Patriots lead charge in 'Year of Tight End'

The 2011 season was the "Year of the Quarterback." Apparently, there is momentum to label 2012 the “Year of the Tight End.”

NFC West blogger Mike Sando did a nice job pointing out how much the impact at the position has grown. In 2010, for example, there were 198 touchdown receptions by tight ends. That number rose dramatically to an amazing 578 touchdowns in 2011. This type of rise in production impacts the outcome of games.

Leading the charge with tight ends is the New England Patriots. They rode the wave of dual tight end threats Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to a Super Bowl appearance, where the Patriots came up just short. The AFC East touchdown output by tight ends alone went up from 41 to 85 in large part due to Gronkowski and Hernandez's development.

Several teams have a dynamic tight end. The New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers are some that come to mind. But no one has the double threat at the position to match the Patriots.

If this turns out to be the year of the tight end, New England was ahead of the curve. The production is skyrocketing at the position, and the Patriots are a primary reason why.