Shannon Sharpe was one of the greatest tight ends to play in the NFL and is one of just eight who played the position to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sharpe is also a student of the game. He knows the NFL’s history (he can break down Mike Ditka’s and John Mackey’s game easily) and as a commentator, he keeps abreast of current trends. Oh, and he’s a world-class talker, as well.
Sharpe was the perfect person to get an opinion on just how good the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski can be and how he’ll be remembered among the all-time great tight ends.
The question was this: “How good can Gronkowski be? Top five all-time?”
Sharpe didn’t hesitate.
“He can be in the top one,” Sharpe said. “And I think he will be. … There isn’t anyone ever who’s been like Gronk.”
Compliments don’t get much bigger than that from an all-time great at the position.
A look at Gronkowski’s statistics from his first six seasons in the NFL shows there is reason to believe he can back up Sharpe’s opinion. Gronkowski, taken in the second round out of Arizona in 2010, has 380 catches for 5,555 yards and 65 touchdowns.
Gronkowski, 27, should be in his prime for several more seasons. However, injuries have been a concern for Gronkowski at times. He missed five games in 2012, nine games in 2013 and one game each of the past two seasons.
“The one thing that may stop him is injuries,” Sharpe said. “But if not, it’s hard to think Gronk won’t be on top. He just does it all.”
Former Kansas City and Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez enjoyed good health and he played 17 NFL seasons. He finished with 1,325 career catches (second most in NFL history) and 111 touchdown catches. San Diego’s Antonio Gates is second with 104 touchdown receptions in 14 seasons.
Gronkowski is on a pace to become the all-time tight end touchdown leader if he can stay healthy. He has caught, at least, 10 touchdown passes in every season but in 2013 when he played in just seven games.
“That’s the thing about Gronk,” said Sharpe, who had 815 receptions and 62 touchdowns in 14 NFL seasons. “He scores like no tight end we’ve ever seen. He can’t be stopped.”
Gronkowski’s overall numbers stand up close to the all-time greats, as well. Gonzalez had 403 catches in his first six seasons. Jason Witten, who is second on the all-time tight end reception list with 1,020 in his ongoing 14-year career, had 429 catches through six seasons.
Gates, who is entering his 14th season, is third on the all-time tight end catch list with 844. He had 400 catches in his first six seasons.
What makes Gronkowski dangerous and what should continue to make him such is his skill set. He is 6-foot-6, 270 pounds and he runs a 4.6 40-yard dash. He can also jump and has great hands.
“Plus, he runs the entire route tree,” Sharpe said. “There’s nothing like him.”
Longtime NFL scout Gary Horton said Gronkowski is more remarkable every time he watches him. Horton said Gronkowski is a flawless player who is even a great blocker, but doesn’t get much credit for it because he is so celebrated for his impact in the passing game.
Horton said it’s obvious defensive coordinators around the league have no idea how to stop Gronkowski.
“I watch it every week, he’s the biggest mismatch I’ve ever seen,” Horton said. “That’s the thing about Gronk. He’s a mismatch and always will be. Safeties are too small to cover him and linebackers are too slow to keep up with him. I think what coordinators have to do is try to hit him off the line, but no one does it. And I get it because it’s risky. He is so physical and then he can beat the hit and fly by to make the catch. It’s a real catch-22 with him. There’s just no way to cover him. I haven’t seen that happen with anyone before so that’s why I think he can be the best.”
Horton said it’s difficult to believe, but he thinks Gronkowski is primed to have perhaps his best season because the Patriots added Martellus Bennett to give them two solid receiving tight ends. Gronkowski was lined up with Aaron Hernandez early in his career. Gronkowski, in the last time he played a full 16-game regular season, had his best statistical output in 2011 playing with Hernandez when he had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdown receptions. Horton sees Gronkowski having a similar impact this season.
“Gronk is going to be a monster playing with Bennett,” Horton said. “We could really see the best at his best this season.”