If not for a problematic back, Rob Gronkowski may have spiked the ball in jubilation for a team other than the New England Patriots.
Gronkowski had all the talent in the world but fell to the 42nd overall pick in 2010 because of medical concerns. The skeptics proved correct, and anyone who has owned him in fantasy football will certainly attest to his injury history. However, at least one other team proved to be too cautious when evaluating Gronkowski over a decade ago.
Rob Gronkowski’s attitude and injury history concerned teams ahead of the 2010 NFL Draft
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick clearly wasn’t the only talent evaluator who loved Gronkowski leading up to the 2010 NFL Draft.
Longtime NFL columnist Rick Gosselin now contributes to Sports Illustrated and recently shared pre-draft comments he received from 18 NFL talent evaluators on Gronkowski. The group consisted of a scout, two tight end coaches, an offensive coordinator, six personnel directors, a head coach, and seven general managers.
Four of the 18 evaluators pedicted he’d be selected in the first round. Five predicted he’d go in the second round, and one personnel director boldly predicted he’d fall to the third round. Two general managers made it clear Gronkowski was off their board because of medical concerns.
Now, the back concerns were fully justified, and Gronkowski has struggled to stay healthy in the NFL. Through the end of the 2010 season, he’d only played at least 15 games five times in 10 seasons. Don’t forget the Patriots also selected Aaron Hernandez, the former Florida Gators tight end, later in the same draft.
However, it’s interesting reading over a decade later that one personnel director felt “turned off” by Gronkowski’s interview at the 2010 NFL Combine. The lone head coach interviewed called the tight end a “prima donna.”
Gronkowski has used his ‘prima donna’ personality to his advantage
Look, teams have every reason to fear a player who has too much personality. No one wants to be the dreaded “distraction.” Randy Moss and Terrell Owens had bitter divorces with their respective teams at various points in their careers.
With that said, it’s funny to read those concerns in 2021, knowing everything we know now. Despite playing for Belichick in a Patriots organization that emphasizes the team above all else, Gronkowski used his personality to his advantage.
Gronkowski has inked numerous endorsements over the years with everything from Nike to Monster Energy. He’s appeared in commercials and participated in WWE events. He even acted in American Violence, a 2017 crime film starring Bruce Dern.
Yes, Gronkowski likely still would have earned endorsement deals if he was an All-Pro player who provided monotonous answers. It’s far easier to build a personal brand when you powerfully spike the ball after touchdowns or speak Spanish in jubilation after winning a game.
Teams should still rightfully be concerned about some players and their personalities
The lesson here is not that teams shouldn’t have personality concerns with some players, both and after they enter the league. Someone like Gronkowski, who has a jovial attitude and is passionate about football, will succeed if they can stay healthy.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be a “prima donna” in the NFL. Longtime Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, one of the most eccentric players in recent history, earned Pro Bowl honors six times in seven years during their prime. Fans wanted to buy their Johnson jersey — or Ochocinco, depending on the year — and wear it to games in large part because he didn’t ahere to a “strictly business” persona. He loved having fun and wanted fans to enjoy themselves.
The issue is with players such as Johnny Manziel, who had numerous character concerns while at Texas A&M yet convinced the Cleveland Browns to take him off talent alone. The Browns thought they could save Manziel and turn him into a franchise quarterback. Instead, he had repeated off-field issues in the NFL and only lasted two seasons.
Teams will always get fooled along the way. Former Georgia Bulldogs offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson had no reported character issues ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft. Yet, once he entered the league, he made numerous off-field decisions which cost him opportunities with two teams in a year.
The Patriots trusted their gut on Gronkowski, who won three Super Bowl rings in New England. Let that serve as yet another reason why more teams need to learn from Belichick and The Patriot Way.