The NFL offseason is never fun. It's cold, it's gray, there's nothing to watch on Sundays, and the only football news any of us have to look forward to other than the Draft in April is the occasional free agent transaction and a mini camp here or there. We've all been here at Pats Pulpit lamenting the doldrums of the offseason for the past few months now, and I think it's safe to say that the downtime in the NFL isn't much fun for anyone.
Except for, perhaps, one Robert James Gronkowski.
Gronk has been having an offseason for the ages. He didn't let a disappointing end to the 2011 season and an ankle surgery stop him from partying like a rock star this past offseason, and it seems like a week didn't go by when Gronk wasn't spotted courtside, dockside, or poolside with any number of lovely ladies as he enjoyed his time off from the rigors of playing in the NFL. The man works hard, and he plays hard, and I know that I for one can certainly respect that.
But all that is over now, and it's back to work for Rob Gronkowski. Last year, Gronk set the NFL on fire with 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns (18 if you count his rushing TD against Indy) and firmly entrenched himself as the best tight end in the league. Gronk set the bar for himself pretty high last year, and now that the Summer of Gronk is over, he is 100% focused on football and nothing else. He has been having a very solid training camp (other than some absurdly overblown Day 2 drops) and all signs point to him picking up exactly where he left off. That's why I feel comfortable using last year's stats as a measuring stick for the big man and putting the over/under on Gronk's receiving touchdowns for 2012 at 17.
Why you should bet the over: Last time I checked, Gronk was still 6'6," 265 pounds, and an absolute force of nature. Furthermore, I can't think of any defensive additions across the league that will suddenly be able to contain him. Gronkowski has now been in the league for two full seasons, and he should only get better from here. To think that he accomplished what he did last year without even having the benefit of a full NFL offseason makes his 2011 campaign all the more impressive; there's really no reason to think that he won't be able to eclipse 17 touchdowns with a full training camp under his belt. Josh McDaniels is going to find ways to get him the ball, and if there's one thing we all know as Patriots fans, it's that Tom Brady will always look for the receivers he trusts most. Gronk definitely has Brady's trust, so he should see a lot of passes thrown his way. There is also all of Tommy B's new toys to consider; with Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney in the mix as well now, there are sure to be a lot of bodies for defenses to account for, which could lead to Gronkowski seeing less double coverages. Add to that a cake schedule with some fairly weak defenses, and Gronk's numbers could skyrocket.
Why you should bet the under: While having a bunch of offensive weapons can definitely help a player's stats, it can certainly hurt them as well. The bottom line is that the more weapons there are, the more targets there are that aren't Gronk; he could certainly see some of the looks he got last year going elsewhere this year. We also need to consider the fact that Gronkowski pretty much took the NFL by storm last year and the rest of the league never really caught up. They have all now had a full offseason to gameplan for him, and that game back in February that I don't ever plan on talking about again showed just how important a healthy Gronk is to this offense. There are going to be a lot of teams that zero in hard on Gronkowski in order to try and force Tommy B to beat them elsewhere. I haven't done any research on the subject, but I can't think of a time when a player set an NFL record one season, and then broke his own record the very next; maybe it has happened in the past, but the odds can't be good. Plus, if the Patriots do decide to become more of a running team, Gronk may be asked to stay in and block more around the goal line, thus losing some of his TDs to the running backs. 12 or 13 TDs is still one helluva season for a tight end, and that may be a more realistic expectation this year given the new offense, opposing defensive gameplans, and the influx of new receivers.
So what will it be? Will Gronk match or surpass his own tight end receiving record in 2012?