Tight ends, tighter choice

So, Kelce or Gronk? Opin­ions vary.

Boston Herald - - GAMEDAY PREVIEW - Karen Guregian AP Twit­ter: @kgure­gian

Mercedes or BMW? Caber­net sau­vi­gnon or pinot noir? Filet mignon or rib­eye? When it comes to choos­ing the best, it’s usu­ally a mat­ter of in­di­vid­ual taste. The same can be said with tight ends, al­though it gets a bit more in­volved than sim­ply com­ing down to per­sonal pref­er­ence. Case in point, in re­cent weeks, there’s been an on­go­ing de­bate about Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce.

Su­per Bowl-win­ning de­fen­sive line­man Booger Mc­Far­land seemed to get the ball rolling ear­lier this month, say­ing Kelce was the best tight end in foot­ball dur­ing ESPN’s Mon­day Night broad­cast of Chiefs-Bron­cos. Some­one sur­passed Gronk, the ac­knowl­edged cream of the crop and one of the best all-time?

“He’s the best tight end in foot­ball,” Mc­Far­land said of Kelce. “He’s the rea­son why we saw (Bron­cos cor­ner­back) Chris Harris Jr. on him. You can’t put a linebacker or a safety on him. No dis­re­spect to Gronk — Travis Kelce is the best tight end in foot­ball.”

That’s his opin­ion, and he’s cer­tainly wel­come to have it. Kelce has got­ten off to a ter­rific start this sea­son, while Gronkowski hasn’t quite hit his stride.

Me? I’d still take Gronk, in a heart­beat. I’ve cov­ered him since he came into the league in 2010 and watched every game he’s played.

He’s al­ways been a night­mare both in the pass­ing game and run­ning game be­cause he can catch and block ex­tremely well. Will the Pa­tri­ots pass or run? Par­tic­u­larly by the goal line, there’s also a lit­tle more mys­tery in­volved when Gronk is out there.

Kelce is more of a mod­ern tight end. He can block, but just isn’t asked to do that very much. He can cer­tainly catch, though. He’s like a big re­ceiver out there who can move and gain sep­a­ra­tion.

But here’s the deal. Gronkowski’s body of work is so much greater. He’s bro­ken records and sin­gle hand­edly de­stroyed de­fenses. He’s a touch­down maker in the red zone. Kelce, even ac­count­ing that he hasn’t been in the league as long, is lag­ging in that area. Out of 565 re­cep­tions (in­clud­ing play­offs) for Gronk, 89 have gone for touch­downs. Kelce has just 26 out of 358. If I had one game to win, Gronk is the tight end I’d want. Pe­riod.

But let’s hear what other ex­perts think.

Brian Bil­lick be­lieves we’re talk­ing “fi­nite de­grees” be­tween the two.

“They’re both pretty darn good, a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent style,” the NFL Net­work an­a­lyst said when reached last week. “Kelce’s a lit­tle more of the pure wide­out type tight end, al­though the Pa­tri­ots move Gronk around a lot, and put him out­side . . . but th­ese two guys are maybe the best tight ends in the league, and clearly the go-to-guys for the quar­ter­back par­tic­u­larly in crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions be­cause they can both body-up. You can be cov­ered, but be­cause of their size and their wing­span, just be­cause there’s a guy right there with them, doesn’t mean they’re cov­ered.”

Bil­lick pointed out that Kelce was more of an in-line tight end com­ing out of col­lege at Cincin­nati, but he’s not used as a bat­ter­ing ram all that much with all the mo­tion and jet sweeps used in the Kan­sas City of­fense.

Here’s an­other in­ter­est­ing point. Bil­lick just did a seg­ment on Kelce on his NFL Net­work show “Play­book” and was stunned to see he’s not nearly as blan­keted by teams as Gronkowski.

“With Gronk, you’re go­ing to jam him, you’re go­ing to dou­ble him,” said Bil­lick. “Then I saw how lit­tle Kelce gets jammed, or is dou­bled. I thought I’d get on the film, and like Gronk, see a whole bunch of that. Boy, he’s so hot right now. He has all those 100-yard games, and no one is dou­bling him and no one’s jam­ming him off the line.”

The likely rea­son, of course, is Kelce has Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins rid­ing shot­gun at re­ceiver. Teams have to pay closer at­ten­tion to them, which frees up Kelce un­der­neath. Un­til Josh Gor­don and Ju­lian Edel­man showed up, all the at­ten­tion was on Gronkowski.

“Ei­ther you dou­ble Tyreek Hill and let Travis Kelce have a bunch of those 6-, 7-, 8-yard outs, or dou­ble Kelce and let Hill knock a 70-yarder off. I guess that’s the think­ing, I don’t know,” said Bil­lick. “I was shocked to see how lit­tle jam o r

dou­ble­cov­er­age

Kelce gets. And, I’ll be in­ter­ested to see what the Pa­tri­ots do.”

Asked which guy he’d take if was go­ing to start a team to­mor­row, the former Su­per Bowl win­ning coach with the Ravens was on the fence.

“That’s a tough one,” said Bil­lick. “I guess if you had to make a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, be­cause of Gronk’s in­jury sit­u­a­tion, you’d lean to­ward Kelce only be­cause Gronk has had some is­sues in­jury-wise. But that with­stand­ing, to me, it’s a pick-em, be­cause they’re both darn good.”

