Gronk Dominated Like No Other Tight End Before Him
Rob Gronkowski is the greatest tight end of all-time. It is not close. Nobody could catch, run, AND block like “The Gronk.” Maybe Tony Gonzalez was as good of a pass catcher. You might find enough evidence to convince someone bringing up the awesome abilities of Shannon Sharpe or Kellen Winslow is not entirely stupid. Some will even seriously argue the merits of blockers like Jason Witten and Mike Ditka. But NOBODY could do it all like quite like Gronk. Gronk DOMINATED (ALL CAPS!!!) games in ways nobody thought possible by a tight end. At his prime, Rob Gronkowski was uncoverable. As Will Blackmon put it perfectly on Twitter, Gronk was the Shaq of the NFL. The speed, the quickness, and most importantly, the catch radius/hands made covering him an impossible task, but he combined all of that with unmatched power and strength. Even when he was slowed down by injuries in his last couple of years, the legend of Gronk rumbled on, as the supposedly hobbled tight end made mincemeat of the Chiefs’ Eric Berry when Tom Brady needed him most. However, what seals Gronkowski’s status as the G.O.A.T tight end is his blocking ability. Gronk was uncoverable as a receiving tight end… but unstoppable as a blocking tight end.
For those that either do not remember or were never lucky enough to watch Shaquille O’Neal play, take some time to check out these highlights.
Prime Shaq was unstoppable. He was a monster of a human being. Before he even moved a muscle, you thought he was an almost completely separate species. Then when he took the court and you saw him start actually moving, you knew the world around you had fundamentally warped. Few people were ever as large as Shaq… and yet, here he was exhibiting the nimbleness and footwork of a classicly trained ballet dancer. The response to seeing Shaq for the first time was always some variation of, “you’re telling me a man that large can move that quickly?” The answer before Shaq was always, “Heavens no! Humans cannot do that.” Shaq made us realize it was, in fact, possible to combine such girth with such quickness. Before Rob Gronkowski, we did not know somebody that large could be that quick, have that much top-end speed, and combine it with some of the best hands in the league. Certainly, there was no way those talents could coalesce with a body and mind that relished blocking. Before Gronk, the answer was always, and emphatically no… after Gronk, we know better.
Going prime against prime nobody was even close to Gronk. His 2011 season is the greatest season by a tight end ever. If you are a fan of stats (and like ignoring the other important part of the tight end position), you can look at that 2011 year as the holy grail for tight ends. The Patriots were revolutionizing offenses with an almost unstoppable duo of tight ends (yes, that was the other one) with an uncoverable slot receiver (Wes Welker) all while Gronk was at the healthiest he would ever be in his career. The results speak for themselves: 17 receiving touchdowns (one rushing), 90 receptions, 1,327 receiving yards, and a 72.6 catch percentage. If he was a wide receiver, this would be one of the best seasons ever. But Gronk was more than a wide receiver that year and every year he played. He was the team’s best blocker, opening up holes for a running game that averaged 4.0 yard per attempt. The only thing that stopped Gronk and the Patriots from putting the cherry on top of the season was Bernard Pollard (cause of course).
That is where people will try to detract from the pure, unadulterated dominance that was Rob Gronkowski. They will look at how much time he missed due to injury. The argument goes, “he could never stay healthy.” Which is half- true. Gronk missed significant time in his career due to a myriad of injuries. It is also the reason that teams passed on him in the draft; teams were wary of a tight end that had to miss the entire 2009 college season recuperating from back surgery. The Patriots gambled and hit the jackpot. They got the greatest tight end of all-time. A tight end that could not be stopped from catching the ball, even when he was slowed by injuries. However, as much as people can (and will) point to those injuries and missed time to denigrate the greatness of Gronkowski, it is actually those injuries and his ability to play while not at his best that prove why he is the greatest tight end of all-time.
No tight end has blocked better than Rob Gronkowski. He was a left tackle who could run any route on the field. But not only did he have the size to block, but he also had the mindset. Gronk did not just want to make his block, he wanted to throw guys out of the club. Most tight ends have little problem when it comes to blocking defensive backs, but Gronk decimated everyone: defensive ends on crack backs, Khalil Mack in pass protection, and he even stonewalled Haloti Friggin’ Ngata 1-0n-1 on run plays during Ngata’s All-Pro seasons!
Rob Gronkowski is the greatest tight end to ever play the game of football. You can look at full career statistics and make arguments for Gonzalez, Sharpe, or maybe even Antonio Gates. They would be decent arguments if a tight end’s only job was to catch a football. But a tight end must block. In order for a tight end to be considered great, he has to be a terrific pass catcher and a good blocker. Gronk was the most unstoppable tight end the NFL has ever seen in the passing game. He was also the single most dominant blocking tight end of all-time. If that was all Gronkowski did, it would have been enough. But like all the greatest, he had one more virtuoso stretch left in his ravaged body.
In the last half of his final season, while trying to shrug off all sorts of injuries, the New England Patriots decided to go old school and lean heavily on the run game. Gronk, alongside Dwayne Allen and James Develin, led the way for this running resurgence. In order to keep Tom Brady healthy and attack lighter defensive fronts (both in size and stature), the Patriots turned to their bouncers to keep order. And keep order they did, ramming the ball down the throats of opposing defenses. This approach led them to the AFC Championship Game where the Patriots completely controlled the first half thanks in large parts to runs behind Gronk. However, when things stalled, they had to go to the air. A fade to Gronk over Eric Berry set-up the final Pats’ TD of regulation. A Berry beating slant in overtime set-up the game-winning Burkhead TD. Of course they ran behind Gronk.
With the Patriots offense sputtering in the Super Bowl, held to without a touchdown the entire game, Brady found Gronk on a perfectly lobbed seam pass. The final catch of Gronk’s career is a ball a 6’6, 265-pound human being has no business corralling. But naturally, Gronk made the catch and made sure there was no doubt he had control. But his work was not done. No. A good tight end is expected to make catches, but a great tight end must block. The final significant play of Rob Gronkowski career was a touchdown run right off of his right hip. His final handful of games and his last stretch of plays were poetic and a testament to his status as the greatest tight end of all-time. While good tight ends can catch, and great tight ends can both catch and block, only one has been the greatest at both. Rob Gronkowski, the greatest tight end of all-time.