With a simple Instagram post, a nine-year, Hall of Fame-worthy career capped by a third Super Bowl championship came to an end for New England TE Rob Gronkowski. He was truly remarkable and one of the best in the history of the game at his position. With his exit, head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots have some work to do. Gronkowski’s retirement will have an effect on the 2019 Patriots as well as the rest of the NFL.
Gronk’s Legacy At 6-feet-6-inches and 260 pounds, Gronkowski fought his fair share of injuries, but he still put up some impressive numbers. He caught a total of 521 passes for 7,860 yards and 79 touchdowns… and that was just in the regular season. In seven postseasons – he missed the 2013 and 2016 Patriots’ postseasons due to injury – Gronkowski caught another 81 passes for 1,163 yards and 12 scores. His 1,327 receiving yards in 2011 was an NFL record for tight ends until San Francisco’s George Kittle broke it just this season. Believe it or not, Gronk’s retirement will have an impact on the 49ers in 2019.
Effect on Patriots Obviously, the loss of Gronkowski means a lot to the New England offense. Sure, 2018 was not one of Gronk’s best, but he was still a huge weapon especially in the run to Super Bowl LIII. With their star tight end gone, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots offense loses its premier offensive player. That is significant, but what is also a concern now is the tight end depth chart.
Jacob Hollister has a grand total of eight career receptions. Stephen Anderson did have 25 receptions last year, but he is not a prototypical NFL tight end. Anderson is more of a “big” wide receiver at 6-3 and 230 pounds. Last on the current list of Patriots tight ends is last year’s seventh-round draft pick Ryan Izzo, who has yet to play in an NFL game.
Yeah, the Patriots need tight end help … and fast!
The Draft The Patriots’ draft needs now change with Gronkowski’s departure. A tight end may very well be the first selected by Belichick and company. It’s a good thing that the 2019 NFL draft is loaded with tight end talent. The problem, of course, is that the Patriots will draft last in Round 1 and the top two tight end prospects – Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, both from Iowa – will likely be gone by then. To get one of them, the Patriots would have to trade up.
New England could still come away with a tight end gem in Round 1 or with one of its second-day picks. Alabama’s Irv Smith, Jace Sternberger of Texas A&M, UCLA’s Caleb Wilson, Kahale Warring of San Diego State, and Josh Oliver from San Jose State are all worthy prospects.
The Gronk Effect Gronkowski’s retirement affects not only the Patriots, but it reaches across the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers, for example, will feel the effect of Gronk’s leaving the game on draft day 2019. Forty-niners GM John Lynch and his staff have been considering drafting a tight end to complement Kittle whose 1,377 receiving yards in 2018 broke Gronkowski’s record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end.
Lynch won’t use the 49ers top pick – No. 2 overall – on a tight end, but their second-rounder – No. 36 overall – would be the perfect opportunity to select a quality tight end. The problem is that New England could take their guy with their first pick (No. 32 overall). The same holds true in Round 2 where the Patriots hold picks No. 56 and 65.