Solomon Wil­cots had more con­vic­tion for one guy. He’s a Gronk man, and also set them apart be­cause Gronkowski is a “fullser­vice tight end who car­ries much more work­load within the of­fense.”

“If we talk about di­vi­sion of la­bor, he takes on a higher per­cent­age of that la­bor to help the of­fense than Kelce does,” the SiriusXM NFL ra­dio an­a­lyst said last week, “so he’s bet­ter, be­cause he’s more ver­sa­tile in the true tra­di­tional sense, and in the non-tra­di­tional way we use tight ends to­day.”

Hall of Fame tight end Shan­non Sharpe, reached on Fri­day, thinks Kelce is the bet­ter tight end at the mo­ment, but only be­cause Gronkowski — listed with an an­kle in­jury — isn’t com­pletely healthy.

“Right now, I think it’s Kelce. But I’d take Gronk if he was healthy,” said Sharpe. “Healthy, I don’t think it’s close.”

De­scrib­ing the two, Sharpe said Gronkowski is like a rap­tor or an off-road pickup truck. “He’ll blow sand, dirt, logs, what­ever’s in front of him. He’ll bang into you. Gronk is spe­cial,” said Sharpe. “I just wish he could stay healthy. I wish he could stay healthy for an en­tire sea­son with no nicks, no an­kles, no el­bows, no back, no knees, just stay healthy and see what kind of num­bers he can put up with Tom (Brady).”

Sharpe said it’s ob­vi­ous Gronk isn’t right., and was sur­prised to see him play­ing against the Colts in the Thurs­day night game with the short turn­around.

“He looks like he’s la­bor­ing or some­thing,” said Sharpe. “He has in­cen­tives in his con­tract, and now you might have to push through some things that might set you back and wind up hurt­ing the team in the long run.”

Dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with re­porters, NBC’s Rod­ney Har­ri­son, Tony Dungy and Cris Collinsworth were asked which tight end they thought was best. The former Pa­triot went with Kelce.

“I would say at this point in time, if I were a safety play­ing man-to-man cov­er­age, I would prob­a­bly have a lit­tle bit more trou­ble de­fend­ing Travis Kelce,” Har­ri­son said. “He’s a big guy. Ob­vi­ously he pushes off and he uses his body well, but at this point in time, just the level of speed and ath­leti­cism, the youth fac­tor; the fact that Kelce has been healthy. The quick­ness and his route run­ning, I would say Kelce at this time is the bet­ter tight end.” Dungy didn’t agree.

“If it’s one game and they are both healthy, I’m tak­ing Rob Gronkowski be­cause I think he’s a bet­ter blocker and more of an in­side tight end,” he said. “But Rod­ney’s point is valid. Travis has been a lot more avail­able over the course of the last cou­ple years, health­ier. So if you’re talk­ing about long term, that makes — I’m a Gronkowski fan, if I’ve got one game to win and they are both healthy, I’m tak­ing Rob.”

Collinsworth would have taken Gronkowski for the long­est time, but said the com­pe­ti­tion is get­ting closer. Kelce sta­tis­ti­cally matched Gronkowski a year ago. He’s on pace for 1,302 yards this year, which would be the most by a tight end since Gronkowski’s 1,327 in 2011.

“I don’t think I have a fa­vorite be­cause it’s like — to me, it’s like com­par­ing ap­ples to or­anges,” said Collinsworth. “Th­ese two play­ers re­ally could not be any more dif­fer­ent at the po­si­tion . . . Kelce is a lit­tle more new age and Gronk is a lit­tle more old school, but both are great play­ers.”

Out of his zone

There was an in­ter­est­ing backand-forth be­tween Pa­tri­ots cor­ner Stephon Gilmore and Jaguars cor­ner Jalen Ram­sey late last week. Dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view with 98.5 The Sports Hub, Gilmore dis­missed Ram­sey as a cor­ner who pri­mar­ily plays zone.

Ram­sey, who has no prob­lem rip­ping all sorts of of­fen­sive play­ers — he be­lieves Gronk is over­rated — didn’t think it was ap­pro­pri­ate for a fel­low cor­ner­back to toss a hay­maker his way.

“I never un­der­stood why some­one on the same side of the ball would hate an­other guy,” said Ram­sey via the Florida TimesUnion. “I’m go­ing to con­tinue to do what the team asks for me to do, ei­ther man or zone. Maybe he should try it also — I’m All-Pro. Maybe I’m a threat or some­thing. It’s lame, it’s corny. But that’s him, though. I play a good mix of both. I think ev­ery­body knows that.”

Gilmore said he wasn’t much for trash talk­ing, but cited Ram­sey’s per­son­al­ity, adding that he finds “a lot of guys that talk are mostly zone guys so they have a lot of en­ergy to do that.” Zing!

Af­ter five games, Ram­sey still doesn’t have an in­ter­cep­tion and only one pass breakup.

Re­spect for a rookie?

Tex­ans de­fen­sive end Jade­veon Clowney gave Bills rookie quar­ter­back Josh Allen some se­ri­ous praise in the lead-up to their game to­day.

“He doesn’t give up,” Clowney said. “He doesn’t quit on any play. He thinks he can make a play on every play. He’s the heart and soul of that team right now. When he goes, they go.”

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY MATT WEST

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