What makes Rob Gronkowski the NFL’s best offensive player

The New England tight end finished second in Monson's 101. Here's why he's the most unstoppable force on offense.

| 3 months ago
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

What makes Rob Gronkowski the NFL’s best offensive player


Rob Gronkowski is the J.J. Watt of offensive players in the NFL. Watt ended up as the No. 1 player on my top 101 list of best players in the game, but Gronk sits at No. 2 right behind him. There is no more dominant player on offense than the Patriots tight end, who is by a distance the best player in the league at his position. He is the best offensive player you’ll see.

What makes him so special is a lot like what makes the Texans’ Watt so special on defense – being able to dominate in multiple phases as opposed to just one. In a league that has become ever more specialized – with third-down backs, pass-rush specialists, big-nickel safeties, two-down linebackers etc. – simply being an excellent well-rounded player makes you a tough proposition to match up with.

This is a league where the TE position has largely become a glorified big slot receiver. There are players who can come close to rivaling Gronk as a receiver – Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, even Jordan Reed – but none of those players is even close to the level Gronkowski is as a blocker. That’s what makes him so special.

Even as a receiver, Gronkowski is a multi-faceted threat. He has a spectacular catch radius and can make tough catches on any route in all areas of the field, but he is also incredibly dangerous after the catch, where his size and strength make him a real problem for defenders to get him to the ground.

This catch is probably Gronkowski’s signature catch:

screen-shot-2014-11-05-at-10-18-31-am

But what makes him so dangerous is a receiver is being able to do things like this as well:

Gronk MT

It’s a tough ask to stop a guy as big and powerful as Gronkowski from catching the football, especially when he has the kind of catch radius we saw above. But broken tackles after the catch are the great X-factor when it comes to production. You can be all over him, in position to make a tackle for little to no gain as soon as he catches the ball, but if he stiff-arms three people to the ground all of your good positional coverage comes to nothing when he rumbles into the end zone.

Including the playoffs over the past two seasons, Gronkowski has broken 34 tackles after the catch, and hasn’t fumbled the ball once in doing so. He recorded 546 of his 1,176 receiving yards in 2015 after the catch, at a rate of 7.6 per reception, the highest in the league among TEs with more than 16 catches. Despite not having the blazing speed of some of these big-WR tight ends, Gronk outgained them all after the catch because of his power and brute force of busting through tackles and swatting away defenders.

I’m sure I don’t need to sell anybody at this point on the fact that Gronkowski is a dominant pass-catching tight end. The statistics speak for themselves, and he’d be the league’s best even if blocking wasn’t part of the position’s job description. And yet, blocking is the area of his game that really separates him from the pack.

Many teams carry tight ends on the roster who rarely see the ball thrown to them, but are there almost entirely for their blocking ability, yet Gronkowski can block as well as those guys in addition to being the best receiving TE in the league. Nobody else has that kind of versatility at such a high level.

Gronk DRC

This touchdown run ultimately got called back for holding on the backside, but just watch Gronk take the Giants’ Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the edge and launch him to spring the running back to space. This is why you can’t simply treat him as a big receiver the way you can with somebody like Jimmy Graham. If you send out defensive backs to cover Gronkowski because they give you the best chance of stopping him catching the ball, you are badly overmatched in the run game; those guys can’t hope to stand up to his power. That’s not the case with some other receiving TEs.

But let’s pretend we expect any TE to be able to block a cornerback, even if tape suggests that’s a bigger supposition than we might think these days. What about defensive linemen?

Gronk block

Here is Denver’s Malik Jackson being half blocked by the left guard before Gronk comes through the line to add his weight to the block and try to open the hole. Just watch the impact with which Gronk hits and what it does to Jackson, who flies back into the center and is driven five yards away from the point of attack. Jackson has three straight seasons of strong grades against the run, and Gronk just crushed him with the hit coming through the line.

The bottom line is that Gronkowski isn’t just the best pass-catching TE in the NFL – though he is that – but he’s also one of the league’s blockers and therefore a mismatch in favor of the offense no matter what play the Patriots run. If they run the ball he’s a positive as a blocker, if they pass it he is a positive as a receiving weapon. No matter what a defense does from a personnel standpoint they likely don’t have anybody that can match up to Gronkowski in all areas of the game.

If J.J. Watt is the most dominant player in football, then Rob Gronkowski is the most dominant player on offense, simply because he is an all-pro in all areas of the game.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • 24AHAD

    Jordan Reed and Greg Olsen? Lol Travis Kelce is the most comparable tight end to Gronk, pal. Reed is a baller but not the same kind of player.

    • Matt 13

      Greg Olsen had more recs, yds and TD’s than Travis Kelce last year. You could easily argue Olsen is a better blocker as well.

      • 24AHAD

        You’re high if you’d take Greg Olsen over Travis Kelce even if they were the sake age. Travis Kelces direct comparison is Gronk. I mean player type. Olsen plays different. Not physical

        • Matt 13

          Clearly, I’m the one who is high, since I’m leaning towards the player who outperformed Kelce in just about every statistical category there is last year! Oh yeah, just fyi, PFF rated Olsen at #67 out of the top 100. Where is Kelce on that list??? Put that in your pipe and smoke it;)

          • 24AHAD

            What KWS13 said

          • Matt 13

            Good to know you can think and speak for yourself!

          • 24AHAD

            Lol he corrected me. I’m saying you are correct?

          • Matt 13

            Sorry. Either way, Gronk is a beast and I hate the Pats!

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        olsen had the worst blocking grade of any TE in 2015

    • KWS13

      They appeared to mean simply their threat as a pass catcher, not style of play as a reciever. Reed and Olsen are better recievers than Kelce, even if Gronk is a good player comp for Kelce. They were focusing just on threat and ability; I’ve argued before on this site that Gronk shouldn’t be in the same discussion of dominance as JJ Watt because of peak dominance and lack of longevity, pointing out Graham as having rivaled him as a reciever in 2011-2013, but now after this last season that’s clearly been resolved and in terms of sheer impact as a reciever he has no fair comp or equal, as this article states.

  • Backinmd

    Hard to compare players from different era’s.. To me The Gronk is the best TE to come out since Kellen Winslow ( Chargers) .. Not taking anything away from Greg Osen. Whitten , Graham …. For years blocking was about 40% of TE report card ; now many of the great TE don’t block at all or block like a WR …Will the Gronk go down as best TE ever ? Probably .. He’s a pleasure to watch on TV and seeing him play in person is worth the price alone …Plus he doesn’t have a superstar attitude with fans and the press .. Jordon Reed last season was the 1st entire season he wasn’t injured and played great ..Think he’ll be a say a TOP Five or higher TE for years …..

    • crosseyedlemon

      No mention of Mike Ditka who revolutionized the TE position, coached a championship team and is in both the college and pro hall of fame?

      • Backinmd

        Yeah, I remember iron Mike ..Dad friend was a die-hard Penn.State. fan and had season tckts. @ Beaver Stadium ..Anyway when PSU was Independent the Pitt.– Penn State game was a big rivalry ..Ditka was a tremendous blocker and tough as nails … High School football is still a religion in Pa, especially in W. Pa .. BTW, The Big 33 game in Hershy, Pa. is this Saturday ….Last couple of years Pa. has been playing Maryland — before that they played the Ohio All Stars for about 15 years …Stadium in Hershy, Pa seats about 20,000 ..Joe Montana was an ” honorary chairman ” at the game about 15 years ago ; couple of years later it was Matt Millen …////// While we were parking before the game, ( grass field) Joe Montana rode by in a rent-a-car about three feet from us and waved at us as he drove by …Thought my wife was going to freak out ….

        • crosseyedlemon

          Good story. Trying to get a visualization of Joe in a rent-a-car, but it ain’t easy….lol.

          • Backinmd

            Joe was driving the car and was in the car by himself ..A Chevy or a Ford .. Montana -another great W. Pa NFL HOF QB along with Joe Namath and Jim Kelly … By the way Pa. beat Md 26-14 last night ….Stadium is right next to the amusement park and Hockey bldg …High school Football is a religion in western and central Pa….One more tidbit from Pa.: Joe Paterno wanted to recruit Jim Kelly as a Linebacker coming out of HS, so Kelly ended up @ Univ. of Miami — The U and played QB .You can imagine how tough Kelly was coming out of HS ..Bet he could have been an All-Pro LB in the NFL …Dhats all the news from Maryland — where the good life begins …..

          • Backinmd

            Opps — left out one of the best ever from W. Pa … Johnny Unitas ..