Why is Rob Gronkowski so Good? Tom Brady explains

Indianapolis Colts v New England PatriotsWhile Rob Gronkowski has solid physical attributes, he doesn’t appear to jump off the charts among tight ends. Nevertheless, he has no true peers when it comes to receiving numbers, where Gronkowski’s 40 catches, 646 yards and seven touchdowns are far ahead of anybody else. So just what is it that makes the New England Patriots tight end so much better than others at his position?

Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Gronkowski has one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady, throwing to him. But even then, it’s not like every receiver that Brady has played with is headed for the Hall of Fame like Gronk.

The 26-year-old is also great at combining size (6’6″), speed (4.68 forty time) and catching ability. However, as alluded to before, there have been tight ends who are even faster and more athletic. So is there an even deeper reason? Perhaps Brady best explained the matter by telling reporters the following:

“Gronk running down the seam, he’s such a big target. I think he’s got a great catch radius. He’s got great speed. I don’t know what he was timed when he came out of college, but he gives great body language when he runs. I can really tell when he really starts to accelerate, and he feels like he can run by the guy that is on him.

“Even the throw I made the other night to him, it wasn’t even really a great throw. But because he was by him so far, he was able to adjust and make it. He makes a tough play on the defender. The guy’s running so hard to catch up, then you throw it a little bit behind Gronk, the guy’s really out of control playing him.”

rob-gronkowski-patriotsIt seems that the subtleties about Gronk – body language, adjusting, deceptive speed – are what separate him from other skilled tight ends. And then of course, there’s the fact that he rarely ever drops anything that hits his hands. Finally, it’s rare for a tight end to be so good at adjusting for under-thrown balls.

It’s almost hard to believe that Gronk is only in his mid-20s, given that so many players don’t hit their peak until their late 20s. And his numbers are good enough to keep up with any elite NFL receiver. Through seven games, Gronk is currently on pace for 91 catches, 1,477 yards and 16 touchdowns, which would be his best-ever season.

Not coincidentally, the Patriots are also undefeated and looking like the best team in the league right now. Gronkowski has been a huge part of this too and it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see New England win their second straight Super Bowl the way things are going now.

No Gronk, No Problem as Patriots will lean Heavily on Vereen

shane-vereenThis week brought terrible news for the New England Patriots as they found out that Rob Gronkowski is done for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. So while Gronk now focuses on his February cameo in the “Entourage” movie, New England has to find a way to replace one of the NFL’s top two tight ends.

This is certainly no easy task either, when you consider that the 6’6″ pass-catching machine racked up 592 yards and 4 touchdowns in just 7 games this season. But if there’s anybody capable of softening this blow, it’s running back Shane Vereen.

Vereen has no doubt had his own injury struggles, missing eight games with a wrist injury. But when he’s on the field, he has been an incredible weapon for the Patriots. Vereen is the guy whom Tom Brady looks to when plays break down or there’s good down-field coverage. Brady had this type of target when Kevin Faulk was on the team a few years ago. But Vereen seems to be even more talented and is great at picking up yards after the catch.

shane-vereen-1Sure, the California product won’t generate any eye-popping rushing stats. After all, he has just 186 rushing yards on 38 carries in 2013. But his receiving stats are certainly notable since he’s hauled in 40 catches for 373 yards and a TD – all within five games’ work. Vereen’s last performance against Cleveland was especially impressive because he caught 12 balls for 153 yards, and added a touchdown run.

When Shane Vereen is on the field, it really forces defenses to keep an eye on him in the passing game. The end result is that there’s one less safety or linebacker dropping back in the secondary. Even when the opposition is focusing on Vereen, he has the ability to turn a short catch into a long run, as evidenced by the 50-yard play he made against Cleveland late in the third quarter.

Considering everything that we’ve discussed so far, you can’t count out New England’s offense down the stretch based on Gronk’s season-ending injury. It certainly isn’t good that their star tight end has been put on the shelf. But you also shouldn’t suddenly start betting against the Patriots when it comes to point spreads or live wagering. After all, Vereen is going to be picking up a lot of this slack throughout the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.

