“Out with the old and in with the new” is a popular phrase amongst frustrated voters, particularly on this Election Day. Though the NFL is viewed as a league that is rapidly changing, in terms of voting for league MVP, not much has changed since running back Jim Brown was recognized as the first league “MVP” in 1957. Running backs and quarterbacks are the Republicans and Democrats of NFL MVP voting, with defensive players, wide receivers and tight ends rarely garnering any independent votes over the two-party, RB and QB system.
There has never been a tight end as NFL MVP, mostly because it’s not a “sexy” position. But if there’s one person who can make TE a marquee spot, it is Rob Gronkowski. If there’s one person who should be the league’s first MVP tight end, it is No. 87.
No, this is not a “Tom Brady after the Kansas City game” type of overreaction. Gronkowski’s performance on Sunday against what was considered the best team in the NFL, in the Denver Broncos, opened plenty of eyes around he country as he caught nine balls for 105 yards and a touchdown on National TV. But the fact is, when healthy, Gronk has been doing this for five seasons now.
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Gronk is the epitome of the phrase “most valuable.” Though the Patriots are 12-4 in the 16 games he’s missed during his Patriots career, the feeling that a healthy Gronk could have pushed the 2011 Pats past the Giants in that year’s Super Bowl, the feeling that the 2012 team would have found a way against the Ravens in that year’s AFC title game, and the feeling that the 2013 team would have been able to upend the Broncos in Denver last January, lingers. When Gronkowski is healthy, the Patriots offense is damn near unstoppable.
What we have witnessed the past five weeks is a 25-year-old, healthy Gronkowski just now hitting his career prime. He is averaging 7.2 catches for 103.2 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ five-game winning streak. This, too: with defenses paying more attention to No. 87 in the middle of the field, things have opened up for Brandon LaFell on the outside, as the wideout has been targeted 24 times in the past two blowout wins.
Gronk hasn’t missed a game so far in 2014, meaning he’s on pace to play the full 16 for the first time since 2011 – the year when, at 22-years of age, he broke NFL records for touchdown receptions by a tight end (17) and receiving yards by a tight end (1,327).
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham surged ahead of Gronk as the league’s premier TE over the past few years, due mainly to Gronk’s habit of breaking bones in his own body. But the Pats’ all-world TE has outshined Graham so far this season and, unlike, Gronkowski, there are times when Graham can be completely removed from a game. Take last year’s Saints game in Foxboro, for instance, when Aqib Talib gave Graham goose eggs across the board. Talib was matched up with Gronkowski often in Foxboro this past Sunday, and the now-Broncos corner did not fare nearly as well against his former teammate as he did a year ago against Graham.
Yes, it’s a small sample size when it comes to Talib, but in terms of potential “Gronk-stoppers” across the league, no defensive back or linebacker has stepped forward since the big man was drafted out of Arizona in 2010.
Gronk is listed as 6-foot-6, 265 pounds but those vitals don’t really do him justice in the open field. You get the sense that if Gronkowski wanted to, he could stiff arm a 195-pound cornerback and make him a permanent fixture at the top of the Gillette Stadium light tower.
When watching Gronk, you simply feel as though anything is possible. The Patriots winning their first Super Bowl in 10 years? More than possible with a healthy Gronk. A tight end winning the league MVP award? It should be possible with a healthy Gronk.
Gronk in 2014? He’s got my vote.