Rob Gronkowski is an All-Pro talent. In his first four years, he has carved out a reputation as the most dominant tight end on the planet.
Unfortunately, he also has the tag of being injury-prone.
Following a college career marred by injuries, the New England Patriots drafted the six-foot-six tight end in the second round. Immediately, quarterback Tom Brady found his favorite red zone target. Gronkowski caught 10 touchdowns in his rookie season and followed that up with a record-breaking, All-Pro season where he caught 17 touchdowns.
Since the beginning of the 2012 season though, Gronkowski has missed 14 regular season games and two entire postseasons due to injuries. Back surgery, a broken forearm and a torn ACL are among the injuries on the New England tight end’s medical report.
Heading into the 2014 season, Gronkowski is expected to be ready to go in Week 1 and if he can stay healthy, the New England Patriots should be the favorite to win the AFC in 2014. That’s a big if though.
Following a disappointing loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game two seasons ago, the Patriots headed into the offseason expecting their young two tight end combo to return fully healthy and continue to wreak havoc on defenses.
Aaron Hernandez, however, was released following murder charges against him and Gronkowski had offseason back and forearm surgeries. Gone was the formidable two tight end offense that produced record-breaking numbers. Gronkowski returned last season midseason but after a few games, he tore his ACL against the Cleveland Browns and was out once again.
With Gronkowski, Brady has his favorite weapon.
Brady struggled much of last season due to a shaky receiving corps and no threats at tight end. Gronkowski represents the rare mismatch in the NFL. He is too big for secondary players to cover but is too fast for linebackers. He is the league’s top red zone target and does most of his work down the seams of the field. In his second season in the league, Gronkowski caught 90 balls for over 1300 yards and a tight end-record 17 touchdowns.
Last season, the Patriots struggled in his absence but during his limited time in the lineup, their offense was one of the best in the league.
Gronkowski, when healthy, is the best tight end in the league. He is not only an excellent receiver, but also a vicious run blocker. Brady and the Patriots are counting on Gronkowski to be healthy this season and there is no one behind him on the depth chart that can come close to filling his shoes.
With Gronkowski, New England has one of the top passing offenses in the league. Without him, they are in middle of the pack.
With a team built to win now, Gronkowski’s health holds the keys to whether or not Brady can win one more Super Bowl as his career winds down.
[featured image via Bleacher Report]