NFL Power Rankings for Week 5 (Oct. 2nd, 2013)

alex-smith-kansas-cityWho would have thought coming into this season that after four weeks, the Kansas City Chiefs would be among the league’s unbeatens? Thanks to a stingy defense, the Chiefs have looked marvelous over the first four games. They’re in a truly elite class now since New England, Denver, New Orleans and Seattle are the only other undefeated teams. Now it’s time to sort out how they all rank, along with the rest of the league.

1. Denver Broncos (4-0); beat Philadelphia 52-20, retains same ranking – Another game, another blowout. Denver will face some tough tests eventually, but these tests will be few and far between. The only thing the Broncos see ahead of them right now is a title.

2. Seattle Seahawks (4-0); beat Houston 23-20 (OT), retains same ranking – The Seahawks looked dominated in the first half after falling behind Houston 20-3. But they showed the heart of a champion after storming back, thanks to a second-half shutout pitched by the defense. Whenever Russell Wilson breaks out, this team can truly compete with Denver.

3. New Orleans (4-0); beat Miami 38-17, retains same ranking – The Saints defense once again turned in an impressive defensive performance against a tough team. Although they keep the same spot, New Orleans did gain some ground on Seattle in our rankings.

4. New England Patriots (4-0); beat Atlanta 30-23, retains same ranking – To go into Atlanta and grab a win against a desperate Falcons team really shows something. Tom Brady has turned spare parts into gold in the early season. Just think what he’ll do with a healthy Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0); beat New York Giants 31-7, moves up 3 spots – The Chiefs just keep winning and rising. Aside from a blown coverage on Victor Cruz, this team thoroughly dominated the Giants and will be extremely tough to beat at Arrowhead.

6. San Francisco 49ers (2-2); beat St. Louis 35-11, moves up 3 spotsfrank-gore-san-franciscoFollowing two rough weeks against Seattle and Indianapolis, the Niners looked strong in St. Louis. Frank Gore finally had his first good game after racking up 153 yards and a TD on just 20 carries.

7. Chicago Bears (3-1); lost to Detroit 40-32, drops 2 spots – The Bears could’ve fallen further, but multiple top 10 teams lost this week. Jay Cutler made a nice fourth-quarter comeback after giving up four turnovers. But you have to worry about the defense, which was gashed by Reggie Bush.

8. Detroit Lions (3-1); beat Chicago 40-32, moves up 7 spots – The difference between having and not having Reggie Bush is tremendous for this team. He racked up 139 yards and a TD on only 18 carries. Detroit vs. Chicago on a neutral field would be a real nail-biter.

9. Miami Dolphins (3-1); lost to New Orleans 38-17, drops 2 spots – This is another team that could have tumbled a lot further. And they were largely noncompetitive on both sides of the ball against New Orleans. However, losing on the road to one of the NFL’s elite isn’t such an embarrassment.

10. Indianapolis Colts (3-1); beat Jacksonville 37-3, moves up 3 spots – No complaints with how they handled the Jaguars. The defense has looked rock solid for two straight weeks. And the offense is complete with Andrew Luck behind center and Trent Richardson running the ball.

11. Green Bay Packers (1-2); bye week, moves up 4 spots – It’s funny how good you can look just by not playing. The NFC North race should be hotly contested with Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago all gunning for the title.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (2-2); lost to Cleveland 17-6, drops 6 spots –  Nobody saw this one coming, especially when the Browns traded away Richardson two weeks ago. It’s an ugly loss for the Bengals, but they are still tied for first in the AFC North.

13. Houston Texans; lost to Seattle 23-20, drops 2 spots – The Texans couldn’t finish off the NFC’s top team while they had them on the ropes. Houston has the pieces to be good, they just need to put everything together.

14. Baltimore Ravens (2-2); lost to Buffalo 23-20, drops 4 spots – A bad joe-flaccoweekend for the AFC North as the defending Super Bowl champs lost to the Bills. This defense can’t continue to cover for the mistakes of Flacco, who threw a career-worst five interceptions.

15. Atlanta Falcons (1-3); lost to New England 30-23, drops 3 spots – After a very strong year in 2012, the Falcons just don’t look the same. The defense is mainly to blame, especially since they surrendered 30 points at home to a team that’s missing several key starters.

