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NFL Countdown: Rob Gronkowski's #87 destined to be etched alongside TB12 in NFL Hall of Fame

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills
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Thom Allison

Wherever Tom Brady goes, Rob Gronkowski won't be far behind. Ever since entering the league in 2010, Gronkowski has been a 265-pound comfort blanket for the league's greatest-ever quarterback. While he hasn't confirmed that he will take the field in 2022, with his best mate performing the quickest retirement u-turn in recent memory, it's a sensible bet that we will see Gronk right next to him in the huddle, down in Tampa.

But what about after their playing days are over? It is a cast-iron guarantee that Brady will be enshrined in Canton as an unamimous first-ballot Hall of Famer. But true to form, will Gronk also be joining the first-ballot club on the very same night?

The 'Hall of Fame connection' of Brady and Gronk shows up again for the Buccaneers! #TBvsCARhttps://t.co/5fbcgaQGW9

Why did the Patriots draft Rob Gronkowski?

When Gronkowski was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2010, he was already joining a coach and quarterback combination that had created a dynasty of three Super Bowl victories over a four-year period. But their last victory came back in 2004, and they were in the middle of what Belichick and Brady considered a drought.

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For that reason, Belichick decided to take decisive action on the offensive side of the ball by drafting two tight ends. The Patriots selected Gronkowski in the second round and Aaron Hernandez in the fourth. Gronkowski's availability was due in part to having missed his final year of college football because of back surgery. The Raiders even had him rated as the best player in the draft, but Belicheck swooped in to get his man with the 42nd pick and had this to say about the TE out of Arizona:

"So Rob Gronkowski, certainly an interesting player. Excellent size, very well thought of down there by Coach Stoops and his staff. We visited him a couple weeks ago. I think, as we saw there, in New York, he’s kind of a fun-loving guy who enjoys having a good time, but he plays like that, too."

Belichick would continue to provide further evaluation of Gronkowski's skillset, which with the benefit of hindsight might just be the most accurate pre-draft assessment ever:

"He’s a big guy. He’s a hard matchup for a defensive back. He’s 6-5, 265, or whatever he is. He’s big, and he plays big, and he has a big frame. A lot of times, he just boxes them out, and they stuff it in there to him, and he’s just a hard guy to cover. He’s a strong runner with the ball in his hands. He’s run through some tackles, made some yards after the catch."
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Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski: A match made in heaven

When Gronkowski arrived in New England, Brady was just coming off his first ever playoff defeat at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots' first at-home since 1978. It was an ugly loss, as they went down 33–14 to the Baltimore Ravens, with Brady throwing for 154 passing yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

The arrival of his new TE helped propel the GOAT to a second regular-season MVP, as he found Gronk in the endzone on 10 occasions, totalling 546 yards. Though used primarily as a redzone and third down target, the connection between the pair was instant and on full display throughout their second season together, when they connected for 17 tds and nearly 1,400 yards.

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The season would end in a heartbreaking Super Bowl defeat to the New York Giants, where Gronk played with strained ankle ligaments. His willingness to put his body on the line would be a trademark of his career, as would the injuries that resulted.

For the next two years, Gronkowski would be a dominant force when on the field. However, he missed nearly as many games as he played, and New England's Super Bowl drought continued. By the time the 2014 season arrived, he was still recovering from ACL surgery, but was soon up to speed, and the telepathic relationship with Brady was still intact.

That season would culminate with his first Super Bowl win, as Gronk made six receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown, and victory was secured with a famous Malcolm Butler goalline interception against the Seattle Seahawks.

Five years ago today, rookie Malcolm Butler sealed the Patriots' fourth Super Bowl with this incredible goal-line interception 🤯(via @nflthrowback)https://t.co/BNT0hoLyec

The Brady-Gronkowski partnership would go on to win a total of three Super Bowls in New England before Gronk would shock the NFL world by announcing a surprise retirement in 2019, not long after his Super Bowl LII win, citing the physical and mental toll the game had taken on him.

Tom Brady to Gronk in Super Bowl 53. There will never be another TB12#ThankYouTom | #Patriots https://t.co/UE2LxAo3bO

A little over 12 months later, his old mate Brady suddenly turned up in Tampa and made it clear to HC Bruce Arians that he wanted Gronkowski to join him, and the Bucanneers traded with the Patriots, who still owned his contractual rights. Brady's demands paid off in a huge way as the duo quickly rediscovered their old magic and led the Bucs to victory in Super Bowl LV, where they connected for two TDs in a 31-9 rout over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Only fitting that Brady’s first ever 1st quarter TD goes to Gronk🔥🔥🔥 #Bucs #SuperBowl https://t.co/2um7N92jQa

If Gronk's career was to end today, he would leave the game a four-time Super Bowl winner, four-time All Pro, and member of the 2010s team of the decade. He has a total of 9,286 receiving yards with 93 TDs. A temporary retirement and numerous injury problems cost Gronkowski over 50 games in his career, and without these issues, he would currently be within touching distance of most of Tony Gonzalez's all-time TE records.

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Statistically, he is not the greatest TE to ever play the game, but there are many who believe he is the most talented and, even more importantly, the most clutch. Gronk was the go-to guy for the greatest player in NFL history. Brady was so reliant on his favorite target that he only agreed to sign for Tampa Bay with the promise that his mate would follow.

Is Rob Gronkowski a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Ask Tom Brady.


Edited by Windy Goodloe
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