Sure. The last time we saw Rob Gronkowski on a football field, he was making THE catch of Super Bowl LIII that set up the game-winning touchdown for the Patriots. However, in many ways, he was just a shell of his former self. His movement was not as fluid as it once was, he donned an elbow brace that covered his entire right arm, and, at times, he looked much older than 29 years old. In fact, he suffered a quad injury early in that game that hampered him for the majority of the game.
Not surprisingly, just a few months later, Gronkowski retired from the NFL citing his body being the main culprit. Now, nearly 18 months later, Gronkowski is back on the football field and according to his new coaches, he looks like the old Gronk. A scary proposition for the rest of the league.
His HC thinks he is faster than he was in 2018 👀
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) August 21, 2020
Just having Gronk on the field is a positive for the Bucs. Even if it is the 2018 version of the former All-Pro tight end. However, after a full season off, is it possible that he recaptured some of his football youth? Bruce Arians seems to think so. In addition to Gronk himself.
“I’m feeling good. My body feels good, that’s why I came back to the game and that’s how I want to be moving,” Gronkowski said via CBS Sports. “I want to be moving like how I was back in the day. No doubt about that — why else would I want to come back to the game and be moving like poop?”
Remember, Gronkowski is JUST 31-years-old. This isn’t a situation like Jason Witten, who retired and returned at a much later age. And, to his credit, he is preparing to enter his second season back from retirement. It’s safe to say if Witten can do it, Gronk has a good chance.
So, what should we expect from Rob Gronkowski in 2020?
In Gronkowski’s final season in New England, he played in just 13 games and all three playoff games. He hasn’t played a full season since 2011, his second in the league. In 13 games during the 2018 season, he hauled in 47 passes for 682 yards and just three touchdowns. His last 1,000-yard season came in 2017 when he had, 1,084 on 69 receptions and eight touchdowns. However, in both 2017 and 2018, he had 29 receptions in six playoff games which included a Super Bowl loss (2017) and a win (2018).
You would have to go back to the 2014 and 2015 seasons for when Gronk had both a stellar regular season and a great postseason. In those two years, he played in 30 games, had over 1,100 yards each season, and he hauled in 23 total touchdowns in the regular season during that time. He added 31 receptions for 431 yards and six touchdowns in five games in the postseason. This is the Gronkowski coach Arians references when he says “the Gronk from 4 or 5 seasons ago”.
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Is it realistic? Let’s just say, it is not impossible. The aforementioned elbow brace is gone and, according to those who have seen him this summer, his body is moving well and he “looks” great. And, if you studied Gronk over his final couple of seasons in New England, he was in obvious discomfort. It is not too surprising considering the beating he has taken over the years. These issues are not limited to the NFL either. His back issues while at Arizona State cause him to fall to the Patriots in the second round. An obvious steal in hindsight but one that has not come without its obstacles.
Now, back to whether or not a 2015 Gronk performance is realistic.
From a statistical standpoint, it probably isn’t likely. And not from a lack of ability from Gronk. This is based on the plethora of weapons Tom Brady will have to throw to. This isn’t the 2018 Patriots roster. This is closer to the 2007 iteration. A collection of skill players the likes Gronk has never played with. And, he has played with some very talented groups in New England. 2007 was just special. And, on paper, the 2020 Bucs have that same potential. So, with that said, there won’t be that many targets to go around. In those two seasons mentioned prior (2014 and 2015), Gronk was targeted a total of 251 times. He had over 120 targets in each year. He won’t need that in Tampa for the Bucs to win a lot of games.
— Full Press Buccaneers (@FPC_Buccaneers) August 22, 2020
That’s not to say he can’t put up some pretty gaudy numbers. Especially early on when the offense will still be trying to build chemistry on the field. In the early weeks, given there will be no preseason games, Gronkowski will be the only player on the field that Brady has completed a pass to in his 20-year career. It’s safe to say that a fresh legged, energized Gronkowski, may see a high number of targets early on as Brady and the rest of the offense (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, etc) build chemistry. For fantasy owners, this is a perfect “buy low, sell high” situation as eventually, the targets will be spread among the rest of the talented skill players on the offense.
And, if you were to ask Gronk, he would be fine with it because, he, Brady, the Bucs, and all the fans want to see him on the field for three (maybe four) games in January and February. It is smart considering how great Gronk has been in the biggest playoff games. During the AFC Championship Game in 2018 (vs KC) and the Super Bowl (vs Rams), Gronk hauled in 18 passes for 166 yards. In 2017 against the Eagles in Super Bowl 52, Gronkowski had nine receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns in a losing effort. In a loss to Denver in 2015 in the AFC Championship Game, he had eight receptions for 144 yards.
The point is, Gronk shows up in the biggest games and Brady trusts him in the biggest moments. A gaudy stat line during the regular season is not what anyone involved is looking for. Gronk included. He will put up numbers because, well, he is still one of the best tight ends in the league assuming he is healthy. However, expect a concerted effort to manage his snaps to ensure he is ready for a long Bucs playoff run.
It makes sense, the Bucs have the luxury of having Gronk as a luxury. Not an essential piece.