16. San Diego Chargers (2-2); beat Dallas 30-21, moves up 4 spots – Philip Rivers has truly re-emerged this year. His performance against the Cowboys, which included 401 yards and 3 touchdowns, is perfect evidence of this.

17. Tennessee Titans (3-1); beat New York Jets 38-13, retains same ranking – In any other situation, the Titans would be 4-5 spots higher and in playoff contention. But now that they’ve lost QB Jake Locker for “multiple weeks,” this team will be hard-pressed to continue doing well. A brutal three-game stretch against Kansas City, Seattle and San Francisco awaits.

18. Dallas Cowboys (2-2); lost to San Diego 30-21, drops 2 spots – How bad is the NFC East if Dallas is the best team with a .500 record? Even if Dallas continues on the same trajectory, they’re going to win the division and grab a postseason bid.

19. Carolina Panthers (1-2); bye week, moves up 2 spots – Once off to a dismal 0-2 start, Carolina is coming off a bye week and into a friendly four-game stretch against Arizona, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. They could win all four of these contests before things get tough again.

20. Buffalo Bills (2-2); beat Baltimore 23-20, moves up 5 spots – The Bills got a nice home win against the Ravens, but it took five interceptions to pull this one out. Will a banged-up Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller take its toll?

21. Cleveland Browns (2-2); beat Cincinnati 17-6, moves up 6 spotsbrian-hoyer-clevelandIt’s hard to know if the Browns are for real at this point. But Brian Hoyer, Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon have breathed new life into this team, which has them thinking about the playoffs.

22. Arizona Cardinals (2-2); beat Tampa Bay 13-10, moves up 1 spot – CB Patrick Peterson came alive in the second half, picking off two crucial passes to lead Arizona to a come-from-behind victory.

23. New York Jets (2-2); lost to Tennessee 38-13, drops 5 spots – The fact that New York is .500 at this point is already surprising. If only rookie Geno Smith could quit making careless mistakes, this team could really exceed expectations.

24. Washington Redskins (1-3); beat Oakland 24-14, moves up 2 spots – Things looked bleak for the Redskins when they were down 14-0 in the first quarter. However, they battled back and finally notched a win. Amazingly, they’re just one game out of the NFC East lead.

25. Minnesota Vikings (1-3); beat Pittsburgh 34-27, moves up 3 spots – Christian Ponder remains the starting quarterback, despite the fact that backup Matt Cassel led Minnesota to their only win. But how long will Ponder start if he continues losing?

26. Philadelphia Eagles (1-3); lost to Denver 52-20, drops 7 spots – Nobody expected the Eagles to walk into Mile High and shut down the Broncos. But isn’t offense supposed to be Chip Kelly’s specialty?

27. St. Louis Rams (1-3); lost to San Francisco 35-11, drops 5 spots – The Rams started the season respectably, but have regressed in the last two blowout losses. However, they have an excellent shot at winning in Jacksonville this weekend.

28. New York Giants (0-4); lost to Kansas City 31-7, drops 4 spots – Few would’ve predicted that New York would be this bad in the early going. They’ll try to get their first win against a slumping Philly team.

29. Oakland Raiders (1-3); lost to Washington 24-14, moves up 1 spot – They lost, but move up because Terrelle Pryor returns this week. Oh, and if there was any inkling of Matt Flynn regaining his starting job, it ended Sunday.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4); lost to Minnesota 34-27, drops 1 spot – The falling cry of the Steelers this year has always been “At least their defense is good.” Well it turns out that this isn’t even true. There is some promise in rookie RB Le’Veon Bell though.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4); lost to Arizona 13-10, retains same ranking – Are the Buccaneers drafting a quarterback next year, or is rookie third-rounder Mike Glennon the future? If it’s the latter, he’s got to stop making stupid decisions like throwing towards Peterson late in a game.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4); lost to Indianapolis 37-3, retains same ranking – Is there any reason to believe this team can avoid going 0-16? We can’t think of one.

