When Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement late last month, he did so as one of the premier players at his position in the history of the NFL. When talking about the best tight ends of all time, Gronk has to be in the conversation. At worst, he is in the top five to ever play the position. While at best, he makes a great argument to be the single most uncoverable tight end that has ever put on pads.
The pros for Gronkowski being one of the premier players at the tight end position start with his ability to perform in the clutch. While Gronk may not have always put up the receiving numbers expected, especially later in his career, if Tom Brady needed a player to make a big play and break open a game he would invariably look for his giant tight end.
That ability to be clutch links into Gronkowski’s second greatest trait. Gronk, more so than perhaps any player ever, could be open even when he was covered (and sometimes double covered). His combination of size, speed, and strength, didn’t so much make him a matchup nightmare as a complete matchup impossibility. You would struggle to find a single game during his entire NFL career when Gronkowski wasn’t a threat to take over with a big play on any snap, no matter who was tasked with keeping him quiet.
Other premier players in their time period are worth comparing with Gronkowski. Tony Gonzalez caught way more passes, mainly for the Kansas City Chiefs, but he played (and was at his peak) for a much longer period of time. Kellen Winslow brought the tight end position out of the dark ages, turning it from a purely blocking position into a dual-threat to block or pass.
One of the Gronkowski’s most significant accomplishments is that at his peak he was just as good at blocking as passing. Gonzalez was more of a pure pass catcher (the Chiefs employed Jason Dunn as a tight end for years for running downs), and Winslow is another who caught passes better than he blocked. Gronk, as athletically gifted as any player in the league, could do everything at a high level when healthy.
Health is about the only negative on Gronkowski’s record. Gronkowski, though always seemed to be able to push through the pain barrier in the biggest games, especially when the Patriots needed his skill the most.
It will be interesting to see what Gronkowski does in retirement. As one of the premier players in the game, there are many routes open which he could choose. In his first public appearance since retirement, Gronkowski was part of a team that made dreams come true for four Make-A-Wish kids, showing a side to him we didn’t often see as a player. Gronk has an ideal personality for events like this, and it would be cool to see what he could do in terms of charitable and volunteer work to add another string to his bow after a remarkable professional football career.