The NFL won’t see anything like Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski any time soon.
The Ringer’s Robert Mays on Friday ranked the New England Patriots quarterback and former tight end No. 2 on his list of the NFL’s best QB/pass-catching duos of the 21st century. NFL opponents feared the Brady-Gronkowski partnership between 2010 and 2019, and it factored into the Patriots reaching five Super Bowls and winning three of them during that time span.
“… Gronkowski retired with a 9.9 yards per target average over his 10 seasons. That’s the best mark for any player, regardless of position, since targets became an official stat in 1993. Better than Julio Jones (9.68). Better than Jordy Nelson (9.29). Better than Calvin Johnson (8.86).
“When Gronk was healthy, no play in football felt more automatic than a throw to him in the red zone. And the scary part is that New England had about a dozen different ways to get him the ball. … People may have considered Gronk a lovable goofball, but the amount of work that New England put on his plate showed that Bill Belichick and his staff clearly respected his football acumen.
“… That flexibility put immense strain on defenses, and it also gave the greatest quarterback of all time a baked-in advantage. How teams lined up to defend Gronkowski often tipped off whether they were playing man or zone. Before a single player went in motion—and long before the ball was snapped—Brady had already eliminated half the possible coverages from his mental calculus. In pretty much every way, Gronk was the perfect Patriots weapon.”
Gronkowski retired last March, and it was clear to anyone who has watched the Patriots play regularly in recent years how much Brady suffered without him in 2019. The legendary QB’s numbers were relatively ordinary, and the team exited in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs after a 12-4 regular season.
Also interesting was The Ringer ranking Brady and Gronkowski behind Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. The Indianapolis Colts’ legendary duo played together between 1996 and 2008, so they never crossed paths with the Brady-Gronkowski partnership. Mays seems to believe the deep threat Manning and Harrison posed at the outset of the century gives them an edge over the Patriots pair.
Some representative of Patriots nation certainly is willing to argue against the assertion, so consider this your marching orders.
Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images