How do we go about discussing the greatest of all time in any sport? It’s not as easy as it may seem. Is it the amount of championships that’s most important. It certainly seems to be the case in the Lebron vs Jordan debate. It’s basically impossible to have that conversation without a “MJ has six rings, never lost in the finals, how many does LeBron have?” Is it when they played and the competition they faced? Because as we’ve all heard from dad’s watching tv, sports are just so soft today, and it was nothing like it was back in the day. Is it how long they played, durability, efficiency, athleticism, importance to a team, how good their teammates were (or are)? NOBODY KNOWS. That’s why the only way to have the debate about the greatest at any sport, any position, is with a birds eye view and look at the individual and their career with no bias. With that being said, If Gronkowski retired today, could we consider him to be the greatest tight end of all time.
Let’s be realistic, there are only a handful of other names that can be tossed into this pot, but Tony Gonzalez is his biggest rival. Antonio Gates is amazing and has had an incredible career. Kellen Winslow revolutionized the position and deserves his spot among the all time greats. But, if you look at dominance at the position over the span of their career, it comes down to Gonzalez and Gronk. Gronk, without a doubt is the most talented tight end I have ever seen when he’s healthy. But that’s just the issue, he’s almost never healthy. But when he is, damn. Linebackers are too slow to keep up with him, corners and safeties are too small to take him down. As a blocker, with his 6’6 265 pound frame, he opens up holes for the running game (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdmv8b5DBU0) and can deal with almost anyone on the line, with a few exceptions of course. Gonzalez was a better receiver than a blocker, but his receiving skills were elite.
Let’s break it down by the numbers
270 Games Played
Gonzalez has played more than double the games that Gronk has, and has almost three times more receptions. But if we double the stats that Gronk has now, assuming his production stayed the same, Gronk would gain the edge in touchdowns and be within shouting distance in receiving yards with 66 games to spare. Of course with Gronk’s history of injuries, another 100 or so games seems unlikely. Gonzalez played in the NFL for 17 seasons, Gronk has played 8. To me, the idea that someone has to have a near twenty year career to be in the greatest of all time conversation is absurd in such a violent sport. However, the fact that he was able to be so good for so long needs to be considered as he made every team he was a part of better.
In my opinion, Gonzalez is the greatest tight end of all time, but not by much. He had a long career and was consistently great, but Gronk has a higher peak, he’s more dominant at the position. I’d debate the idea that Gronk is the best tight end to ever play but not the greatest. As in, at the pinnacle of his career, there has never been anyone more talented and harder to stop than Gronk, maybe that does make him the greatest, who the hell knows? In order for me, personally, to call Gronk the greatest, I need one or two more dominant and healthy season, where we see his maximum ability on display while Brady is still around throwing him the ball.