Boston Red Sox

Pats tight ends could have gone to Baltimore

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Pats tight ends could have gone to Baltimore

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will be two of New England's most dangerous weapons in Sunday's AFC Championship battle against Baltimore.

That gun was almost pointed at the Patriots.

Gronkowski missed his junior season at Arizona with a back injury. A rogue disk was bothering his spinal cord and needed to be shaved. The procedure required a six-month recovery, which made Gronkowski miss the NFL combine, and made pro player personnel heads worry about his future.

But Baltimore wanted tight ends.

Two-time Pro Bowler Todd Heap was 30 at the time of the 2010 NFL draft. He'd played through a myriad of injuries over his almost decade-long career and the talk that spring was that the Ravens would either bolster the position or start a succession plan.

Gronkowski was one of the players on the team's radar. To be more specific, he was a "medical case" the Ravens were researching.

"These are million-dollar decisions," Eric DeCosta, director of player personnel, told the Baltimore Sun. "When that much money is on the line, you have to exhaust every resource."

The concern kept Gronkowski waiting -- as he expected -- into the draft's second round. When the 42nd pick overall rolled up, it appeared the Oakland Raiders passed on their selection. A Ravens assistant quickly moved forward to turn in Baltimore's pick...

Too late. Roger Goodell announced the Patriots were on the clock.

New England hurdled the Ravens by swapping its 44th pick with Oakland's 42nd. Gronkowski was the ultimate prize.

"I really don't know what Baltimore was going to do," Gronkowski said that April evening. "Obviously, New England thought Baltimore was going to take me because New England was the next pick after Baltimore. Maybe that's why New England hopped one pick ahead of Baltimore.

"That's awesome that they traded up to get me. That means they really wanted me."

The Ravens selected defensive end Sergio Kindle at 43. Its first tight end, Ed Dickson, was quarried in the third round. The second was Dennis Pitta, a BYU product, taken at 114.

The previous pick? That would be Aaron Hernandez, selected at 113 by the New England Patriots.

Todd Heap had a decent 2010 season but was released by the Ravens in July. Dickson has started all 16 games this season, recording 528 yards and five touchdowns on 54 catches. Pitta's numbers (40 catches, 405 yards, three touchdowns) have come off the bench.

By contrast, here are the numbers for New England's two tight ends this season:

Gronkowski: 90 receptions for 1,327 yards, 18 total TD (one rushing).

Hernandez: 79 receptions for 910 yards, 7 TD.

Yeah. You could say the Patriots won the tight end fight. Ask Gronkowski and Hernandez and they'd probably say there's nothing more important than the larger landscape, than their team, than this weekend's AFC Championship.

Thing is, that landscape has been dramatically shaped by those two players and that 2010 draft.

And don't Baltimore know it.