Patriots positional review: TE/FB

Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the Patriots tight ends (ordered by percentage of snaps played)

Michael Hoomanawanui

Age: 25

2013 status: Led tight ends in snaps (57.6 percent), started 10 of 13 games

2013 highlights: Had 12 catches for 136 yards and a receiving touchdown, making timely catches and displaying reliable hands. Made a more salient impact as a blocker. Hoomanawanui was thrust into a big role, and though his receiving production was modest, he did admirable work.

Current contract runs through: Free agent

Rob Gronkowski

Age: 24

2013 status: Second among tight ends in snaps (32 percent), started 6 of 7 games. Placed on injured reserve after suffering torn ACL.

2013 highlights: After recovering from offseason back and forearm surgeries, Gronk returned and reestablished himself as the best tight end in the league. He had 39 catches in just over six games, making the Patriots' red zone offense substantially better and adding punch to the passing game. Ultimately, the injury against Cleveland defined the late part of his season, and the Patriots are hopeful his latest setback wont cost him any time to start the 2014 season.

Current contract runs through: 2019 season

Matthew Mulligan

Age: 29

2013 status: Third among tight ends in snaps played (22.9) percentage

2013 highlights: Made a critical touchdown catch against the Falcons in Week 4, one of two receptions this season. Largely a run blocking tight end.

Current contract runs through: Free agent

D.J. Williams

Age: 23

2013 status: Played 11 offensive snaps

2013 highlights: Had a minimal role after being added in the middle of the season.

Current contract runs through: Free agent

James Develin

Age: 25

2013 status: Played 25.8 percent of offensive snaps, starting 6 of 16 games at fullback

2013 highlights: A hammerhead who brought unique toughness to the offense this season and was roundly respected by his teammates. Made his contributions most primarily as a lead blocker in two back sets, though he also chipped in with a rushing touchdown against Houston.

Current contract runs through: 2014

POSITIONAL NEED: At this time last year, we would have declared the tight end position to be in as good of shape as nearly any other on the team. Gronkowski’s string of surgeries and the release of Aaron Hernandez casts a different outlook now, as this is, in our estimation, the greatest need for the Patriots to address this offseason. Even if Gronkowski returns fully healthy for the start of next season, a complementary tight end to play alongside him and provide insurance as a pass-catcher would be beneficial. With a deep draft at the position, it could be on the team’s radar.