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Imagine this: Gronkowski, Hernandez as Ravens, not Patriots
The Patriots have inflicted heavy damage on opponents with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who become a bees' nest for the Ravens in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
It's hard to imagine what New England would look like without the pair, but had fate been slightly tweaked, one or both of these men could be in Baltimore -- something that approached reality during the 2010 NFL Draft.
Both the Patriots and Ravens were eyeing tight ends, with Baltimore on the lookout for Todd Heap's replacement. Gronkowski was an enticing prospect, but a back injury forced him to miss both his junior season at Arizona and the NFL Scouting Combine, drawing caution from the Ravens' front office.
"These are million-dollar decisions. When that much money is on the line, you have to exhaust every resource," Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta told The Baltimore Sun, via Comcast SportsNet New England, explaining that the team explored Gronkowski as a "medical case.”
We'll never know if the Ravens would have taken the chance on Gronk. The Patriots, holding the 44th overall pick, traded up for the Oakland Raiders' 42nd selection -- hopscotching the Ravens, who sat at No. 43. Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasted no time in grabbing the tight end. One pick later, the Ravens selected linebacker Sergio Kindle.
The Ravens drafted tight end Ed Dickson at No.70 and selected another, Dennis Pitta, at No. 114. The Patriots nabbed Hernandez at the 113th spot.
Now it's a headache for Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who's tasked with shutting down both Gronkowski and Hernandez, who have combined for a jaw-dropping 2,200-plus receiving yards and 25 total touchdowns this season.
"They're probably the two best (tight ends)," Harbaugh told reporters Monday. "Their offense has weapons everywhere. It's the most explosive offensive in football right now. At least the most explosive offense left in the tournament."