- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens were looking for tight ends in the 2010 draft, and they passed on Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. A few months ago, you could criticize the Bengals and Ravens for doing so. Now, these AFC North teams could make out in the long run.
Gronkowski has undergone four surgeries on his left forearm and had back surgery this month. His back problems in college caused many teams, including the Ravens, to take him off their draft board. Hernandez, meanwhile, has been in the middle of a homicide investigation since the body of a friend was found shot in the back of the head last Monday in an industrial park near Hernandez's home. Both of their situations make them question marks heading into this season and beyond.
Three years ago, the Bengals went with Jermaine Gresham with the No. 21 overall pick, making him the first tight end taken that year. Gresham's career statistics compare favorably with Hernandez and he has 15 fewer receptions than Gronkowski. His 2.3 average yards after the catch ranks only behind Gronkowski (2.54) among tight ends over the past three seasons.
Like the Patriots, the Ravens selected two tight ends in the 2010 draft, taking Ed Dickson in the third round and Dennis Pitta in the fourth. While Dickson's numbers fell last season, Pitta had a breakthrough season. Pitta figures to be the Ravens' No. 1 or No. 2 pass-catcher this season after Baltimore traded Anquan Boldin to San Francisco. He also scored eight touchdowns in his final 12 games, including the playoffs.
In terms of tight ends, the biggest steal of that draft was New Orleans' Jimmy Graham. He was selected in the third round, 11 spots after the Bengals chose wide receiver Jordan Shipley and 25 spots after the Ravens drafted Dickson.
Over the past three seasons, the Bengals and Ravens would have been more productive in the passing game with Gronkowski and Hernandez. But, when projecting the next three seasons, Cincinnati and Baltimore may fare better with its current tight ends if they choose to keep them. Gresham is a free agent after the 2014 season for the Bengals, who drafted Tyler Eifert in the first round this year. Pitta and Dickson are entering the final year of their contracts.