One general manager on Rob Gronkowski: “The only guy better than him, to me, is Kellen Winslow—and it’s really close.”
An NFC scout: “John Mackey is one. Clear one. Then Shannon Sharpe. Then Gronkowski.”
An AFC scout: “There’s Gronk, clear No. 1, because no tight end in history is [6’6″ and 265 pounds] and runs like he does. I think [Tony] Gonzalez might have had better hands, but I’m not sure.”
Another NFC scout: “A lot of you guys [in the media] and even a lot of us [personnel men] live in the moment. But I’m not doing that when I say no one is better than him. No one in history has his combination of size, hands and speed.”
An NFC assistant coach: “I would go Mackey, [Dave] Casper, Sharpe and Gronk. But by the time he’s done, Gronk will be first.”
These are the approximate heights and weights of some of the great tight ends in history. Sharpe was 6’2″, 230 pounds. Dave Casper was 6’4″, 240. Mackey was 6’2″, 225. Gonzalez was 6’5″, 250.
Again, Gronkowski is 6’6″, about 265.
Ozzie Newsome played at 6’2″, 230. That’s at least 30 pounds lighter than Gronkowski. Mike Ditka, considered a talented bruiser, played at 6’3″, 228 pounds.
In fact, as far as I can tell, no tight end in the Hall of Fame is bigger than Gronkowski.
The Boston Globe‘s Alex Speier had the numbers on Gronkowski on Monday. They’re remarkable:
■ Gronkowski’s 207 receiving yards through two weeks are the most to open a season in his career and the fifth-most ever for a tight end.
■ With three receptions of 20 or more yards on Sunday, he has 79 plays of that length in his career, the seventh-most by any receiver in the NFL from 2010 to 2015, behind only Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, DeSean Jackson, Andre Johnson, Dez Bryant and Vincent Jackson.
■ He’s one of 34 players with four or more receiving touchdowns through the first two weeks of the season; only four players have ever had more touchdown catches through the first two weeks.
■ Gronkowski has 58 career receiving touchdowns, most ever for a tight end in his first six NFL seasons and tied for ninth-most ever by any receiver, with a good chance that he’ll get at least six more touchdown catches this year to push past everyone in history except Jerry Rice (79) and Randy Moss (77) for touchdown receptions through his first six NFL seasons.
■ He already ranks seventh all time in touchdown catches by a tight end, with a great shot at surpassing current fourth-place holder Shannon Sharpe (62) this year, leaving him behind only Tony Gonzalez (111), Antonio Gates (99) and Harold Carmichael (79). Gronkowski has played more than 100 fewer games than each of the six tight ends ahead of him on the career touchdowns list.
■ He has accumulated 4,586 career receiving yards—seventh-most ever by a tight end through his first six years. He’s got the record held by Kellen Winslow (5,176) within reach, though it is worth noting thatJimmy Graham (4,814 career receiving yards) is in his sixth year in the NFL.
We talk often about how the sport of football is evolving, has evolved, will evolve. Sometimes it does in terms of strategy, like going from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3. Or how it evolves at other positions, like the size and athleticism of quarterbacks.
But Gronkowski represents one of the greatest and most dramatic evolutionary shifts the league has ever seen. It’s the reason you have an increasing number of team personnel types thinking Gronkowski is already the best to play the position, or near the top, despite this being just his sixth year in the league.
It’s the size/speed differential. All of the great tight ends had talent. None of them had his size. Gronkowski is just as good as any of them, but he’s doing it at—let’s be honest—probably damn near 270 pounds.
If you notice, few linebackers cover Gronkowski now. Most teams have given up trying. He is now covered mostly by safeties.
I don’t know if Gronkowski is already so good that he should be mentioned in same sentence with Ditka or Newsome or Winslow. What I do know is Gronkowski continues to re-engineer the position. He has Gronkified the tight end position. That may sound naughty. It’s not. It’s revolutionary.