Tight ends, tighter choice
So, Kelce or Gronk? Opinions vary.
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
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.”