Rob Gronkowski is a once-in-a-generation player on the field and a larger-than-life personality off it. “Gronk” has delighted NFL fans with touchdowns, spikes, and good, clean fun for the past eight years.
However, amidst rumors of his waning passion for the game and his interest in pursuing a WWE career, it appears Gronk’s NFL days could be numbered. Even if he does not end up retiring, this hypothetical scenario sparks an intriguing debate: is Gronkowski worthy of the NFL’s most prestigious individual honor?
There is certainly a case to be made, as Gronkowski has accomplished more in eight seasons than some players have in double that amount of time. Before we dive in, let’s do an official accounting of Gronkowski’s career statistics and accolades:
- Five-time Pro Bowl selection
- Four-time first-team All-Pro selection
- Two-time Super Bowl champion*
- Four-time AFC champion*
- 2014 Comeback Player of the Year
- 474 receptions (23rd among TE)
- 7,179 receiving yards (11th among TE)
- 76 receiving touchdowns (3rd among TE)
- Five seasons of 10 or more receiving touchdowns (1st among TE)
- 2011 NFL receiving touchdowns leader (17)
- All-time single season record-holder for receiving touchdowns by TE (17)
*Gronkowski was injured during the 2016-2017 playoffs but played in eight games during the regular season and received a championship ring
It’s plain to see that Gronkowski has had a stellar career, but is it Hall of Fame-worthy right now? Or will Gronkowski be forever confined to the Hall of Very Good, along with the Sterling Sharpe’s and Tony Boselli’s of the world, if he retires now? Let’s conduct a deep-dive analysis of the arguments for and against Gronkowski’s Hall of Fame case.
The case for Gronkowski
Right off the bat, Gronkowski’s four first-team All-Pro selections offer very strong support for his Hall-of-Fame case. Of the 43 non-active, Hall of Fame-eligible players with four first-team All-Pro selections, 34 (79%) are in the Hall. Additionally, having played in three Super Bowls and winning one (or two, depending on how you see it) championships will help Gronkowski immensely in the voting process. His career statistics are impressive as well, especially considering that he has amassed them in just eight (often injury-shortened) seasons (more on that later).
Now let’s talk about the “qualitative” factors that play in Gronk’s favor. He has played a key role in one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the sport. When healthy, he has been the premier player at his position for the better part of a decade. Finally, he has been a larger-than-life figure as both a player and an entertainer. In the case of a guy like Terrell Owens, this could be seen as a bad thing (though the voters recently came to their senses), but I’m banking on the voters viewing Gronk as more of a Deion Sanders than a Terrell Owens.
The case against Gronkowski
Much of the case against Gronkowski being in the Hall of Fame revolve around one word: longevity. Players who retire before the age of 30 are generally not looked upon favorably by Hall of Fame voters. As a result of his short career, some of Gronkowski’s career stats are unimpressive on the whole. His 474 career receptions rank just 23rd at his position, behind legends like Frank Wycheck and Ben Watson. Likewise, his 7,179 receiving yards rank just 11th, behind Greg Olsen and just ahead of Vernon Davis. In a similar vein, voters may point to Gronkowski’s lack of durability; he has completed just two full 16-game seasons in his eight-year career.
In the end, the argument against Gronkowski is a weak one. To start, Terrell Davis’ induction shows that the voters don’t always care about longevity or overall career statistics. Admittedly, Gronkowski never had a run of dominance like the one TD had from 1996-1998 (three All-Pro selections, two Super Bowls, a Super Bowl MVP, and a regular season MVP). However, as I’ve outlined, he still boasts some generational accolades.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether you favor eight to ten years of greatness or twelve to fifteen years of “good”ness. I imagine a similar debate will arise when Calvin Johnson is eligible for induction; his career statistics might not be Hall-worthy on their own, but his half-decade-long run of dominance at wide receiver during the golden era of passing certainly is. Not only does Gronkowski have the latter factor in his favor, but his career statistics actually are impressive for the most part, especially considering that he really only has six full seasons as an NFL starter under his belt (pun intended). I have confidence that his contribution to the Patriots’ dynasty along with his extended run of dominance as the premier tight end in the NFL will not be overlooked by the voters.
Of course, this is entirely hypothetical. I, for one, hope that Gronkowski plays for another five to seven years and becomes the undisputed GOAT at his position. His decision will ultimately be a personal one and we should ultimately respect that as fans of the game.