Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Is Gronk Already the Best Tight End Ever?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2015

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celibates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

1. What they're saying about the greatness of Rob Gronkowski

One general manager on Rob Gronkowski: "The only guy better than him, to me, is Kellen Winslow—and it's really close."

An NFC scout: "John Mackey is one. Clear one. Then Shannon Sharpe. Then Gronkowski."

An AFC scout: "There's Gronk, clear No. 1, because no tight end in history is [6'6" and 265 pounds] and runs like he does. I think [Tony] Gonzalez might have had better hands, but I'm not sure."

Another NFC scout: "A lot of you guys [in the media] and even a lot of us [personnel men] live in the moment. But I'm not doing that when I say no one is better than him. No one in history has his combination of size, hands and speed."

An NFC assistant coach: "I would go Mackey, [Dave] Casper, Sharpe and Gronk. But by the time he's done, Gronk will be first."

These are the approximate heights and weights of some of the great tight ends in history. Sharpe was 6'2", 230 pounds. Dave Casper was 6'4", 240. Mackey was 6'2", 225. Gonzalez was 6'5", 250.

Again, Gronkowski is 6'6", about 265.

Ozzie Newsome played at 6'2", 230. That's at least 30 pounds lighter than Gronkowski. Mike Ditka, considered a talented bruiser, played at 6'3", 228 pounds.

In fact, as far as I can tell, no tight end in the Hall of Fame is bigger than Gronkowski.

The Boston Globe's Alex Speier had the numbers on Gronkowski on Monday. They're remarkable:

■ Gronkowski's 207 receiving yards through two weeks are the most to open a season in his career and the fifth-most ever for a tight end.

■ With three receptions of 20 or more yards on Sunday, he has 79 plays of that length in his career, the seventh-most by any receiver in the NFL from 2010 to 2015, behind only Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, DeSean Jackson, Andre Johnson, Dez Bryant and Vincent Jackson.

■ He's one of 34 players with four or more receiving touchdowns through the first two weeks of the season; only four players have ever had more touchdown catches through the first two weeks.

■ Gronkowski has 58 career receiving touchdowns, most ever for a tight end in his first six NFL seasons and tied for ninth-most ever by any receiver, with a good chance that he'll get at least six more touchdown catches this year to push past everyone in history except Jerry Rice (79) and Randy Moss (77) for touchdown receptions through his first six NFL seasons.

■ He already ranks seventh all time in touchdown catches by a tight end, with a great shot at surpassing current fourth-place holder Shannon Sharpe (62) this year, leaving him behind only Tony Gonzalez (111), Antonio Gates (99) and Harold Carmichael (79). Gronkowski has played more than 100 fewer games than each of the six tight ends ahead of him on the career touchdowns list.

■ He has accumulated 4,586 career receiving yards—seventh-most ever by a tight end through his first six years. He's got the record held by Kellen Winslow (5,176) within reach, though it is worth noting that Jimmy Graham (4,814 career receiving yards) is in his sixth year in the NFL.

We talk often about how the sport of football is evolving, has evolved, will evolve. Sometimes it does in terms of strategy, like going from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3. Or how it evolves at other positions, like the size and athleticism of quarterbacks.

But Gronkowski represents one of the greatest and most dramatic evolutionary shifts the league has ever seen. It's the reason you have an increasing number of team personnel types thinking Gronkowski is already the best to play the position, or near the top, despite this being just his sixth year in the league.

It's the size/speed differential. All of the great tight ends had talent. None of them had his size. Gronkowski is just as good as any of them, but he's doing it at—let's be honest—probably damn near 270 pounds.

If you notice, few linebackers cover Gronkowski now. Most teams have given up trying. He is now covered mostly by safeties.

I don't know if Gronkowski is already so good that he should be mentioned in same sentence with Ditka or Newsome or Winslow. What I do know is Gronkowski continues to re-engineer the position. He has Gronkified the tight end position. That may sound naughty. It's not. It's revolutionary.

2. Will Chuck Pagano last the season?

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Probably. Yes. Most likely.

Because, of course, it's still most likely the Colts will turn things around and make the playoffs.

Yet when you talk to front-office executives around the league, they say the reported rift between coach Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, the team's general manager, is not only real; it's worsening.

This is what these sources tell me: The two men speak, but barely. Their conversations, these sources say, are brusque, at best.

Not that it should matter. These are grown-ass men, and sometimes grown-ass men don't get along and can still work productively together. This was the case with George Young and Dan Reeves in New York.

What's happening in Indianapolis, these sources explained, is similar to that relationship. Again, please do not misunderstand: I am not saying they're fighting. But it's clear the friction is there and possibly growing.

What Pagano said after the Colts' loss to the Jets was telling:

Mike Chappell @mchappell51

Pagano on Luck and #colts leaky O-line: 'Been the case for 3 years now, has it not? Should be more than comfortable dealing with (it).'

That wasn't an accident or a slip of the tongue. That was a direct shot.

My sources believe it's Grigson who has the support of owner Jim Irsay.

The Colts aren't in dire trouble just yet. It's too early. But if the team continues to slip, it could get really interesting in Indianapolis.

