4: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski
The influx of athletic tight ends in the NFL has run rampant, but Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski set the bar—not just by being one of the most prolific pass-catching tight ends in NFL history, but by being so much more than simply a pass-catcher.
He is a matchup nightmare.
Put a linebacker on Gronkowski, and his speed and quickness creates a mismatch in passing situations. Against a safety, his size is overwhelming, and the Patriots clearly have the advantage when running the ball in that situation.
It would be easy to put Gronkowski in this spot simply by virtue of his 38 receiving touchdowns in the first three years of his career—the third-most for any player in the first three years of their career behind only Jerry Rice and Randy Moss—or the fact that, according to Pro Football Focus, quarterback Tom Brady has thrown just four interceptions in his career when targeting Gronkowski.
Gronkowski's game goes much further than all that, though. He has developed into one of the better run-blocking tight ends in the game, as well. He has graded out among the top five run-blocking tight ends each of the past three years, and ranked No. 1 in 2011 according to PFF.
If Gronkowski can get healthy this offseason and stay healthy in 2013, he will likely continue his reign of terror on opposing defenses without a hitch.
Did you know? Gronkowski's 29 red zone touchdown receptions are the most by any player over the past three years—nine touchdowns more than second place, Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.