As most of New England knows by now, future hall-of-fame tight end Rob Gronkowski has announced his retirement after spending his entire nine year career with the New England Patriots. Gronk’s retirement is no shock, but the announcement itself caused people to stop what they were doing and reflect on his illustrious career.
The former second-round pick from the University of Arizona put up monster numbers while being a key part to three New England Super Bowl victories. He is one of, if not, the best tight end to ever play in the NFL. But life goes on. The Patriots now have to turn there attention to filling the void that Gronkowski has left at tight end.
The Patriots reportedly pushed hard to try and sign free agent Jared Cook, but he ultimately opted to team up with Drew Brees in New Orleans. With Cook off the market, the free agent pool of tight ends now consists of lackluster veterans. The most interesting name is former first-round pick Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, but he is nothing to write home about. He is certainly no Gronkowski.
That leaves the 2019 NFL Draft for the Pats to try and fill the position. The reigning Super Bowl champions do have needs in other areas but with an offense that really only has two receiving threats (Julian Edelman, James White), New England would be wise to spend pick 32 on big weapon for Tom Brady to throw to.
The top three consensus tight end prospects appear to be Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson form the University of Iowa to go along with Alabama product Irv Smith Jr. It is expected that both Hockenson and Fant are gone by the time it is New England’s time to pick, so the easy call would be to wait and pick Smith. Smith even seems excited about the possibility of teaming up with Belichick and co.
Smith is not the monster that Gronkowski is standing at 6’2″ 242 pounds, but he is an athlete that NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein compares to former Patriot Ben Watson.
It is no definite thing that Smith ends up in New England, but he is definitely someone Patriot fans should look for at the end of the first round in the 2019 draft.
-Jarrod Ribaudo (@Jribs53)