Over the past three seasons, New England Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have been the NFL's most productive tight-end tandem. Meanwhile, Ravens tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, who were also selected in that 2010 draft, were measured against New England's dynamic duo.
In terms of on-field results, there really was no comparison. Pitta and Dickson combined have fewer career touchdowns than each of those Patriots tight ends. Gronkowski and Hernandez have scored 56 touchdowns.
But given the events in New England this offseason, it's fair to debate which team is better off in the long term.
Gronkowski has had surgery performed on his broken forearm four times now and also underwent surgery on his back this month. Those concerns are nothing compared to what has gone down with Hernandez, whom the Patriots released on Wednesday shortly after he was arrested, likely in connection to the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, 27, a semi-pro football player.
The Patriots gambled on those two talents back in 2010. They drafted Gronkowski in the second round even though some teams, including the Ravens, were leery of his injury history. There were character concerns with Hernandez, who reportedly smoked pot and had a bad temper in college. The Patriots were quickly rewarded for taking the risk, though, and locked both up with extensions.
But now, the Patriots have moved on from Hernandez, who whether he is guilty of a crime or not has embarrassed the franchise by being connected to a homicide. And Gronkowski might not be ready by Week 1 and may never be as dominant of a player as he was in his first three seasons.
Meanwhile, Pitta, the last of these four tight ends to come off the board in 2010, is coming off a breakout season. He had career highs with 61 catches, 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012. Dickson, who was drafted after Gronkowski but before Hernandez, has not been as productive as Pitta, but his potential as a pass-catcher is on display every day during practice.
Pitta and Dickson have combined for 188 receptions, 1,980 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in their three seasons in the NFL.
Gronkowski and Hernandez have combined for 362 receptions, 4,619 receiving yards and 56 touchdowns over that same span.
But Hernandez, if convicted of a crime, may never catch another NFL pass. And it remains unseen if Gronkowski can stay healthy.
There is also some uncertainty -- a must different kind of uncertainly, as I must point out -- with the Ravens' tight ends. Both will be free agents at season's end. The Ravens have expressed a strong interest in re-signing Pitta and Dickson may be in limbo as that situation plays out. Either way, though, it seems unlikely right now that both players will be back in Baltimore next year.
We won't know for a few more years which team came out of the 2010 draft with the better, more reliable set of tight ends. Gronkowski and Hernandez were certainly more productive in their first three seasons. But the outcome of this debate is not as obvious as it was just a few months ago.