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Gronkowski is quite the catch

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  December 13, 2011 01:33 PM

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It's selling Rob Gronkowski short to label him as just a tight end. He has transcended such a narrow classification.

Common football taxonomy cannot possibly describe how impactful a player Gronkowski has become for the Patriots in less than two full NFL seasons. You can call Gronk a lot of things -- cult-hero; "a beast," as former Patriot and current Washington wide receiver Donte' Stallworth did; a football free spirit who has replaced Jonathan Papelbon as our resident sports screwball.

What we should start calling him is one of the greatest offensive threats in the game.

Forget comparisons to fellow tight ends Jermichael Finley of Green Bay and Jimmy Graham of New Orleans. We should be mentioning the Incredible Gronk with Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson or Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, all game-breaking offensive players who routinely defy defenses and the laws of physics to find the end zone.

Since Gronkowski, who broke the NFL single-season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end on Sunday in the Patriots' 34-27 win, collecting his 14th and 15th as part of a six-catch, 160-yard day, entered the league in 2010 no one has caught more touchdown passes. No one.

Gronkowski has 25, one more than Johnson. Only one player in the league has scored more touchdowns the last two seasons than Gronkowski -- Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (28). Gronkowski's 26 total TDs equal that of Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy.

Gronkowski has a chance to be the first tight end ever to be the solo league leader in TD receptions in a season.

Patriots guard Brian Waters has some experience and expertise with transcendent tight ends from his days with the Kansas City Chiefs. For nine seasons, Waters was a teammate of Tony Gonzalez, the doyen of modern-era indefensible tight ends and the man who holds the NFL records for most receptions (1,142), receiving yards (13,275) and touchdown receptions (95) by a tight end.

Listen up when Waters said he's never seen anything like the 6-6, 265-pound Gronk.

"Gronk, he's kind of a freak of nature in comparison to Tony," said Waters. "Tony is a good basketball player, great athlete. Gronk is a different type of breed. He really has done a great job of using his athletic ability, using his size more than anything, as you can see when he tears from tackles and gets yards after catch.

"As much as I love Tony, and I think he's the best ever, I never saw Tony do some of the things I'm seeing him do, and the fact that he still has so much more that he can do, it's an amazing thing to watch."

There are few plays more amazing than the 49-yard catch-and-run Gronkowski had on Sunday against the Redskins. He made a diving catch at the 50, got up and carried Washington safeties DeJon Gomes and Reed Doughty on his back along the sideline long enough to demand cab fare before flinging them to the FedEx Field turf while miraculously -- bet we'll be hearing that word a lot this week with Tim Tebow on tap -- staying in bounds. He was finally (and barely) chopped down by Josh Wilson, but not before stumbling to the Washington 11.

It was like watching an adult play tackle football with a bunch of sixth-graders. The last time a Patriot gave you that feeling it was Randy Moss. Gronkowski is becoming a Moss-like figure.

Yes, the games of Gronkowski and Moss couldn't be more dissimilar. Gronk bowls over, breaks through and bounces off tackles like a super-sized stunt man. Moss wouldn't put his shoulder down to run over a parking cone. He relied on blazing speed and aerial body control that would make a Russian ballet dancer envious.

But their effect is the same, a matchup nightmare for defenses who is open even when seemingly covered.

Tom Brady has displayed the same unwavering faith in Gronk that he had in Moss in 2007, when he would simply throw the ball up with the belief that Moss would just go get it regardless of defenders. That was evident on Gronkowski's two touchdown receptions on Sunday.

On the first, Gronkowski was blanketed by Gomes, but Brady placed the ball up high and Grokowski out-rebounded Gomes for it. Unstoppable.

On the second, Washington blitzed on third and 12 from the 37. Gronkowski feigned pass blocking Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, then released. Kerrigan, hardly a Lilliputian at 6-4, 267 pounds, tried to corral Gronkowski. He couldn't. Brady lobbed an alley-oop that Gronkowski leaped up and grabbed, discarded Kerrigan like an empty candy wrapper, and raced to the end zone.

"I think Gronkowski and Brady just click so well," said Kerrigan. "That throw he made where I missed the tackle and Gronkowski scored, that was a heck of a throw, right over the top. Great catch, not much you can do besides make the tackle."

Yep, not much you can do, and he's only 22.

Gronkowski, who has 71 receptions for 1,088 yards this season, is the tight end that Patriots fans thought Benjamin Watson would be, a God-gifted specimen who is uncoverable.

"It's a bad matchup either way you go," said Waters. "Even if you put your best cover guy, cover safety, cover linebacker, you just can't do it. As he continues to grow and continues to get better on the small things, he's going to be even more unstoppable. Then the fact we got another guy on the other side [Aaron Hernandez] who is just as talented -- in a lot different way -- but just as talented it can make us a difficult matchup at times."

As Waters pointed out Gronkowski "blocks like crazy". That's what separates him from the other top-notch, pass-catching tight ends in the league like Finley and Graham, both of whom are really overgrown wide receivers.

But we're beyond limiting Gronk to tidy tight end comparisons.

Right now, the lovable big lug is the most potent weapon in pro football.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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