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Gronkowski to Pats an interesting marriage

04.24.10 at 12:31 am ET

FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots made as many trades Friday (four) as they did selections in the NFL Draft, but a couple of the picks they made brought in big names, with Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Spikes the headline-grabbers. Of the foursome, which also included Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and Ohio receiver Taylor Price, Gronkowski’s road to New England may be the most interesting based on what he brings and what it took to get him there.

Gronkowski, who for all intents and purposes is the most complete tight end in this draft class, is an above-average blocker, route-runner, and tight end, and though his speed may be marginal, he figures to be a starter in the NFL. Only 22 games into his college career, Gronkowski needed back surgery that forced him to miss all of his junior year. While still on the mend from the procedure, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Gronkowski decided to forgo his senior year (and a shot to prove his health) and declared for the 2010 draft. His decision was met with skepticism, as his second-round grade with the injury likely would have meant a first-round grade an injury-free year later, but his decision was made.

“I just felt like it was always my dream to play in the NFL and I wanted my dream to come true and to fullfill my dream,” Gronkowski said Friday night after being selected. “This was an opportunity to jump on board and get to the NFL as soon as possible and the outcome is great.”

Then, there was the process of actually determining whether he was healthy. Considering he didn’t play all season with a serious injury and couldn’t run for scouts at the combine, it would be irresponsible not to question both the status of his back and whether he could be the same player that had 10 receiving touchdowns a year before the injury. Gronkowski says that his back is “100 percent” and that he “[doesn’t] even want to talk about it anymore.” Patriots coach Bill Belichick says that team doctors determined he will be fine ‘€” “I don’t do diagnosis on players and they don’t call plays,” Belichick said with a smile.

Once the Patriots had determined that Gronkowski was their guy, all they had to do was get themselves in a position to take him in the second round, which may have ended up being a more difficult affair than initially suspected. With the Raiders on the clock at No. 42 and the Ravens a pick behind them, the Patriots moved up two spots into Oakland’s slot by trading picks Nos. 44 and 190, the latter of which is a sixth-round selection. As commissioner Roger Goodell walked to the podium with the camera’s split between his stride and Gronkowski’s seemingly happy phone call, it seemed the Patriots were only a potentially-mispronounced announcement away from having a tight end to pair with Alge Crumpler.

Then it took a turn, quite literally, for the confusing.

Goodell took an on-stage detour, walking in front of the podium “pit” to figure out what was taking place. Gronkowski was apparently the pick, but for whom? As chatter grew louder and louder that the Raiders’ time had expired and that the Ravens had rushed their pick of Gronkowski in, it appeared that the Patriots could have moved up only to get beaten to the punch.

All was settled when Goodell announced the pick for the Patriots seconds later. Belichick said after the third round that he wasn’t sure what was happening in New York but that he “[thought] we got it in on time.” Even through the confusion, the Patriots may have done the right thing in moving up, as Gronkowski had worked out the Ravens and said the team “showed a lot of interest” in him.

“I saw that New England was right behind Baltimore, so I just thought that I had a chance of going right in that row, to Baltimore or New England,” Gronkowski said. “I’m happy that New England traded up right in front of Baltimore and took me. I think it was an excellent choice. I think it’s going to be great to be a part of such a great organization and a great team.”

Now that the Patriots finally have him, how does he fit in? Again, he projects as a starter, but in the early going he will be competing with, learning, from and playing alongside Crumpler, which Gronkowski has no problem with.

“He’s a great tight end,” Gronkowski said of Crumpler. “I used to watch him play. He’s a veteran, so I know I can learn a lot from him and I’m just looking forward to playing with him, learning a lot from him, being coached up and all of that.”

The Patriots can only hope that Gronkowski is a guy that sticks. Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson, first-rounders in by Belichick, didn’t stay in New England past their rookie deals. Furhtermore, the Patriots have had 13 different tight ends start for them since 2000. One of them knows what the turnover at the position is like.

‘€œThe more plays you make, the more touches you’€™re going to see,’€ Christian Fauria said back in March. ‘€œThe more plays you make, the more consistent you are, the more they will get you the ball. Are you a guy they can count on? They’€™ll figure it out quickly, and if you aren’€™t, they’€™ll get rid of you.’€

Fauria predicted at the time of the Crumpler signing that the Patriots may try to bring in a younger tight end to pair with the 32-year old. While either could be the starter come training camp, the position, which as Christopher Price pointed out, still hasn’t been stabilized, may have finally found it’s long-term solution.

Read More: 2010 NFL Draft, Rob Gronkowski,



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