Is Rob Gronkowski the Best Tight End in NFL History?

Rob Gronkowski recently retired, ending the career of a tight end who was inarguably one of the best of this era. His fans and teammates will no doubt miss him, but he also leaves them considering one question: Where does he rank among the best tight ends of all time?

Let’s take a look at his numbers and how he stacks up against other great tight ends to see whether Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in NFL history.

Rob Gronkowski by the numbers

View this post on Instagram

It all started at 20 years old on stage at the NFL draft when my dream came true, and now here I am about to turn 30 in a few months with a decision I feel is the biggest of my life so far. I will be retiring from the game of football today. I am so grateful for the opportunity that Mr. Kraft and Coach Belichick gave to me when drafting my silliness in 2010. My life experiences over the last 9 years have been amazing both on and off the field. The people I have meet, the relationships I have built, the championships I have been apart of, I just want to thank the whole New England Patriots organization for every opportunity I have been giving and learning the great values of life that I can apply to mine. Thank you to all of Pats Nation around the world for the incredible support since I have been apart of this 1st class organization. Thank you for everyone accepting who I am and the dedication I have put into my work to be the best player I could be. But now its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile knowing that the New England Patriots Organization, Pats Nation, and all my fans will be truly a big part of my heart for rest of my life. It was truly an incredible honor to play for such a great established organization and able to come in to continue and contribute to keep building success. To all my current and past teammates, thank you for making each team every year special to be apart of. I will truly miss you guys. Cheers to all who have been part of this journey, cheers to the past for the incredible memories, and a HUGE cheers to the uncertain of whats next.

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

Despite suffering multiple injuries during his career, Gronkowski still managed to put up unbelievable numbers throughout his career. He finished with 7,861 receiving yards and 521 receptions. He also averaged a whopping 15.1 yards per reception and 68.4 yards per game.

Gronk was particularly effective in the red zone, scoring 79 career touchdowns. He led the league in touchdown receptions in 2001, when he scored 17 TDs.

Playing for the league’s most successful franchise, the New England Patriots, gave Gronk multiple chances to play in the postseason, and he did not disappoint with his production there.  He had 81 career postseason receptions, 1,163 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski played the equivalent of a full season in the playoffs with16 games, and the numbers amassed in those playoff games equate to an above average season for a receiver by any standard.

Who are the greatest tight ends of all time?

Several news outlets ranked the best tight ends of all time, and Rob Gronkowski is definitely in the discussion. To get a better understanding of the context of his career and accomplishments, it helps to look at the careers of those other tight ends in comparison.

Athlon Sports ranked the top tight ends of all time with Tony Gonzalez topping the list followed by Antonio Gates, Gronkowski, Shannon Sharpe, and Kellen Winslow.

Famed former NFL scout Gil Brandt ranked Gronk at No. 6 on his all-time list, with Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow, John Mackey, Jason Witten, and Dave Casper in his top five.

Here are the tight ends from this era who compare favorably to Gronk:

View this post on Instagram

Super Bowl LIII Champs!!!

A post shared by Rob Gronkowski (@gronk) on

How Rob Gronkowski compares to the other great tight ends

In this era, Gronkowski certainly ranks as one of the top tight ends. When the scope is widened to account for the league’s entire history, Gronk still ranks as one of the top tight ends from a statistical perspective due to the league’s increased usage of receivers, and tight ends specifically, over the past 15-20 years.

Rob Gronkowski goes down as one of the best tight ends in NFL history
Whether you judge based on regular season or playoff production, Rob Gronkowski is one of the best tight ends ever. | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

While it’s true that Gronk’s numbers pale in comparison to both Gonzalez, Gates, and in some categories Witten, there are several factors to consider in the evaluation:

  • He’s struggled with multiple injuries throughout his career, decreasing his effectiveness. Some argue that Gronkowski’s injuries have been due not to lack of conditioning, but by his opponents’ defensefocusing on him due to the receiving threat he posed and his style of play.
  • He consistently ranked as one of the league’s top red-zone threats.
  • Rob Gronkowski is ending his career early to preserve his health, robbing him of several years of production.
  • As noted above, his playoff performance is unrivaled among all tight ends.

Is Rob Gronkowski the best tight end in NFL history?

Based on the nature of his play, his production when healthy, postseason stats, and the mitigating factors that led to his early retirement, Rob Gronkowski may be the best tight end of all time. For the sake of argument, at worst he’s No. 3 next to Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates. Gonzalez is a Hall of Famer, and Gates is a virtual lock.