The upcoming game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs offers plenty of intrigue. One of the most talked about battles is one that does not even take place simultaneously: the one between tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. The two Pro Bowlers are arguably the two best players in the NFL at their position – but there is little doubt about who is number one, at least when you ask Rob Ninkovich.
The former Patriots defender, who retired last offseason, recently joined XTRA 1360 in San Diego to talk about Gronkowski and Kelce. For Ninkovich, however, it isn’t much of a debate about who is the better tight end between the two: “I would take Gronk,” the two-time world champion told hosts Nick Hardwick and Judson Richards. “I’ve played against Kelce, and I’ve thrown him around like he’s a little doll.”
Ninkovich continued criticizing Kelce’s abilities as a blocker: “The guy doesn’t want to block. When you’re a tight end and you don’t want to block, you’re not really a tight end.” But despite the alleged deficiencies when it comes to blocking – and those allegations have some merit –, Kelce has been a productive player. Last regular season alone, he caught 83 passes for 1,038 and eight touchdowns.
Catching passes is only one part of a tight end’s profile, though, as Ninkovich pointed out during his radio appearance. “I would take Rob based on the fact that he can block,” the ex-linebacker said. “You see him running wham blocks, and you see him running all the different types of route combinations, plus motioning in to crack people. He’s willing and able to do a lot of things that a true tight end does well, and he does it exceptionally well.”
Ninkovich continued by calling Gronkowski the best tight end to ever play the game – and his blocking abilities were a big reason for the defender feeling this way. Kelce, meanwhile, was labeled differently. “Kelce is just a bigger receiver. That guy doesn’t want to block,” Ninkovich said before adding that despite not playing in over a year, he still felt as if he could easily beat the Chiefs’ tight end in a run block situation right now.
But no matter Kelce’s blocking abilities or the name of his position, one thing still remains unchanged: he is a dangerous player in the passing game, and one Kansas City knows how to use. The Patriots defense will need to find a way to slow him down on Sunday – no matter if he is treated as a tight end or a wide receiver.