Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: NFL's Young Stars Can Only Hope to Be Like Gronk

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 12, 2018

FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 09:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots reacts after defeating the Houston Texans 27-20 at Gillette Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Young stars are fun to talk about, but they all have a long way to go to catch up to Gronk. The Bills' season is getting late early. And could the Raiders stick it to the Chargers and the NFL yet again? All this and more in the latest 10-Point Stance.


1. Remember that guy?

Up 14-6 on the Texans late in the first half Sunday, Tom Brady did what he usually does, and he didn't leave a second to waste. Facing a 1st-and-10 at the Patriots' 41-yard line, Brady threw into double coverage, which surprised even his target, tight end Rob Gronkowski.

"Yeah, when I was running up the seam, I had two guys on me. And when I saw the ball in the air, I literally thought, first thing, 'What is Tom thinking?' Gronkowski said, according to a transcript from the Patriots. "When that ball was in the air, I had a guy grabbing me and I was just like, 'I've just got to go for it. I can't let them make a play on it,' so just went up for it, made the catch.

"I did make the catch. I don't know how. When I went to the ground, I had it stable in my hand, so it was definitely a catch, but Tom went up to the line really quick just to make sure. We got the play off, which was nice."

There's a reason Brady threw at Gronkowski despite the double coverage: He knew he would catch it.

"He's a big part of what we do, and we all have to match his greatness," Brady said in his weekly radio spot on WEEI, according to Andrew Callahan of MassLive.com. "All of us, in order to be a great offense. Teams focus on him, which gives other guys opportunities, and we're going to have to take advantage of those opportunities when we get them."

Brady added that Gronkowski is "probably the best to ever play the game."

That's a hell of a statement from someone who doesn't toss out superlatives carelessly.

It's amazing, but it's also true. Think of all the stars we've focused on in the past few months—Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Khalil Mack—and up-and-comers such as Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Darnold. Even players who aren't in uniform such as Le'Veon Bell have been in the headlines more than Gronkowski.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

But that 28-yard catch before the half was a reminder that Gronkowski is perhaps the greatest non-quarterback weapon in the NFL.

Despite a number of injuries and the relentless pounding he takes, Gronkowski remains a combination of sleekness, physicality and skill. He's basically a wide receiver combined with the size of a linebacker.

Heading into this season, Brady has thrown for 4,703 yards, 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions per 16 games with Gronk on the field, according to Jason Lisk  of The Big Lead. Without him, Brady has been more human, throwing for 4,372 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions per 16 games.

How could we forget about Gronk?

New stars are everywhere you look around the league today. They deserve our attention.

Sometimes, though, the greatest players aren't the newer ones. They are the players like Gronkowski who have been great all along.


2. Fright night

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 09:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on September 9, 2018 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Imag
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Days after Rodgers torched the Bears on one healthy knee, players, scouts, coaches and front offices across the league are still talking about his performance.

The conversations basically boil down to this: Sunday night's win was scary because Rodgers will only get better. Not just as this season progresses, but in his career.

Hearing that sort of shocked me. They were saying Rodgers—who is already the most talented quarterback ever, in my opinion—still hasn't reached his ceiling.

That's scary.


3. Bills may be forced to face their biggest nightmare soon

Gail Burton/Associated Press

Nathan Peterman began his NFL career by throwing five picks against the Chargers.

He threw for a total of 57 yards in his second start last December.

In his third start for the Bills this past Sunday, Peterman completed five passes for 24 yards and threw two picks. The Ravens shellacked Buffalo, 47-3, forcing the Bills to bench Peterman for No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen.

At this point, Buffalo can't justify starting Peterman much longer. But after trading AJ McCarron to the Raiders, the Bills are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

If Peterman is awful againwhich is as likely as the sun risingBuffalo will have no choice but to start Allen. However, the Bills' staff doesn't think Allen is any way near ready.

That isn't an indictment of Allen. Few rookies are ever ready.

Buffalo may not have any other options, though. And that only promises to hinder the development of Allen, who would be asked to helm a team with an undermanned offensive line, a pedestrian receiving corps and a defense that lacks talent.

What a mess.


4. Living his best life

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was just inducted into the Hall of Fame, and like most Hall of Famers, he never took his talent for granted. He was a fierce tackler who always worked to get better, even when he was considered among the best at his position.

Six years removed from his last season, Urlacher's life has not changed as much as you might think after his entrance into Canton.

"We don't do anything different as a family," said Urlacher, who was made available to B/R courtesy of FanDuel. "The main thing is it hits you that you're part of this incredible group. You realize, 'I'm now part of them.' It's a great feeling."

I had heard a rumor that Urlacher either wanted to coach in the NFL or become a part-owner. He laughed.

"No way," he said. "I don't want to own a team or coach one. Maybe peewee. But NFL coaches work 80 to 90 hours a week. All I want to do is enjoy the game watching from my couch."

He's in the Hall of Fame. He can watch the game from any damn place he wants.


5. From hunter to the hunted

Michael Perez/Associated Press

During Brian Westbrook's eight seasons with the Eagles from 2002 through 2009, he racked up 9,785 yards from scrimmage. Thanks to Crown Royal, the two-time Pro Bowler recently spoke to B/R about the greatest challenge his old franchise is facing as defending champions.

"You go from the hunters to the hunted," Westbrook said. "Two things they have going for them: The first is Carson Wentz will be back soon. He was destroying the league before he got hurt. The other thing is this team brings back a lot of players. They are really deep."

Philly flashed that depth in its season-opening win against Atlanta, flexing a defense that is stacked with talent. That should come in handy for an Eagles team that needs to get through a regular season that could get a bit monotonous after last year's magical run.


6. Welcome to the NFL

Fellow football writer Russell Baxter recapped how the league's new coaches fared in Week 1:

Russell S. Baxter @BaxFootballGuru

New #NFL head coaches 2018 Week 1 #Cardinals Steve Wilks L, 24-6 #Bears Matt Nagy L, 24-23 #Lions Matt Patricia L, 48-17 #Colts Frank Reich L, 34-23 #Giants Pat Shurmur L, 20-15 #Titans Mike Vrabel L, 27-20 #Raiders Jon Gruden L, 33-13 0-7 (outscored combined 210-117)

The lesson to draw from this? Nothing too deep, except...well, there's a reason these teams have new coaches. They weren't good in the first place, and no coach can turn around a bad team immediately.


7. That's why you don't trade a superstar

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Much of the Raiders' game against the Rams on Monday night was close. But as things wore on, it became clear how the staggering talent difference between the two teams took a toll on the Raiders.

This is where the loss of Khalil Mack shows up most. When an offense is struggling or a defense is getting worked over, a star like Mack can reverse the momentum in a single game-changing play.

Depending on how you feel about Derek Carr, the Raiders have few, if any, legit superstars. Marshawn Lynch is a personality and is still productive, but he isn't a top-tier player. Wide receiver Amari Cooper appears to be playing as though he went into the witness protection program. The roster has some good players, but in trading Mack to Chicago, Oakland got rid of its only game-changer.

The two first-round picks the Raiders received from the Bears could turn into two special players. Maybe they will even be better than Mack. But those players are unknowns.

Right now, the franchise is left fighting an uphill battle against a league filled with special talents, the kind of which Oakland has none.


8. Relax...

FOXBOROUGH, MA - SEPTEMBER 9: Malcom Brown #90 of the New England Patriots tackles Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans during their game on September 9, 2018 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson wasn't great against the Patriots in Week 1. He finished 17-of-34 for 176 yards, a touchdown, a lost fumble and an interception.

That isn't the Watson we got used to seeing before he tore his ACL last year. You remember that version, don't you? The one who compiled 469 total yards and four touchdowns against the Seahawks in Week 8?

Despite the rough start to 2018, the Texans aren't worried about Watson, and it's smart not to be. It's just one loss, and a big part of Watson's game is his mobility. He likely wouldn't admit this, but it's logical to assume he might be nervous about injuring his knee again.

Plus, he was playing the Patriots. They make a lot of quarterbacks look bad.

Watson will be back to being Watson. Count on it.


9. The San Diego Raiders?

Denis Poroy/Associated Press

After the Raiders' Monday night loss to the Rams, Tom Blanda, who oversees the team's stadium issues (both interim and regarding the Las Vegas construction project) departed on a flight for San Diego, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.

Now, it's possible Blanda was going to San Diego because, you know, have you ever been to San Diego? It's gorgeous. Like, the weather is amazing, the beaches are beautiful, it's always 70 degrees and sunny and the people are soooo nice.

So, I don't know exactly why Blanda went to San Diego after the game. He could have been going there or just passing through on his way to Las Vegas. But I can also tell you the Raiders are considering relocating to San Diego as an interim city before they officially relocate to Las Vegas.

That would be a major middle finger to the Chargers (and the league). It would also be typical Raiders.


10. Buy this book

Dave Pickoff/Associated Press

One of the best football books of the fall is about a league that's long dead. But you will love this book even if you don't care about the United States Football League.

That's because Jeff Pearlman's new book, Football For A Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL, is so entertaining, it's more than a book about a defunct league or Donald Trump before he became president.

In many ways, it's about following a dream. Not just for the players, but for the organizers of the league, who wanted to be a viable alternative to the NFL. It's also about how greed and the flaws of humans can ruin even the best intentions.

The book is full of terrific anecdotes and stories. You will recognize names like Herschel Walker and Trump, but you won't recognize others. Regardless, you will care about almost all of them.

Take this quoteone of my favoritesfrom Tom Ramsey, the quarterback of the Los Angeles Express.

"I was at a party in Beverly Hills, and everyone in sports was there," Ramsey told Pearlman, who offered B/R an excerpt. "Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky, Kareem. And I spotted my idolHank Aaron! I walked up to him and introduced myself. He said, 'I know who you are. You made a great decision going to the USFL.' I was shocked.

"Then he leaned in and whispered, 'Tom, you always have to get the money. Get the f--king money. Because they don't care about you.'"


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.