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Gronkowski Retirement Provides Another Injury Lesson

Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski (87) makes a catch and stiff arms Kansas City Chiefs free safety Ron Parker (38) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated Kansas City 43-40. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Recent news that 4–time All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is retiring, at the age of 29, rocked the football world, causing shock and misery throughout New England. Given that this huge hunk of a man played with wild abandon, this announcement shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

Gronk is 6’6” and weighs about 270 pounds. I’ve seldom seen any other receiver expose his body to injury the way Gronk did. First off, he relied greatly on leaping high to snatch Tom Brady’s passes above the defenders. Since the shorter guys couldn’t knock away these passes, they tried to jar the ball loose with vicious hits when he came back down to earth.

Gronk also was a reckless runner after he made his catches. He was known for a mean stiff arm, and for trying to hurdle defensive backs.. His playing style took a great toll on his body, which is the apparent reason for his retirement decision.

Just in his last two years, Gronk missed games due to a back strain, ankle sprain, and thigh contusion. In 2018 alone, he was listed as questionable for eight straight weeks in the middle of the season. In 2016, he was only healthy for three games all season, and he spent the final eight weeks on IR due to a bad back.

For the first third of the 2014 season, he played despite a bad knee. He was listed on the injury report for every week of 2013; he finally went down with an ACL/MCL tear in December. In 2012, he was on the injury report list for all but three weeks. He missed most of the last seven weeks with a forearm injury.

Rob’s second season, 2011, was the only time his health held up all year. And what a year it was: 90 catches, 1,327 yards, 17 touchdowns. Had he not suffered so many injuries, think of the career numbers he would have run up.

I remember way back when a reporter interviewed Ray Nitschke, the hard-hitting Packers’ linebacker from 1958 to 1972. The reporter asked if he avoided injury be being the aggressor. He cleared up that misconception by saying that the harder he hit someone, the more he hurt himself.

Next to follow Gronk’s early retirement lead might well be J.J. Watt. It would be hard to name a more physical practitioner of the game than this 6’5” 295 pound Houston defensive end. Though he had a healthy season last year, his playing style caught up with him the two previous years. Of 32 regular season games in 2016-17, the former Badger saw action in only eight of them. Watt is now 30.

Comparisons

A good comparison to Watt would be recently-retired Julius Peppers, who played in 266 of a possible 272 games in his career – the sixth most games played by a defensive player in NFL history. He was also a physical specimen and he used his physicality on every play, but he did not play out of control or without regard to his well-being.

We might also make a comparison between Gronkowski and Cowboys’ tight end Jason Witten. Similar in size at 6’6” and 265 pounds, Jason, after his rookie season in 2003, missed two games in the next 14 years. He holds the record for most consecutive games played by a tight end (including playoffs), at 235.

He also ranks fourth in the NFL in career receptions, behind only Jerry Rice, Tony Gonzalez, and Larry Fitzgerald. Gronkowski may have had all the glitz, but Witten still has his health. Gronkowski is leaving the game with 7,860 yards in receptions. Witten is returning to the game, after retiring for a year – and he’ll be adding to his 12,448 receiving yards.

We can add to the list of injury hazards: reckless and/or extremely violent playing styles.

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Rob Born

Someone else said it first but I popularized it: “Athleticism is important in athletic pursuits.” It took three years, but the Packers finally listened. My new mantra: “Trading down is fine, but never trade up.”

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8 Comments

  1. Stiggy March 27, 2019

    The question is…will gronk (after getting the itch in week 6) have better stats than graham?

    Reply
  2. Howard March 27, 2019

    One of the concerns from scout(s) when Gronk came out of college was durability. Please see below analysis:

    ANALYSIS
    STRENGTHS Gronkowski has prototypical size and good speed. Shows fluid hips and runs precise routes. Possesses the lateral quickness and burst to get open in man coverage. Catches the ball away from his chest and displays good body control. Effective blocker that can generate a push. Very productive in his two seasons in the Pac-10.

    WEAKNESSES Durability concerns since he missed the entire 2009 season after back surgery and missed three games in 2008. Does not have a great top-end speed and may not be able to stretch the field at the next level. Lacks the elusiveness to make people miss after catch.

    Reply
    1. Kato April 1, 2019

      I think he was able to stretch the field in the NFL. I remember several deep throws down the seams to him. But yeah, injuries definitely played a role in his career. I wonder what his numbers would have been had he only missed 5 games or so in his career.

      1. Howard April 1, 2019

        I agree. The scouting report was not meant to be a negative on Gronkowski. One thing about the scouting reports they will always have strengths and weaknesses.

        The reports are produced so scouts can document what they have seen regarding a player. That report is then used as a tool along with other tools in looking at the value in obtaining a player.

        One thing some forget is scouting reports are also a tool for the coaching staff to use. If the scout(s) are detailed and honest in their reports, coaching staffs and position coaches should have a good roadmap to start on developing a player. The coaches should then work on using/highlighting the players strengths and protecting/eliminating the players weaknesses.

        I believe The Patriots coaching staff is much better than other coaching staffs including the Packers coaching staff at using the scouting reports to bring out the best in players while protecting the weaknesses. We will see how the new Packer coaching staff can develop players.

        1. PF4L April 1, 2019

          I have always said, the scouts get it right a lot more than get it wrong.

          Three times i will look at scouting reports…1) After (during) the Packers draft. 2)Looking back at a player’s report when he is under performing. 3) Looking at it when a player over performs.

          In recent history, the Packers would have done well by heeding the warning signs that the scouts provided. Unless of course, you’re looking to outsmart everyone.

          1. PF4L April 2, 2019

            Gronks problem was getting tackled, he was like dead lumbering weight when going down. He had all the grace going down as an opponent of Anthony Pettis after Pettis kicks him upside his head.

  3. ay hombre March 28, 2019

    Injured or not. Gronk is/was the best tight end to play the game in my lifetime.

    Reply
    1. PF4L April 1, 2019

      Jimmy’s gotta problem with that.

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