recently retired All-Pro as he is viewed as the most complete tight end in this year’s class and Like Gronk, he excels as a blocker and as a pass catcher. He can seal the edge on the perimeter to spring rushers for big gains on the outside, runs crisps crossing as well as seam routes, runs hard after the catch and finishes plays by lowering his shoulder or leaping over would be tacklers. He is projected to go in the top 15 picks so they would have to trade up to get him, but he’s so perfect for their system that it might be worth it. Why Fant: He is more of a big bodied receiver in the mold of Jimmy Graham more so that an all-around tight end like Gronk. He possesses a tremendous blend of size and speed that would make him a matchup nightmare down the seam or even lined up out wide as Gronk would do on occasion. He’s expected to go later in the draft but still could be gone by the time the Pats are on the clock. Why Smith: The former Crimson Tide tight end could be the only one of the three that could fall to New England at the bottom of the first round. He’d be a steal at pick No.32 if he were to indeed last that long because he can do it all as well. All members of Nick Saban offenses must be willing and able to block so he is a solid contributor in the run game and can stretch the middle of the field both laterally and vertically. Belichick couldn’t go wrong with either of the three with the teams first pick in the draft but there is no guarantee that one or any of them will be available by the time their pick rolls around. They have a lot of needs on their team in the trenches on both sides of the ball as they lost starters on both of their offensive and defensive lines in free agency, as well as a glaring need at receiver so, might be hesitant to package some of that draft capital in order to move up.