Years of frustration and disappointment with the Patriots' tight end position came to a screeching halt in 2010. An area that was considered an underachieving one just a year ago became one of the strongest spots on the entire roster.
Two rookies and a seasoned veteran - who later became a team co-captain - helped turn fortunes around. Without them, New England's offense would not have been as dynamic or high-scoring as it was this past season.
While there are some intriguing free agent targets available at tight end this offseason, it would be a surprise if the Patriots added to this position, as all three players on the active roster are expected to return in 2011.
THE TIGHT END ROSTER
(Players listed alphabetically, as of February 2011, with individual analysis below)
86 - Carson ButlerThe former Michigan product bounced around the NFL for a year before hooking on with New England last August. A month later, he was cut, but re-joined the team's practice squad at the end of September. He remained there the remainder of the season and signed a futures contract in January. He'll be back, but it will be a Herculean task for him to make the active roster.
82 - Alge Crumpler
The big fella can still move and make plays, as he proved down the stretch. "Captain Crump" won over teammates and coaches alike in short order with his professionalism. Though getting up there in age, he's under contract through 2011 and should be around for at least one more season.
87 - Rob Gronkowski
More of a traditional tight end in the Ben Coates mold, Gronk proved to be an unstoppable force in the red zone and in goal-line situations. His penchant for touchdown grabs put him at or near the top of several team and league receiving marks for tight ends. He'll be a key contributor in the Patriots offense for years to come.
85 - Aaron Hernandez
That last statement could apply to Hernandez, too. As expected, the rookie was a playmaker between the 20s. His role was more like a third wide receiver than a traditional tight end, and with his ability to gain yards after the catch, he sure looked like one on the field.
Up next in the Position Snapshot series: specialists, coming Thursday, Feb 10.