Leading up to the first day of training camp, we’re going to look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1. I almost put this next guy at the top of the list. He’s that dominant. But I have a thing for quarterbacks in a quarterback-driven league so . . .
NO. 2: ROB GRONKOWSKI
Why? There's no better player at his position than Ron Gronkowski. And aside from J.J. Watt in Houston, there's no other positional player who is so far ahead of the next guy you need binoculars to find him. You can’t cover him with a safety because there isn’t one big enough to handle Gronk’s size and brute strength. A cornerback? Are you kidding me? A coach should get fired for thinking such a thing. Put a linebacker on him and Gronk starts salivating like a dog with a plate of grilled steaks sitting on the countertop. They, too, surrender size in their matchup, and the Pats tight end is a much better route-runner than anyone bothers to give him credit for. In short, he’s pretty much the perfect weapon.
Previous Performance: Coming off another injury-plagued season in 2013, Gronk wasn’t Gronk at the start of 2014: Just 13 catches for 127 yards in that 2-2 September. He was starting to get impatient. Hell, we all were. Then came the breakout performance at home versus Cincinnati: Six catches. One hundred yards. A TD. A near tearful admission that he was sick of people questioning his quarterback and that it was up to him to show everyone that Tom Brady was still Tom Brady. The beast was back, and those pedestrian early performances quickly were forgotten. Gronk finished with 82 catches, 1,124 yards and 12 TDs, then hit paydirt in all three playoff games, including his undressing of K.J. Wright in the Super Bowl. What was I was saying about being a matchup nightmare????
Questions surrounding the player: Health. That’s it. That’s all. When fully healthy during the 2011-12 regular season, he was downright Randy Mossian, with more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns. But then it was an ankle, a forearm, a forearm again, a torn ACL. That robbed us of the Eigth Wonder of the World for multiple seasons. But last year signaled a return to form and now the dude had a full offseason to train and ride around on his party bus. Look out world.
Overall Outlook: I think we’re going to see a repeat of that ’11-12 season. And it’s going to be glorious.