The only NFL player more dominant than Gronk is J.J. Watt
With another standout performance in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (+4,.4 PFF game grade) re-asserted his dominance as the best tight end in football. (For the complete game grades recap, click here.) He’s playing at a level that is far above that of any other player at the position, and it’s fair to ask where he ranks in the league when it comes to his superiority at tight end.
Last season, Gronkowski (+22.9 PFF season grade) outgraded every other player at the position by a considerable margin. Dallas’ Jason Witten (+14.2) was our second-highest-graded tight end, but he was far closer to No. 3, Carolina’s Greg Olsen (+13.9), than he was to Gronkowski. In terms of receiving grade, his +23.8 grade was completely unmatched, with Olsen (+11.8) the next best.
Gronk is a complete player who can block well in addition to being dynamic as a receiver. His versatility allows the Patriots to line him up as an in-line tight end, in the slot, and split out wide. His combination of size and speed is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses when he’s lined up in the slot, and his 2.51 yards per route run from that position were the most of any tight end or wide receiver.
Let’s think about that for a second. He wasn’t just the best tight end out of the slot in 2014; he was the most effective pass-catcher out of the slot in the entire league.
At this stage I think it’s fair to say that the only other player who dominates his position group better than Gronkowski is J.J. Watt, who is far, far away the best interior defensive lineman in the league (in addition to being the NFL’s best player). That’s high praise given that Watt is a once-in-a-generation talent, but that’s true of Gronkowski, too. He might not be quite as dominant as Watt – who is, really? — but that’s the level of impact he has at his position.
Gronkowski scored three touchdowns Thursday night against Pittsburgh, with the first coming with 11:16 left in the 2nd quarter. Split out wide, he ran through the attempted tackle by safety Robert Golden on his way to the end zone. There were many times during the game when he appeared uncoverable, and even when the Pittsburgh linebackers and defensive backs appeared to have good coverage (it was a very rough night for the Steelers’ defense, overall), Gronk was still able to come up with the catch.
2011 was Gronkowski’s best season statistically, and if you factor in the playoffs that year he had 1,585 yards and 20 touchdowns. It’s obviously very early in the season, but if Thursday night was anything to go by, he looks ready to challenge both of those totals in 2015.