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With Aaron Hernandez Gone, Fantasy Owners Should Hope Jake Ballard Can Ball

Jake Ballard (Courtesy Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE)

After Aaron Hernandez was released by the Patriots on Wednesday, Jake Ballard, who now projects to start at tight end for the Patriots, tweeted for the first time in almost a week:

“Do you like a little kick in your coke

Do you like it goin’ up in smoke

Do you like it on a gravel road

We can keep it on the down low”

If you’re not familiar, those are the lyrics from “Tell Me How You Like It” by Florida Georgia Line. Although Ballard’s tweet was almost assuredly coincidental and doesn’t offer any insight into the tight end’s thoughts about the Hernandez situation, one thing that can be gleaned is that he’s feeling good. (People don’t tweet out country lyrics when they’re feeling bad; they listen to the music…) The fact that Ballard is feeling rosy should get the attention of fantasy owners because he is now by default a key part of a Patriot passing attack that will more than likely be missing its top five receivers from last season (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez, Danny Woodhead) when Week One rolls around.

What does that mean for Ballard? It remains to be seen.

During his four years at Ohio State, Ballard only caught 34 passes and failed to score a touchdown in his junior and senior years. Bearing that in mind, it’s somewhat surprising that he grabbed 38 balls during his lone season in the NFL. While with the New York Giants in 2011, Ballard was targeted 60 times and scored four touchdowns over the course of 14 games. (Ballard was with the Giants in 2010 but only played in one game and failed to record any statistics.)

After missing all of 2012 because of injury, Ballard should be raring to go. Working in his favor is the fact that even if he wasn’t on the field as a Patriot last season, he was a member of the organization and therefore had more than a year to learn the complex offense that the team likes to run. Brady loves to throw to his tight ends (Gronkowski and Hernandez totaled 106 catches and 16 touchdowns in 2012) and Ballard figures to get his fair share of chances. Besides Gronkowski, the other two tight ends who remain on the roster from last season Daniel Fells (4 catches in 2012) and Michael Hoomanawanui (5 catches in 2012) may get some looks due to their familiarity with the offense, but it seems unlikely.

Ballard is probably more likely to face competition from the team’s two rookie tight ends, Brandon Ford and Zach Sudfeld. Ford finished his final season at Clemson in 2012 with 40 receptions for 480 yards and eight touchdowns and tied a school record for most receiving touchdowns by a tight end by ending his college career with 12. Even more impressive, Sudfeld caught 45 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns for Nevada in 2012. Combine their 2012 college numbers (95 catches, 16 touchdowns) and they stack up quite nicely with what Gronkowski and Hernandez were able to accomplish in the NFL last season.

Regardless, other than Gronkowski, Ballard is probably the guy fantasy owners want to target. He’s had a chance to learn the system, has proven he can succeed in the NFL and is probably one of the team’s least beat-up players because he didn’t play last season. Sudfeld and Ford are intriguing prospects on paper, but that’s all they are until they prove they can play in the NFL.

A little food for thought…

These are 2010 NFL Combine numbers from two players from a prominent SEC School:

Player A- Height: 6-3; Weight: 245; 40 Low: 4.53; 40 Time: 4.64; 40 High: 4.73

Player B- Height: 6-3; Weight: 236; 40 Low: 4.62; 40 Time: 4.71; 40 High: 4.79

Pretty close right? Player A is Aaron Hernandez. Player B is Tim Tebow.

About Evan Bleier - @itishowitis

Evan recently received a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University. He lives in Brooklyn, is an avid sports fan, loves all things Boston and is constantly on the lookout for the perfect Buffalo wing. His work has appeared in Maxim, The Huffington Post, The Real Deal and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter - @itishowitis.

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