Who is the best TE of all time?
By: Jake Rajala
When Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2020 offseason, he made sure to bring an old friend with him on a “damned fool idealistic crusade”. The ageless Brady brought along his former stud tight end Rob Gronkowski — also known as Gronk. The new Buccaneers TE was on a mission to not only shake off the rust from missing a year (retired), but he was out to prove he could accomplish more great feats in his career.
The old Pats TE that routinely torched opposing defenses with Brady by his side strolled onto the field in 2020 with hopes of reclaiming the same domination he captured with Brady. In 2020, Gronk recorded a modest 623-yard tally but stood out with an impressive seven touchdown receptions. The Bucs TE didn’t only have a stellar regular season in his first season as a Buccaneer, but he also reeled in another Super Bowl victory.
After Gronk, Brady, and company squashed the Chiefs, celebrated on boats with champagne, the legendary TE geared up for a strong 2021 season. In Week 1 of the 2021 season, Gronk showed he was still very talented and ready to prove he was just getting in sync with “his second season in the system”. Gronk had a pair of touchdowns in Week 1 in a huge victory over the Dallas Cowboys! He then proceeded to record a couple of touchdowns in Week 2.
It’s evident that Gronk is still capable of playing at a high level and it’s safe to say we should expect an elite TE performance out of the Bucs TE1 this season. Furthermore, we should expect his 44-year-old QB to continue to have full capacity to utilize his skillset against opposing defenses.
We know Gronk has a very imposing resume and it appears his outlook is still shiny. With that being said, a couple of intriguing question lies: how much more production can Gronk stack on his resume and can the very elite TE hit the ceiling of being the best tight end to ever step on the field?
I firmly believe Gronk can be an efficient player right up until he stops playing. Well, when will Gronk call it quits (for the second time)? It appears clear that he will retire when his future Hall of Fame QB retires. Realistically, it seems that Brady will most likely just this season and at most one more season after this year. So, I believe that Gronk will play this season and at most the 2022-2023 season.
It would make sense if Gronk records around 600-800 yards this season, 8-12 touchdowns, and I would expect a 1200-1600 yard, 16-24 touchdown total, over the next two seasons. If Gronk calls it a career after this season, he would keep his third spot in career receiving touchdowns. And if the Bucs TE plays next season, he would likely stay in the same spot, or have a chance to break Gonzalez’s touchdown record by a hair. Gronk currently has 90 receiving touchdowns, while Tony Gonzalez has 111 touchdowns, and Antonio Gates has 116 touchdowns.
Gronk is currently sixth all-time in receiving yards at the TE position. I wouldn’t expect him to crack the Top 3, even with his best possible outcome. The third-place TE in the yards category is Antonio Gates with 11,841 yards. If Gronk plays next season, he does have a real chance of cracking fourth place by a slim margin, which is held by Shannon Sharpe with 9,961 yards.
All in all, Gronk will most likely not go down as Top 3 TE in career receiving TDs or receiving yards. However, Gronk will be able to make up for it with his single-season domination and closet of Super Bowl trophies. I believe that Gronk should be seen as a Top 3 TE of all time right now, despite the fact that he isn’t quite an iron man of old age at the position. Gronk still has the record for most receiving touchdowns in a single season by a TE (17) he’s been All-Pro four times in his 11-year career. To top it off, Gronk has a whopping four Super Bowl rings.
I believe that Tony Gonzalez’s production and consistency help him deserve the top spot, while Gronk and Gates are nearly interchangeable at 2 and 3 — especially if Gronk has a slightly above productive season in 2021. Although, if Gronk notches another Super Bowl ring, I believe his efficiency and talent overweigh that of the electric Gonzalez and should help him deserve a consensus number one TE ranking of all-time.