3. Darrelle Revis is the league's overall MVP so far

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

I'm beginning to wonder if it's Darrelle Revis, and not J.J. Watt, who is the most dominant defensive player in the sport today.

So far this year, I think he's been the league's most valuable player on either side of the ball. Not a quarterback. Not a receiver. Not a pass-rusher. Revis.

What he's doing for the Jets, and what he did for the Patriots last year, is take away half the field from an offense. He's pulling a Deion Sanders. He isn't better than Sanders, but it's close. Really close.

4. The stupidity in Washington continues

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

So, here's what is obvious regarding the Robert Griffin III situation in Washington:

• The team will not play him unless every other quarterback on the roster is hurt.

• The coaching staff doesn't want him.

• He doesn't want to stay with the team.

• No one will trade for him.

So the question is, why in the hell does Washington keep him? The cap hit wouldn't be massive, the team won't use him, they can't trade him and he wants to leave. Just let him go!

Something tells me the team's pride won't let that happen. So they stubbornly keep RG3, even when it's remarkably stupid to do so.

5. J.J. Watt gets destroyed

It will almost never happen again. So watch this and realize it's like seeing a UFO. Watt almost never gets dominated like this. Enjoy this rare moment in time:

And one more thing. Watt has 60 sacks in 66 games. The NFL says Watt is the second-fastest player to reach 60 sacks since 1982, when the sack became an official statistic. The fastest was Reggie White.

So, yeah, he got blown up that one time. But Watt still wins. He always wins. He'll win one day when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame.

6. Richie Incognito is back

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13: Richie Incognito #64 of the Buffalo Bills looks on from the bench during NFL game action against the Indianapolis Colts at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Ge
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Richie Incognito returns to Miami this week, this time as a member of the Bills. His story is well-documented. We don't need to go over it again.

I will say that as much of a horrid jerk as Incognito was, I've heard nothing but good things about him in Buffalo. It seems (emphasis on seems) Incognito is a different guy.

In this quote from him to the Buffalo News' Jay Skurski, you see why that might be true. It's honest.

I think it's one of things in professional sports where you cross paths with one of your old teams, and you want to give it to them. You want to play well and you want to come away with a win. Especially since I'm so close with some of those guys and have been competing with them for so long. It's like a brotherly love. You want to kick your brother's butt in anything you do. So it's going to be fun to go down and compete with them.

I'm personally motivated for every single game I play in. I'm juiced up, I'm amped up for every single game. This one just has a little more meaning. There's obviously bigger things at play here. But for me it's just focusing, going down there and playing physical, playing tough football.

7. Andrew Luck is great, but...

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 21:  Andrew Luck #12  of the Indianapolis Colts is sacked by Quinton Coples #98 during the game against the New York Jets  at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 21, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I got into my usual Twitter beef with my friend and excuse-maker for Andrew Luck, the great Pete Prisco of CBS Sports. Prisco is like a lot of Luck defenders: They don't see his flaws. With Luck, as opposed to Russell Wilson, the mistakes are ignored.

The excuses for Luck are also remarkable. He doesn't have a great offensive line or receivers or backs or the Patriots' deflated footballs. It's excuse after excuse.

Please, don't misunderstand: I think Luck is fantastic. But there is a statistic ESPN had the other night that says a great deal: Luck has a league-high 28 turnovers since 2014 (21 interceptions and seven fumbles), more than Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers or Drew Brees.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Most turnovers since start of 2014 season: • Andrew Luck: 28 • Jay Cutler: 26 • Philip Rivers: 24 • Drew Brees: 22

You simply cannot call a quarterback "great" when he turns the ball over that much. Not under any known equation or notion. You just can't.

8. Marcus Mariota dominance

Sep 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws the ball in the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Statistics that fascinate me, part one:

Marcus Mariota has six passing touchdowns in his first two games, which the NFL says is the most by any player in league history. His 129.9 passer rating is the highest rating by any quarterback in the Super Bowl era, according to the league. So, since 1966. Not bad. Not bad at all.

9. Denver division road dominance

Ed Zurga/Associated Press

Statistics that fascinate me, part two:

The Broncos, says the NFL, have the most consecutive road wins against divisional opponents in NFL history, 13. They have not been defeated by an AFC West opponent on the road since Dec. 19, 2010. Um, that's pretty good.

10. Mascot wants 20 grand a game

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Best paragraph ever written, via the Associated Press:

The Vikings announced on Monday that they have not been able to reach a new contract agreement with Joe Juranitch, the man who played Ragnar for the last 21 years and was looking for quite a raise to pillage the team's home games and strike fear into the hearts of their opponents while growling at them atop his purple motorcycle.

How much money was Ragnar, the team's mascot, looking for? That leads to the second-best paragraph ever written:

Ragnar was asking for $20,000 per game over the next 10 years, a person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press. Based on a home schedule that includes eight games per season, that would be $1.6 million over the life of the contract. It would increase to $2 million if preseason games were included

Didn't know mascots made that kind of bank? Obviously, they don't.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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