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Rob Gronkowski
NFL

Is Rob Gronkowski the Greatest TE of All Time?

  • Justin Melo
  • June 22, 2022
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski officially announced his retirement on Tuesday, closing the book on his illustrious 11-year playing career. Gronkowski thanked the Buccaneers’ staff in a lengthy social media message confirming the news. It marks Gronkowski’s second retirement (he first stepped away in 2019). As we prepare to analyze Gronkowski as a former player for the second time, he deserves immediate recognition as the greatest tight end to ever play the game.

Gronkowski deserves such acclaim despite being nearly 6,000 yards away from equaling Tony Gonzalez’s all-time record for receiving yards (15,127) among tight ends. It’s worth noting Gonzalez played in nearly double the amount of regular-season contests (270 versus 142) Gronkowski did. With all due respect to Gonzalez as a legend himself, it shouldn’t prevent Gronkowski from taking his rightful place on the throne.

Raw impact tells the story. Gronkowski’s receiving yards per game average of 65.40 ranks third all-time among qualifying tight ends behind just Travis Kelce and George Kittle, who must both continue forward in their current manner before confirming their status above Gronkowski in this category for good (the debate involving Kelce is for another day). Gronkowski made it cool to play tight end. He became the first tight end to lead the league in touchdown receptions in 2011 with 17 legendary Gronk spikes in a historic single-season campaign that forever rewrote the narrative surrounding tight ends. 

An entire generation of tight ends answer with “Rob Gronkowski” when asked about the legacy they hope to carve out for themselves. Gronkowski’s impact will forever be felt across the position. That means something.

Gronkowski’s 92 touchdowns rank third all-time behind Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, but Gronkowski’s 0.65 touchdowns per contest are the most of any top tight end. There’s never been a tight end to make galloping across the middle look so effortlessly like Gronkowski has, and that should be appreciated and accounted for when igniting this debate. At his best, Gronkowski was downright un-coverable. He was the definition of money in the red zone. Offensive coordinators could draw up the play for opposing defensive coordinators and they still couldn’t stop it. Gronkowski’s physical 6-foot-6, 260-plus-pound frame was designed to thrive in the end zone. The dominance he’s shown at the position over the last decade qualifies as generational, and that’s not a term to be thrown around lightly.

Gronkowski’s ability to immediately hit the ground running also sticks out. A second-round selection out of Arizona in the 2010 NFL Draft, Gronkowski scored an astounding 28 touchdowns across his first two seasons. It ties him with Randy Moss for the most receiving touchdowns scored by a receiver or tight end in his first two seasons. No tight end has ever matched or surpassed Gronkowski’s five-plus seasons of 10-plus receiving touchdowns. Even Kelce has only recorded two such campaigns. That particular Gronkowski record feels relatively safe.

And finally, Gronkowski’s postseason success elevates him to a different level altogether. Gronkowski retires as a four-time Super Bowl champion. Gronkowski ranks first all-time among all tight ends in Super Bowl receptions (23), Super Bowl receiving yards (297), postseason touchdowns by a tight end (15), and postseason receiving yards (1,163). He became the first tight end to record 1,000-plus receiving yards in the playoffs.

It’s been a true honor and pleasure to witness Gronkowski string together the most impressive tight end career known to mankind. No matter your personal allegiances or fandom, Gronkowski has always been a must-watch. The Amherst, New York native is undoubtedly a first-ballot Hall of Famer. If Gronkowski is truly retiring this time around (his agent Drew Rosenhaus has already raised some doubts), Canton is the next stop on the Rob Gronkowski retirement tour.

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Justin Melo