2014 NFL Prop Bets: Tim Tebow catching Passes

tim-tebow-patriotsAs we’ve discussed before, the New England Patriots went from being one of the deepest and most talented teams at the tight end position, to having a myriad of question marks. They quickly dropped Aaron Hernandez just before he was arrested for first degree murder. And this may not have been such a huge blow to the position, had Rob Gronkowski not been sidelined with back surgery.

There’s still no timetable for Gronk’s return and he’s currently on the PUP list. And with one star tight end gone and another still injured, media members have continually pushed the idea of Tim Tebow playing tight end. And these rumors have launched a series of 2014 NFL prop bets regarding Tebow, including some off-and-on-again wagers offered by GTBets.eu.

At first the tight end rumors were all but laughed off by Bill Belichick, who’s insisted that he had little interest in using Tebow at this spot. However, training camp has brought a different answer to the question of the Florida product’s future position since he was seen catching passes. Albert Breer, who’s covering the Patriots for the NFL Network, tweeted the following:

Tebow just a caught a ball from Mallett in a weird new drill I’ve never seen before. #AlertTheRubberneckers

tim-tebow-patriots-1Catching some passes on the first day of training camp may not mean that Tebow is destined to see time as a tight end. After all, most experts merely think that New England is taking him on as a project number three quarterback behind Tom Brady and Ryan Mallet. But then again, Tebow has always played a hybrid QB role in the past, so questions are bound to arise now that he’s working with receivers and running backs.

Don’t count on Belichick answering any of these questions though. When asked about the matter, he gave a run-of-the-mill coach’s comment. “I think that we’ll use Tim wherever we feel like he’s best for the team, and I know that’s what he’s committed to doing as well, whatever that is.”

It’s difficult to say who’ll actually suit up for New England at their previously productive tight end position(s) come September. As mentioned before, Gronkowski is most likely out for most of the early regular season. And if Tebow steps in to fill some snaps here, it would definitely boost his production and make NFL prop bets on him a more intriguing endeavor.

Aaron Hernandez released from Patriots – Who’s Left for Brady to throw to?

aaron-hernandez-patriots

EDIT: At the time of our original article, no official charges were filed against Hernandez. Now he’s been charged with murder.

The New England Patriots released Aaron Hernandez after the tight end was arrested this morning in connection with a murder case. The body of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd was found near Hernandez’s home nine days ago.

Once the death was ruled a homicide, the investigation led police to Hernandez’s North Attleborough, MA. home. Lloyd’s family says he was with Hernandez the night that he died. After questioning the former University of Florida standout, police found that his house had been scrubbed down and security equipment was broken.

At this point, it’s unclear why Hernandez was arrested since no formal charges were filed. All that’s known is he’s no longer a member of the Patriots and could be in major trouble. The Patriots released the following statement after letting the 23-year-old go:

A young man was murdered last week and we extend our sympathies to the family and friends who mourn his loss. Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation. We realize that law enforcement investigations into this matter are ongoing. We support their efforts and respect the process. At this time, we believe this transaction is simply the right thing to do.

rob-gronkowski-patriotsIn light of this tragedy, New England now has to worry about whom Tom Brady is going to throw the ball to. Last year, the Patriots opened with two outstanding tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez. Seeing as how Gronkowski probably won’t be ready for Week 1 after undergoing back surgery, Hernandez was expected to be a huge part of the offense.

However, those plans are out the window and the Patriots will be looking for other players to step up. Obviously Danny Amendola is going to be a big target since New England signed him to a 5-year, $31 million deal this past offseason. The thinking is that Amendola can help replace Wes Welker’s 118 catches from the slot last season. He had a nice 2012 campaign after catching 63 passes for 666 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, there are major injury concerns with Amendola since he’s played just 12 games in the past two seasons.

Former Minnesota Vikings wideout Michael Jenkins has looked good in OTA’s. The 10-year veteran caught a modest 40 passes for 449 yards and two touchdowns last year, but could be in line for a much bigger season if he starts in the Patriots high-powered offense.

danny-amendolaJulian Edelman may have a larger role too after being resigned in the offseason. He only caught 21 balls for 235 yards and three TD’s in 2012, but was really coming on strong before getting injured. Second round draft pick Aaron Dobson is one more guy to watch. The Marshall product recorded a 4.37 forty-yard dash, which at 6’3″ is quite impressive. But he’ll have to be a little more consistent than what he showed in OTA’s to get quality playing time.

