Patriots star pass-catcher Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football today. Maybe one of the best to ever play the game.
His physical domination on the football field – including 50 touchdowns in just 59 games, 33 games faster to the half-century mark than the next fastest tight end, San Diego's Antonio Gates – is keyed by his elite hands, crazy catch radius, substantial size and athleticism that's just unfathomable for a 6-6, 265-pound beast.
But as much as defenders have to deal with those physical traits, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says guys trying to cover Gronkowski have to deal with their own mental hurdles in the matchup.
"Imagine trying to cover that," Brady raved when asked to think about trying to stop Gronkowski. "He just gets great body position, and I think that's a big part of it because he's such a big guy, it's hard to go through him. He's 6-7, 260 pounds, so if he can get himself in the right positon and get the defender where he wants him in the right place in the route, the defender can't do anything about it. And I think they know that, too, so then they panic, and then when they panic, it's even more of an advantage to the offense. Sometimes when you get a bigger receiver on the perimeter and a smaller [defensive back] is matched up on him, the mindset of the DB might even change because they think, 'Oh my God, this guy is so much bigger and taller and stronger and what am I going to do?' And then they're already beat sometimes before the ball is snapped."
It's one of the examples of, as the old saying goings, the battle sometimes being won before it's even fought.
"That's a good mindset for an offensive player when he's making those plays and the defenders are now all of a sudden defensive before the ball is even snapped, not only are they at a physical disadvantage, they become at a mental disadvantage in the confidence in their ability to make a play," Brady continued. "That plays into it, too. I know that offensively, sometimes you look out at a corner and you don't throw it out there because you're not as confident that you'll [complete the pass]."
There is no question of Gronkowski's value to Brady and the Patriots offense. He's second on the team with 49 catches and leads the way with eight touchdowns in nine games, his first nine games back from a torn ACL suffered last December. Gronkowski was a bit slow out of the gates, but he now looks back to the elite level that makes him maybe the toughest individual matchup in the game today.
Gronkowski either makes plays himself, a lot of them, or he makes it easier for his teammates to make plays. Either way, it's good for Brady and the Patriots.
"He's a big part of what we do and a big part of our pass game," Brady declared. "He's a factor in all those situations that we talk about, whether that's third down, red area, those real critical down and distances. I think he's a major factor. I said after the game, he's got great physical ability, and I think he understands the game so much more now than he has in the past. He's just tough to stop. So if they put extra guys to stop him, then it really gives other guys an opportunity, maybe more opportunity than they would typically get. I think when Gronk does well, it really benefits all the other pass catchers, too. He's just a great player."