There is no tight end in the NFL as good as the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski. The 29-year old is the perfect package: He has the speed and size that make him a matchup nightmare as a pass receiver and also is an outstanding blocker in both the passing and the running game. Gronkowski, in short, is the prototypical tight end for the way the game is played nowadays – and not just that.
According to Pro Football Focus’ Michael Renner, Gronkowski is also the ideal player for one of the five receiving alignments he identifies in a recent column. Categorizing pass catchers as shifty slots, big slots, deep threats, possession receivers and route runners, Renner defines the Patriots’ all-time leader in receiving touchdown as the prototypical player for the big slot position.
“53.5 percent of his routes a season ago came lined up in the slot,” writes Renner, “and he averaged 2.32 yards per route on those. Only one other tight end – Travis Kelce – averaged over 2.00 yards per route from the slot all season. You’d have to go back to 2012 to find a season in which Gronk didn’t accomplish that feat. That sort of consistency is why he’s the prototype for the position.”
New England, of course, lines up Gronkowski up all over the board to create coverage mismatches either for him or other skill position players. In that role, the 29-year old had another highly productive season in 2017 and in his combined 17 games caught 85 passes for 11 touchdowns and 1,302 yards – a league-high 616 of which were coming from a slot alignment.
While Renner also notes that the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce deserves praise for his slot performance in 2017, he points out that Gronkowski’s impressive body of work over the last few years compared to Kelce’s is the deciding factor. It is not hard to see why: As the best tight end of his era and the prototype for a tight end in the NFL today, Gronkowski helped bring new value to the position over the last eight years.