NFL preview 2012: The evolution of the tight end

Rob Gronkowski has gone from man to myth

The Patriots tight end morphed into a man known merely by one word — “Gronk” — as he smashed NFL records last year. Now, can he build on that momentous season?

Rob Gronkowski set NFL records by becoming the first tight end to record 1,327 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns last season.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Rob Gronkowski set NFL records by becoming the first tight end to record 1,327 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns last season.

Why did the Patriots embrace tight ends?

When the Patriots were blown out of the playoffs by the Ravens in early 2010, the team set about reconstructing its offense to run around a set of talented tight ends.

Christopher L. Gasper

//c.o0bg.com/rf/image_90x90/Boston/2011-2020/2012/09/05/BostonGlobe.com/Sports/Images/Chris_Gasper_150px-2556.jpg It’s OK to question Bill Belichick

In musing 10 thoughts about the Patriots, Christopher L. Gasper notes that Belichick has swung and missed on several acquisitions in recent years.

//c.o0bg.com/rf/image_90x90/Boston/2011-2020/2012/09/04/BostonGlobe.com/Sports/Images/davis_patswork8_spts--90x90.jpg Aaron Hernandez is latest part of NFL’s tight end evolution

Hernandez, who is also a receiver, fullback and running back, is the most recent player who has revolutionized how teams use tight ends.

GRAPHIC

//c.o0bg.com/rf/image_90x90/Boston/2011-2020/2012/09/05/BostonGlobe.com/Sports/Advance/Images/pats%20practiceday21186--90x90.jpg How the Patriots use tight ends to their advantage

Greg A. Bedard illustrates two plays that show how New England exploits defenses with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

//c.o0bg.com/rf/image_90x90/Boston/2011-2020/2012/09/04/BostonGlobe.com/Sports/Images/Patriots%20Camp%20Football.JPEG-025ef--90x90.jpg Tight ends are changing how defenses are constructed

The rise of dominant tight ends has given opportunities to “tweeners” -- defensive back/linebacker combinations who used to be left out but now are expected to counter athletic tight ends.

//c.o0bg.com/rf/image_90x90/Boston/2011-2020/2012/09/05/BostonGlobe.com/Sports/Advance/Images/Patriots%20Gronkowski%20Football.JPEG-0c834-635--90x90.jpg Top 10 tight ends in the NFL today

With help from an NFL scout, the Globe breaks down the rankings of the 10 best tight ends in the NFL today.

//c.o0bg.com/rf/image_90x90/Boston/2011-2020/2012/09/05/BostonGlobe.com/Sports/Images/Bengals%20Falcons%20Football.JPEG-0b356--90x90.jpg Top 10 NFL tight ends of all time

The Globe breaks down the rankings of the 10 best tight ends in NFL history.

//c.o0bg.com/rf/image_90x90/Boston/2011-2020/2012/08/30/BostonGlobe.com/Sports/Images/francis2-2506.jpg History of Patriots tight ends

New England has a long tradition of developing Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends. Meet some of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez’s predecessors.

Roster breakdown

Meet the 2012 Patriots

Bill Belichick has assembled one of the youngest rosters of his 13-year Patriots career as he seeks to return to the Super Bowl. Meet the players who make up his 2012 roster.

AFC preview

In the AFC, it’s the Patriots ... and then who?

Familiar foe Peyton Manning is back to challenge Tom Brady this season. But will he and his new Broncos teammates be serious contenders?

NFC preview

In the NFC, who will chase the Giants?

Eli Manning’s team may be the defending champions, but they have teams such as the Packers, Cowboys and 49ers eager to take them down.

Breaking down the Patriots’ 2012 opponents

Take a look at the Patriots’ path back to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2012 season.

NFL 2012 picks from Globe staff

Who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XLVII? The Boston Globe’s football staff makes its picks for winners during the 2012 season.

More NFL preview

Former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak eased into his new role in the booth; last season he was 98.5’s sideline reporter.

Sports Media

Scott Zolak, Gil Santos adjusting to new booth setup

Zolak, in his first season replacing Gino Cappelletti in the Patriots’ radio booth, said his sideline role last season has made the transition smoother.