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Rob Gronkowski: The megastar that defined the Tight End position

Zach Thompson breaks down Rob Gronkowski’s career.

Rob Gronkowski #87 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs the ball during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Inglewood, California. Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

While sports is definitely a serious business, it’s always fun to see someone having a great time playing their sport at an extremely high level. Throughout his career, Rob Gronkowski has been a player who revels in the spotlight, seems to have a great time playing football, has radically redefined how teams utilize players at his position, and has found a broad range of ways to engage with the public in fun ways. As the DraftKings Marketplace continues working through some of the biggest icons in the sports world, this week we’ll take a look at the legendary career of Gronk.

The Gronkowski family is full of athletes. Rob is one of five brothers who all played major college football and later played professionally at some level. Their grandfather Ignatius Gronkowski represented the US at the 1924 Olympics in cycling and held five world records, and their father Gordon Gronkowski played offensive guard for Syracuse. When Rob Gronkowski finished high school, he was heavily recruited before ultimately choosing to go to Arizona.

Gronk was viewed as a solid professional prospect through his first two years in college, excelling as both a pass-catcher and a blocker. The style and force with which he played tight end would lead to multiple injuries throughout his career, and he was forced to miss his entire junior year of college due to back surgery. His draft stock slipped as a result, but it also led to him landing in a great spot when he was taken in the second round by the New England Patriots. Gronkowski joined QB Tom Brady in New England, and the two formed an ongoing QB-TE connection that will go down as the most successful in NFL history.

Defying the norms for players at his position as he would throughout his career, Gronkowski made an instant impact, scoring four touchdowns in the preseason and finding the end zone in Week 1 against the Bengals as well. In Week 10 against the Steelers, Gronk had three touchdown catches, becoming the first Patriots rookie with three receiving touchdowns in a game. He went on to make the NFL All-Rookie team and was the first TE since the AFL-NFL merger to score 10 touchdowns in his first season. Putting up double-digit touchdowns is an impressive accomplishment in any season, but Gronk hit that number with regularity, visiting the end zone at least 10 times in five of his first six seasons in the NFL.

Gronk’s second year in the league was his most dominant statistical season. He posted an incredible 17 touchdowns while averaging 5.6 catches for 83.0 yards per game. He led the league in receiving touchdowns that season and still holds the record for most receiving touchdowns in a season for a TE. He had three more touchdowns in the Patriots’ playoff-opening rout of the Broncos, but in the AFC Championship, he sustained a high ankle sprain on a tackle by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. Gronk’s availability was a main storyline leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, but ultimately, he was able to get on the field and did his best to play through the injury. He seemed severely limited, though, and ultimately the Patriots lost to the Giants when he couldn’t quite haul in Tom Brady’s last-second heave to the end zone.

Offseason surgery was required on Gronk’s ankle, but he still inked the largest contract ever given to a tight end at that point. Despite the injury, his performance didn’t drop off the following year. He found his way to 10 touchdowns in 10 games, but in Week 11 he fractured his arm while blocking on an extra point attempt against the Colts. He battled his way back in time for the playoffs but re-injured his arm in the first quarter of the Patriots’ first playoff game and had to watch from the sidelines as his teammates lost the AFC Championship game to Joe Flacco’s eventual-champion Ravens.

Most of the 2013 season was lost due to injuries as Gronk battled recurring infections in his arm, underwent another back surgery and ultimately was sidelined by a torn ACL after playing only seven games. He returned to form in 2014, though, playing limited snaps early in the season but finishing strong and becoming the first TE to catch at least 10 TDs in four different seasons. He was a unanimous All-Pro selection and played a key role in helping the Patriots win Super Bowl XLIX over the Seahawks. Gronk had a touchdown in that Super Bowl win and caught a touchdown pass in each of the Patriots’ three playoff wins to claim his first championship ring.

In 2015, Gronk and the Patriots started the season strong, including another memorable three-touchdown performance in the season opener against the Steelers. However, he suffered another knee injury in Week 12 against the Broncos. After returning from that injury, he had a big game in the AFC Championship against the Broncos, but the Patriots' title defense ended when they lost to Denver by two points.

Gronk continued to struggle with injuries but contributed when healthy over the next two seasons for New England. He was on injured reserve due to another back injury when the team won Super Bowl LI over the Falcons. He was in-and-out of the lineup in 2017 as well but still managed his fourth season with over 1,000 receiving yards. He had 116 yards and two touchdowns in New England’s Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, continuing his string of big playoff performances.

In the offseason before the 2018 season, the Patriots were close to a deal that would have traded Gronk to the Lions, but the superstar TE threatened to retire rather than play with another franchise and QB. He was able to reconcile with the team and return for the 2018 season, but his production declined from his earlier All-Pro level. He still managed to come up with a big play in the Super Bowl, though, hauling in a long pass to set up the only touchdown of the game as the Patriots beat the Rams, 13-3, to claim Gronk’s third Super Bowl title.

He spent the entire 2019 season retired from the NFL healing from the physical toll of his nine-year career. He decided to make a return in 2020, though, when his long-time Patriots QB Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason and lured him out of retirement. Gronk was used sparingly during the regular season and only had 45 receptions but remained a red-zone threat with seven touchdowns. He added two more touchdown catches to his postseason resume in Super Bowl LV, as he helped Brady win his first non-Patriots Super Bowl and claimed his fourth ring as well.

Before the start of the 2021 season, Gronk re-signed with the Buccaneers on a one-year deal and got off to a strong start with four touchdowns in his first three games before sustaining a rib injury. Gronk will look to get back into the action later this season and help the Bucs claim a second straight title, and he expects to be back soon, maybe even on Thursday Night Football against the Eagles. While his long list of injuries is definitely concerning for his future prospects, he has proven he can come back and be successful, so look for more from him on the field later this year.

His unique blend of catching and blocking ability make him the prototypical tight end, and most experts agree that he is the best TE in NFL history. His fun-loving and goofy demeanor also gave some personality to a Patriots dynasty that sometimes came across as aloof and sterile. His “Gronk Spike” celebration became legendary after his many touchdowns, and he even added some special modifications when the Patriots played in London as a shoutout to the Queen’s Guard.

Off the field, Gronk was a highly recognizable figure, and therefore many brands sought him out to endorse their products. He starred in multiple commercials and was a celebrity endorser of everything from Tide pods to CBD oil. During his one-year hiatus from the NFL, he was an analyst on FOX, a contestant on The Masked Singer, a team captain on Game On! on CBS and even co-hosted Fox’s New Year’s Eve with Steve Harvey. He also made a foray into wrestling, hosting Wrestlemania 36 and winning the WWE 24/7 Championship.

Gronk is also no stranger to the world of NFT Collections. He launched an exclusive collection of trading cards in March of 2021 with 87 editions of four separate trading cards available. There was also an even more exclusive one-of-a-kind card that featured a composite of artwork from all four of his Super Bowl wins. The total price for the collection was reportedly $1.6 million.

The fact that Gronk is still an active player and also a celebrity with such broad appeal is sure to make this NFT release an extremely popular one. With such diverse interests, it will also be exciting to see whatever the superstar TE has in store moving forward both on and off the field.