AFTER nine seasons and three Super Bowl rings, Rob Gronkowski is calling it a day.
SOME of us doubt whether Gronk is really finished or if a mid-season phone call from Tom Brady may change his mind, but for now, his cleats have been hung up. An injury-riddled tenure in the NFL didn’t stop one of the most charismatic and captivating characters from ensuring he will one day become a member of the Hall of Fame, with Patriots and football fans across the globe thankful for his services. If this really is the end for Gronkowski it’s time to answer the question once and for all. Did he bow out as the greatest tight end to ever play the sport?
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TO start the discussion over Gronkowski’s place amongst the game’s greatest tight ends we first have to meet the challengers. The likes of Mike Ditka, Ozzie Newsome, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates are all popular ones thrown into the best TE conversation and while I mean no disrespect to the legends of yesteryear one players stands head and shoulders above the others as Gronk’s biggest challenge for the throne. Tony Gonzalez.
THE former Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons great is one of the most decorated players in the history of the sport. While he never broke through for the NFL’s ultimate prize his 17 years in the league were unlike anyone before him. Because he nearly double Gronk for the number of years in the NFL, obviously their career numbers are vastly different. Here’s an insight into how Gronk’s career numbers stack up against Gonzalez’s
Gronkowski: 115 career games (16 playoffs), 5x Pro Bowler, 4x All-Pro, 521 receptions (81 in the playoffs), 7861 receiving yards (1163 in the playoffs), 79 TD’s (12 in the playoffs)
Gonzalez: 270 games (7 in the playoffs), 14x Pro Bowler, 6x All-Pro, 1325 receptions (30 in the playoffs), 15127 receiving yards (286 in the playoffs), 111 TD’s (4 in the playoffs)
WHILE Gonzalez tops his Patriots’ rival in most of the career numbers, Gronk’s touchdown pedigree is an area that he challenges the Hall of Famer in. There was no player in the league who demanded more attention than Rob Gronkowski throughout the past decade and sure the likes of Antonio Brown and Larry Fitzgerald may have been deemed as better receivers, but Gronk beat them and every other NFL player in touchdown production since he entered the league. His 79 receiving TD’s are the most in the league in that span and his next closest rival (Antonio Brown) played in 15 more games than Gronk.
DESPITE his ability to put the ball in the endzone it’s hard to build a case against Gonzalez. There are other factors that sway in Gronkowski’s favour, with an argument that he wasn’t only the best tight-end to lace ’em up, but that he was one of the best receivers to ever play in the NFL. Gronk owns multiple NFL records, a large portion of which have come due to his regular postseason appearances. He has more catches, touchdowns and receiving yards than any TE before him and is the only player at his position with multiple Super Bowl touchdowns.
THAT coupled with his ability to be an elite blocker puts Gronk towards the top of the list of great TE’s, but again given the length of productivity from Gonzalez, he’d likely get my vote in this argument. Sure, Gronkowski’s physical dominance is something of folklore, but Tony G performed at such a high level over a longer period of time without Tom Brady as his quarterback. Gonzalez relied on Trent Green, Elvis Grbac (yes, I had to Google him to find out if he’s a real person) and Matt Ryan to throw him accurate balls and while some may say Gronk would have been better if he stayed healthy, you could make a similar argument around Gonzalez’s potential ceiling if he had a superstar QB.
THERE’S no denying Gronk’s place in history though, with the fair assumption that he was at least the greatest TE of his generation. One of the most physical forces in NFL history, Gronk was a unique combination of a lot of past greats at his position, providing a perfect blend of skills that helped him play in three championship winning teams. Was he the most talented/versatile player at his position to play in the NFL? Maybe, but either way, Gronk’s legacy as a true legend of the sport is intact whether he chooses to return to the field or not.
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