NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
Now three seasons removed from the 2010 NFL Draft, NEPD is looking back on the New England Patriots’ selections from that year’s draft and evaluating their succeess or failure with each selection. Part two of the nine-part series, continuing each Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the NFL Scouting Combine, focuses on second-round pick Rob Gronkowski.
If the 2010 NFL Draft was redone today, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski would not come close to falling back to the second round. Instead, he’d be a sure-fire top-10 pick.
After missing his entire junior season, his last season at Arizona, due to a back injury, the majority opinion among draft prognosticators was that Gronkowski was a first-round talent who would fall to Round 2 due to injury concerns. Nonetheless, a team would have taken the risk on Gronkowski much earlier had they realized how great of an NFL tight end he could be. The Patriots ended up with not only one of the 2010 NFL Draft’s best players, but also one of its biggest bargains.
In just three NFL seasons, Gronkowski has set the standard for the prototype NFL tight end. With a complete skill set and outstanding productivity, Gronkowski is widely considered the league’s best at his position.
Gronkowski has been a huge receiving weapon for the Patriots in his first three seasons, with 187 total receptions for 2,663 yards and a whopping 38 touchdowns. Gronkowski is the first tight end in NFL history to start his career with three seasons of 10+ touchdowns, and set NFL single-season records for a tight end with 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2011 — records he would have approached again in 2012 had he not missed five games with a broken forearm.
With a rare combination of size and athleticism, Gronkowski is a mismatch for every defender he faces. At 6’6” and 265 pounds, he is bigger than every safety in the league and most linebackers, while he also has good speed, great leaping ability and does a terrific job of high-pointing catches and making plays on the football.
For his receiving exploits alone, Gronkowski would already be one of the NFL’s best offensive players. What makes Gronkowski a truly special talent, however, is that in addition to his playmaking abilities as a receiver, he is among the league’s best run-blocking tight ends. Gronkowski combines his terrific size with great strength, and combined with his great feet, he is a great asset as a blocker in the ground game with his ability to drive defenders off the line, turn defenders away from the run to open holes and pick up blockers at the second level of the defense.
Gronkowski’s career has gotten off to such a good start that the Patriots made a long-term investment in him after just two seasons, signing him to a six-year, $53 million deal last offseason. If he continues to play at the level he has over his first three seasons, even that contract — the richest for a tight end in NFL history — that deal will be well worth it.