Will Patriots TE success cause a trend?

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL is a league of imitators. One team does something well, another team will try to emulate it.

The New England Patriots seemed progressively retro when they morphed their shotgun offense into sets with multiple tight ends. The Patriots used rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and in-line blocker Alge Crumpler masterfully.

At the NFL scouting combine in Lucas Oil Stadium, I asked Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey if he thought the Patriots' success could spark a trend and make an otherwise weak tight ends class more valuable in this year's draft.

"That's all on who you have," Gailey said. "If you have those two tight ends [the Patriots] had, you've got to think about 'How am I going to use these guys? How am I going to get them in the game?'

"If you get that personnel, you've got to use it."

Gailey doesn't have that personnel. He is a bright offensive coach with a gaping hole at tight end.

Bills tight ends combined for 23 receptions, 187 yards and one touchdown last season.

Jonathan Stupar was their most prolific tight end with a dozen catches for 111 yards and no touchdowns. That was an acceptable week for Gronkowski, Hernandez or New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller.

By comparison, Patriots tight ends combined for 93 catches, 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns. Keller had a Jets-high 55 catches for 687 yards and five touchdowns. Miami Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano had 39 receptions for 528 yards and four touchdowns, and that apparently wasn't enough. The Dolphins reportedly gave free agent Jeremy Shockey a physical last week.

Buffalo's disappointment at the position can be summed up with Shawn Nelson, a 2009 fourth-round pick who missed more games while serving a drug suspension (four) than he had receptions (three).

"The question for us is where we want a blocker because we want to run the ball and be effective there," Gailey said. "We'd like to have a pass-catcher.

"We just have to find the best football player at that position, knowing that we have to have at least one blocker and one receiver. You'd like to have two in one. But you may not be able to find that guy."

The Bills are intrigued by Scott Chandler, who they pulled off the waiver wire from the Dallas Cowboys in December.

Chandler has had the misfortune of playing on teams with established tight ends. The San Diego Chargers drafted him in the fourth round in 2007, but they have Antonio Gates. He signed with the Cowboys in 2009, but they have Jason Witten. The New York Giants signed him off the Cowboys' practice squad later that year, but they had Kevin Boss.

Gailey said Chandler "gives us a chance at that" two-way tight end. "So it'll be interesting for me."

Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph is considered by many analysts to be atop this year's draft class. Virgil Green from Nevada has some scouts buzzing, but he's undersized at 6-foot-3 and 249 pounds and is from the H-back mold.