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    History of Patriots tight ends

    Russ Francis became a three-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Patriots from 1976-78.
    Russ Francis became a three-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Patriots from 1976-78.

    The Patriots have a rich history of strong performers at the tight end position. Examine some of the men who have played a large role at tight end for the Patriots over the years:

    Thomas Stephens

    1960-64

    With Patriots: 41 catches, 506 yards, 5 TDs

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    Best season: 1960 (22 catches, 302 yards, 3 TDs) -- An original Patriot, Stephens was his most productive during the franchise’s inaugural season. He had a TD catch in three straight games, all wins at Nickerson Field.

    Tony Romeo

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    1962-67

    With Patriots: 110 catches, 1,724 yards, 10 TDs

    Best season: 1962 (34 catches, 608 yards, 1 TD) -- Romeo went from seven catches as a rookie in 1961 (with Dallas) to 34 as a Patriot. He finished sixth in the AFL by averaging 17.9 yards per catch.

    Jim Whalen

    1965-69

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    With Patriots: 153 catches, 2,487 yards, 17 TDs)

    Best season: 1968 (47 catches, 718 yards, 7 TDs) -- The Cambridge native and Boston College product earned first-team All-Pro honors in the AFL. He finished second among all TEs (AFL and NFL) in catches and TDs.

    Bob Windsor

    1972-75

    With Patriots: 74 catches, 915 yards, 6 TDs

    Best season: 1972 (33 catches, 383 yards, 1 TD) -- Windsor’s first season as a Patriot came at age 30. He led the team in receptions in Weeks 8 and 9, including six for 54 yards against the soon-to-be-perfect Dolphins.

    Don Hasselbeck

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    1977-83

    With Patriots: 99 catches, 1,444 yards, 15 TDs

    Best season: 1981 (46 catches, 808 yards, 6 TDs) -- Don’t blame Hasselbeck for the Patriots’ 2-14 record. All four of his career 100-yard games came in the ‘81 season and he ranked third on the team in yards from scrimmage.

    Russ Francis

    1975-80, ‘87-88

    With Patriots: 207 catches, 3,157 yards, 28 TDs

    Best season: 1980 (41 catches, 664 yards, 8 TDs) -- Though it wasn’t one of Francis’s three Pro Bowl campaigns, he set a career high in touchdown catches and finished third on the Patriots in scoring.

    Lin Dawson

    1981-90

    With Patriots: 117 catches, 1,233 yards, 8 TDs

    Best season: 1984 (39 catches, 427 yards, 4 TDs) -- Dawson made a personal-best 15 starts in 1984 and had a career year. His two best games came against the rival Jets (11 catches, 140 yards, 1 TD).

    Marv Cook

    1989-93

    With Patriots: 210 catches, 1,843 yards, 11 TDs

    Best season: 1991 (82 catches, 808 yards, 3 TDs) -- Cook was a most deserving choice as first-team All-Pro, finishing with 23 more receptions than the next-closest tight end and a 144-yard edge over the field.

    Ben Coates

    1991-99

    With Patriots: 490 catches, 5,471 yards, 50 TDs

    Best season: 1994 (96 catches, 1,174 yards, 7 TDs) -- He opened the season with three straight 100-yard games and ended it among the top five receivers in the league. It was the first of two straight first-team All-Pro selections.

    Jermaine Wiggins

    2000-01

    With Patriots: 30 catches, 333 yards, 5 TDs

    Best season: 2001 (14 catches, 133 yards, 4 TDs) -- Wiggins matched his season reception total in the playoffs. He recorded 10 in the “Tuck Rule” game, with eight coming during the fourth quarter and overtime.

    Christian Fauria

    2002-05

    With Patriots: 79 catches, 790 yards, 13 TDs

    Best season: 2002 (27 catches, 253 yards, 7 TDs) -- Fauria had slightly more receptions and yardage in the following Super Bowl season, but in ‘02, one-quarter of his receptions resulted in touchdowns.

    Daniel Graham

    2002-06

    With Patriots: 120 catches, 1,393 yards, 17 TDs

    Best season: 2003 (38 catches, 409 yards, 4 TDs) -- Graham had a last-minute tying TD catch in an OT victory over Houston in Week 12 to save a long winning streak, and also had four catches in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

    Benjamin Watson

    2004-09

    With Patriots: 167 catches, 2,102 yards, 20 TDs

    Best season: 2006 (49 catches, 643 yards, 3 TDs) -- In his third season, Graham ranked second on the team in receptions and yards, and was third among all players with 49.5 yards per game.

    Aaron Hernandez

    2010-present

    With Patriots (first two seasons): 124 catches, 1,473 yards, 13 touchdowns

    Best season: 2011 (79 catches, 910 yards, seven touchdowns) -- Hernandez fell to the fourth round in the 2010 draft partly because of character questions. But he has been a huge value pick for the Patriots, who gave him a multi-year contract extension in August.

    Rob Gronkowski

    2010-present

    With Patriots (first two seasons): 132 catches, 1,873 yards, 28 touchdowns

    Best season: 2011 (90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 receiving touchdowns) -- Gronkowski set a new record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end in 2011, and has helped to re-think how much production is possible from a tight end. Recently extended by the Patriots, he has emerged as one of the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapons.