The only NFL player more dominant than Gronk is J.J. Watt

The Patriots' Rob Gronkowski is far and away the NFL's best tight end. Only J.J. Watt has a bigger lead on his position group.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

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.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • I’m the King of NY

    When he get’s running, Gronk is pretty much unstoppable. Last night was an example of the JDF vs Godzilla

  • KWS13

    I don’t think it’s fair to really compare these two players in how dominant they are- JJ Watt has consistently been the most dominant interior lineman, most dominant lineman, and arguably the best front 7 player for each of the last 3 years. In 2011 when Gronk and Graham showed up they were essentially in the same category and up until last year Graham seemed to have the slight edge. Gronk was obviously vastly better last year and injuries caused him to fall back a bit, but really since 2011between the two it’s been; equal, equal, advantage Graham, advantage Gronk. If he sustains this and Graham can’t make it back to the top then he’ll get to JJ Watt level

    • Chris

      Graham is a poor blocker, which is why teams can put a corner on him and shut him down.

      While they’re receiving stats are similar, Gronk is a much better blocker than Graham will ever be.

      • KWS13

        Graham still challenges him in receiving which is my main point. Gronk is way better but he has some competition and needs to be dominant for another year or two. His dominance isn’t as complete as Watt’s is

        • Brandon

          The reason Watt is transcendental is because he can rush the passer and play the run extremely well. Gronk is Watt, whereas Graham is a one trick pony, like Elvis Dumervil or someone.

    • Chris

      Graham has never been the better TE. Just on receiving alone Gronk beats Graham every time. His best year is not as good as Gronk, LOOKING JUST AT pass catching. The fact Graham can’t even block makes it a no brainer Gronk is far superior.

      • KWS13

        They were fairly equal in 2011, 2012 they both regressed though Gronk dealt with injuries, 2013 he also dealt with injuries but still Graham was clearly better, and last year Gronk was clearly better. Gronk is definitely better I know that but he has some competition at TE. JJ Watt is vastly superior to all other defensive linemen overall in all aspects, and has been for 3 years. I mainly meant this as more praise for Watt and saying that Gronk needs to at least be this much better than everyone else for another year or two

    • AJ

      Graham is a great receiver himself, but even without looking at the blocking component, Graham rarely runs routes as an in-line tight end. He splits out wide in a manner far more akin to a wideout than a TE. Gronkowski can simply beat the coverage no matter what the coverage assignment is and no matter where he lines up.

      This isn’t a knock on Graham because he is one of the best receiving tight ends in the league that any team would love to have, but Gronk is in a league of his own.

      • KWS13

        I get all that, and it’s like this for most positions. A clear cut best player, but Watt’s dominance is not just consensus but has been that way for 3 years, while Gronk has competition and some ups and downs. Another year like last year and this conversation won’t matter

    • Brian

      Graham doesn’t compare to gronk even as a receiver bc graham can be shut down by physical defenders and he also isn’t great after the catch. Graham is the definition of a finesse player. Actual receiving ability he is on part w gronk but he is far beneath gronk in every other aspect of the position and as a football player. Graham isn’t on the same stratosphere as graham. Graham has been shut down many times by physical play. Gronk never gets shut down. Gronk may also be the best blocking tight end in the league. He could probably be a top 10 tackle if he switched positions. Graham is a below average blocker. Wrs that are under 6 foot and under 200 lbs block better than him. Graham is average after the catch. Gronk is not only elusive for his size after the catch but also a dominant trucking tackle shedding machine. Gronk truly transcends the game. Graham is an oversized slot wr. Anyone who has played the game of football can see gronk is a someone that really can’t be stopped and only hope to contain. Graham can be stopped. Gronk is a football player. Graham is a basketball player playing football. Its absolutely disrespectful to even compare a guy like graham to a football player like gronk.

      • KWS13

        Dude this was literally from 3 weeks ago and you clearly don’t get the point of what I was trying to say from, again, 3 weeks ago. Graham has challenged Gronk purely in a receiving at different points in their careers, and while Gronk was dominant last year Watt has literally obliterated all other defensive linemen for 3 years, not just his specific position for 1 year. The article even points out that his grade was +22.9 compared to +14.2 for Witten which is good, but Watts grades have been +94.2, +99.8 and +107.5 the last three years. The only other truly great 3-4 DE to play recently was Justin Smith who put up grades in the 30s his best years, and Watt has absolutely obliterated his numbers to the point where he is unimaginably great. Also in my point of view a dominant season doesn’t necessarily warrant being called a truly dominant player and compared to Watt who is the best defensive player in the league, the best player overall in the league and could end up being one of the greatest players of all time and has shown that time and time again. Just pump the brakes a little is all in saying, my comment was more about respect for Watt than it was about Gronk not being as great as he (pretty obviously) is. I know Gronk like Watt is one of those guys who is just different but have some respect man, there are a lot of great players in the league some are just greater than other

        • tonka

          As big of a Gronk fan as I am I would agree with your point of Watt being great for longer and by a larger margin. The only thing I dislike about your statement is the comparison to Graham. When it comes to receiving I would agree with you but the tight end position is not only about receiving and that’s where the difference comes between him and Graham. Gronk is a great blocker and has large impact on the running game where as, like the previous poster said, Graham is none existent. That is what makes it much harder to just slap a DB on him and hope for the best. If the man can block LB/DE/DT well there is no way that a DB stands a chance. Here are some links that highlights some of the less flashy parts of Gronk’s game.

          • KWS13

            Clearly I picked the wrong TE to compare with Gronk. I do not at all believe Graham is as good as Gronk but you can’t deny he’s challenged him purely as a receiver at times in their careers, but just to extend on my point when the discussion of the best TE in the league several names come up; Gronk is tops with some combo of Graham, Witten, Bennett, Olson and Kelce also in there, with Witten having the best career and is the best blocker, Graham the most consistent high level play and Kelce the most upside with Gronk the best combo of them all. For Watt’s situation you ask who the best defensive lineman is, not just DE or 3-4 DE, you get Watt and… Some other guys. Gronk is great and is to TEs what Aaron Rodgers is to QBs which is the only other comparison, and they should be like the 2nd highest tier of NFL players if only because Watt deserves to be recognized a tier, if not several tiers, above those guys

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  • Jason Williams

    especially when no Steeler defender is within 20 yards of him.

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  • Paulvr

    The only thing that can stop Gronk is his health. When healthy, he is truly unstoppable. A great, great player. And yes, in the mold of the great J.J. Watt.