Indianapolis – The Patriots will be heavily scouring the tight end group at this year's scouting combine as they were the first position group to face the media on Tuesday. After Rob Gronkowski's retirement in 2019, the team got limited production at the position and would benefit from adding some young talent.
But finding a two-way impact tight end that can do it all like Gronk is a tall proposition. The potential rookies at the combine recognized what a well-rounded tight end he was for the Patriots.
Albert Okwuegbunam was asked which tight ends he watched growing up and tried to model his game after. "Definitely a lot of Gronkowski," said the Missouri product. "I really admire the balance he has in his game to be effective in the run and pass game. I try to emulate that."
"I was a Gronk fan, I think everyone was really." said Virginia Tech's Dalton Keene. "I think Rob, he's on a whole different level than a lot of tight ends. He can just do so much. He's huge, he's super athletic. He's kind of a freak."
"Everything you could ever ask from a tight end," continued Okwuegbunam. "Being able to split out wide, be manned up against a corner, open field, in the red zone, be able to move him anywhere and create a mismatch, as well as just utilize him in the run game. He can play every down. You don't have to bring him off the field for anything."
The versatility won't be easy to find. Most of the top tight ends in Indy are known for their skills in the passing game but they seemed to understand that developing their blocking work in the run game will be a critical component to their chances of NFL success.
Jared Pinkney was one of the few prospects who felt it was his blocking that set him apart, while he worked on developing his route creativity. Adam Trautman, whose attraction to the small school, no ego atmosphere at Dayton and self-described "relentless with an edge" playing style made him sound like a potential Patriot, could have potential if paired with someone like Pinkney who's ready to jump in and do the dirty work.
Finding a balanced tight end like Gronkowski in this draft might be asking too much, but a balance of prospects who check boxes in the pass and run games could still help the Patriots offense take a big step forward in 2020.
Additional coverage from Tuesday at the NFL Combine: