Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart looked at the best deep threats in the NFL dating back to 2002 and found an interesting fact.
“There are just 24 players in this dataset who averaged at least 15 yards per catch,” Stuart writes. “15 of them are 205 pounds or lighter, and just four are over 220 pounds. Those four are Plaxico Burress (226, 15.52), Calvin Johnson (239, 15.89), and the two biggest outliers in the group: Vincent Jackson (a whopping 16.81, the third highest average of any player, at 241 pounds) and Gronk (15.15, 265).”
Gronkowski was the only tight end in the set that averaged over 15 yards per catch and you’ll have to go to his site to see the graph that shows how Gronkowski stands so much further ahead of his tight end peers in a yards-per-catch capacity.
Stuart also notes that there are only five players that weigh 260 or more pounds with 250+ receptions dating back to 2002; two (Kyle Rudolph and Jermaine Gresham) average less than 10 yards per catch and two (Brent Celek and Alge Crumpler) average roughly 12.6-12.7 yards per catch.
Then there’s Gronkowski, head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest and alongside the wide receivers.
As one of the commenters on Stuart’s site noted, Gronkowski actually leads the NFL in yards per catch (min. 100 receptions) dating back to the start of 2015 at 16.87, which would be good enough to rank third in Stuart’s original data set. Gronkowski is just starting to get more vertical.
I’ll add an interesting note to Stuart’s data set, too. He finds that only 24 players dating back to 2002 average more than 15 yards per reception (min. 250 receptions). Gronkowski (17.28), Brandin Cooks (16.72), and Chris Hogan (15.54) all crack that milestone for the Patriots over the past two years.
Gronkowski and Cooks (with the Patriots) would both rank in the top five of Stuart’s data set with that level of production their entire career. They also rank second and fifth in the NFL over the past two years (min. 50 receptions), with Chris Hogan ranking eleventh.
With more defenses playing Seattle Seahawks-type cover three and press formations, the Patriots wanted to counter with deep passes in recent seasons by adding Hogan and Cooks in subsequent offseasons, but it turns out that New England had one of the best deep threats in the history of the sport already on the roster.