The strongest statement yet in the Rob Gronkowski vs. Travis Kelce debate came Friday from former New England Patriots edge defender Rob Ninkovich.

Ninkovich, who played seven seasons with Gronkowski in New England, tore into Kelce during an interview with “Hardwick & Richards” on XTRA 1360 in San Diego, calling the Kansas City Chiefs tight end a glorified receiver who can’t block to save his life.

In Ninkovich’s mind, Gronkowski clearly is the NFL’s best tight end — an opinion he said he’d have even if the two hadn’t been teammates.

“I’ve played against Kelce, and I’ve thrown him around like he’s a little doll,” Ninkovich said. “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. So I would take Gronk.

“And I’m not just being biased because I played with him and I know him. I’m just giving you my honest opinion. If I didn’t know Rob, I would take Rob based on the fact that he can block. 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.

“So I would say Rob is a complete tight end, and Kelce is just a bigger receiver. That guy doesn’t want to block. So I would say in general, just overall, Gronkowski is just the best tight end to ever play the game because of the fact that he can block, he’s big, strong, and he can catch anything with his radius. So, yeah. I’ve played against Kelce, and he can’t block. He’s tried, and it doesn’t happen.”

Added Ninkovich, who retired before the 2017 season: “I haven’t played in a year and a half, and I could probably beat him easily right now in run blocking.

The Patriots and Chiefs are set to square off this Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in one of the most highly anticipated games of the NFL season. Gronkowski, whose blocking and receiving skills both are considered elite for his position, said Wednesday he does not care whom the media and public consider the league’s top tight end.

“I just try to be the best I can every single week, do my job every single week,” Gronkowski said. “The rankings and all that, the comparisons, I’ll just leave that up to you guys. Whatever you guys say. I just try to do my best. I think (Kelce) is a great player, and I’ve just got to worry about what I can do to help out the team.”

Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images