Tight end class in focus

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Patriots were at the forefront of the recent increased reliance on tight ends, as the team selected both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 NFL draft.

The team also has a need at the position this offseason, as just Gronkowski and D.J. Williams are under contract for next season.

So the tight end group at this year's combine is notable in our estimation, and Saturday was their day to take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for drills.

The group is considered deep -- multiple tight ends may land in the first round -- and also exceptionally athletic, as we saw on Saturday.

Below is a list of the top-10 tight end 40 times:

1. A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State: 4.50

2. Eric Ebron, North Carolina: 4.60

3. Colt Lyerla, Oregon: 4.61

4. Trey Burton, Florida: 4.62

5. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: 4.74

6. Reggie Jordan, Missouri Western: 4.77

7. Anthony Denham, Utah: 4.77

8. Jake Murphy, Utah: 4.79

9. Arthur Lynch, Georgia: 4.82

10. Marcel Jensen, Fresno State: 4.85

Forty times aren't the only metric that matters for any position, but the 40 times do reflect the evolution of the position as it relates to athleticism. Tight ends are seemingly bigger, stronger and faster than ever before.

This weekend has served as an extended introduction to the tight end class, and we'll continue to track the prospects as the pre-draft process rolls on.

The Patriots have shown their ability to identify top players at the position in the past, and this year's draft could serve as an alley to beef up their depth.