New England’s offense became focused on tight ends with the arrival of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010. Back in 2009, Tom Brady attempted 120 passes with multiple tight ends. Last year, that jumped to 475 attempts.
In other words, the reliance on tight ends had much more to do with personnel than philosophy.
So with Hernandez injured, are the Patriots still a two-tight-end offense?
Before Hernandez injured his ankle, the Patriots had used multiple tight ends on every offensive play. After he went down, it fell to 23 percent.
The addition of Kellen Winslow might change that.
On the surface, Winslow and Hernandez had very similar seasons in 2011. Winslow was targeted 114 times, while the ball was thrown to Hernandez 108 times. Winslow finished with 75 receptions, while Hernandez had 79.
Based on that, there’s no on better tight end to replace Hernandez. Of course, there’s more to the numbers.
Winslow is no longer the same player after the catch. Despite a similar number of receptions, Winslow’s 254 yards after catch were nearly half of Hernandez’s total of 503.
Hernandez missed 23 tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Winslow missed three.
Just because they had similar reception totals, don’t mistake them for equivalent threats.
Interesting to note (though not necessarily meaningful), Winslow was the intended target for nine interceptions last season, according to Pro Football Focus. That tied for NFL lead with Vincent Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Winslow will have Brady throwing to him, which certainly impacts expectations. However, there’s also a reason he was available two weeks into the season.
A healthy Winslow is more than just a stopgap. Yet, for the next month, the Patriots would settle for just that.