COMMENTARY| The arrest and subsequent release of tight end Aaron Hernandez left the New England Patriots with a hole at the position that will be addressed before the start of the regular season. While they have several in-house replacement candidates, an intriguing option with a similar skill set to Hernandez is free agent Travis Beckum.
The 6'1" and 245-pound Hernandez had the size of a tight end but the skill set of a wide receiver. He racked up 175 receptions for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns during his three seasons in New England, lining up all over the field and giving quarterback Tom Brady a versatile weapon that helped open up the passing game.
Accustomed to utilizing Hernandez as part of a two-tight end set with star Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots already have veterans Daniel Fells, Jake Ballard and Michael Hoomanawaui; and rookies Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford on their roster. However, they are all either untested and/or more similar in size to Gronkowski, who checks in at 6'6" and 265 pounds.
If the Patriots are seeking a tight end with the potential to be a reasonable facsimile of Hernandez, they should check out Beckum.
The 26-year-old was a star at the University of Wisconsin after converting from linebacker following his freshman year. He totaled 159 receptions for 2,149 yards and 11 touchdowns, and was drafted by the New York Giants in the third round of the 2009 draft. He may have gone higher except his senior year came to a premature end after breaking his leg in an October game.
The Giants haven't featured their tight ends in recent seasons, and with Beckum playing behind Kevin Boss and then Ballard (who was signed by the Patriots last year), he never had many balls thrown his way. In four seasons he has career totals of 26 catches for 264 yards and three touchdowns. His best season came in 2010 when he hauled in 13 passes for 116 yards and two scores.
Beckum tore his ACL in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots, and missed all but four catch-less games last year because of his recovery. New York chose to not re-sign him after the end of the season.
NESN.com's Doug Kyed wrote that the 6'3" and 234 pound Beckum measures out and has a playing style similar to that of Hernandez. He ran a 4.61 40-yard dash during his Pro Day and is better suited in a hybrid wide receiver role than blocking down in the trenches like more traditional tight ends.
More than 18 months after his knee surgery, Beckum should be ready to play. Because of the injury and his lack of past production, he won't command a large contract. If the Patriots believe his skills translate to their tight end packages, they would be foolish not to at least give him a look.
Technically speaking, New England doesn't really need a specific replacement for Hernandez. Even with Gronkowski's availability in doubt because of injuries, there's no reason to believe the team won't find a solution like they always seem to do.
Brady, a future Hall-of-Famer, has produced and won regardless of who he has had as his targets in the past. Pursuing Beckum would be more about trying to maintain continuity in the offensive schemes than making the move out of fear of a lack of production.
The weeks leading up to training camp will determine which direction the Patriots decide to take. If the team wants to run a similar offense to last year, Beckum should be under strong consideration to fill the Hernandez role.
In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
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