As for the currently vacated tight end position, Jake Ballard and rookie Zach Sudfeld should get plenty of chances until Gronk is healthy. Sudfeld, who stands 6’7″ and weighs 255 pounds, had an excellent senior year at Nevada (45 catches, 598 yards, 8 touchdowns). But like many other Patriots receiving options, he has injury issues. As for Ballard, he spent most of 2012 on the PUP list, but had a strong 2011 campaign after catching 38 passes for 604 yards and four touchdowns.

Most of the receiving options for Brady look pretty solid, although they come with question marks. Of course we know that somebody is going to catch the ball for New England and Brady should have another strong year. Last season saw him throw for 4,827 yards, 34 TD’s and just 8 INT’s. However, New England lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship – a defeat that Brady will no doubt be hoping to avenge.

What will the New England Patriots do with Tim Tebow?

tim-tebowJust last month, reports surfaced that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick “hates” Tim Tebow as a player. Given all of the unwarranted animosity towards Tebow by the rest of the NFL, it didn’t seem like a far-fetched story.

But just days ago, Belichick came out and said that the reports of him hating Tebow’s game were completely false. “I wouldn’t get into the probability of us pursuing any free agent. Every single player has strengths and weaknesses but regardless of that, for anyone to have represented that is the way I feel about Tim Tebow is completely untrue, baseless and irresponsible,” Belichick told ESPN. “It is unfortunate that something so inaccurate was reported.”

Perhaps this statement foreshadowed what was later to come as Belichick and the Patriots signed Tebow to a deal. This is a very interesting move, given that some people wondered if any NFL teams would even want the former New York Jets backup quarterback.

tim-tebow-1The Patriots current offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, probably had a lot to do with convincing the New England organization to sign Tebow. After all, McDaniels got Denver to draft the Florida product in the first round. And now that the Patriots have Tebow, the question is what they’ll do with him.

Last year, the Jets claimed that they were going to use number 15 quite a bit in Wildcat packages. But in reality, he rarely saw the field and generated just 75 passing yards and 102 rushing yards throughout 2012. Given what happened in New York, the Patriots aren’t making any guarantees about Tebow’s playing time or role with the team.

Belichick said, “Tim is a talented player, is smart and works hard. We’ll see how it goes.” When asked about what position he’ll play, Belichick added, “We will see.”

One thing that has been revealed about Tebow is how he’s been signed as a quarterback. He’ll compete with Ryan Mallett and any free agent(s) the Patriots bring in for the two backup spots behind Tom Brady. New England cut third-string QB Mike Kafka on Monday, thus giving Tim a better opportunity to make the roster.

Divisional Playoffs - Denver Broncos v New England PatriotsAssuming he makes it, Tebow won’t have to worry about the pressure of fans calling for him to start like in New York. Brady is arguably the NFL’s best quarterback and is completely solid in his role. This is a different story from the Jets’ Mark Sanchez, whose shaky play caused a controversy when some fans thought that Tebow should start.

Since he obviously won’t be starting, some people think that the former Broncos and Jets QB was brought in to handle short yardage duties. However, it’s worth mentioning that Brady has the best QB sneak percentage on both third-and-short and fourth-and-short situations since 2006. He’s converted 97.8% of his attempts, which is far higher than second place David Garrard (91.7%), who retired this offseason.

Another thought is that, given the Patriots’ injuries to the tight end position last year, they could use Tebow here. Sure he has nothing on Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski because they’re two of the NFL’s top tight ends, But if they were to miss significant time again, some believe that Tebow could step in and provide help.

Belichick isn’t entirely above doing this since he’s used wide receivers Troy Brown, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater as defensive backs. But making the switch from backup quarterback to tight end is a little more of a leap, and Tebow may not be quite as good as somebody who’s trained for this position their whole life.

In the end, signing Tebow seems like more of a development move than anything. Belichick and McDaniels are great at taking projects and shaping them into usable on-field talent. Tim Tebow is still young enough to where he could be groomed and take over for Brady – or at least be trade bait – if his throwing mechanics significantly improve. And if this doesn’t work out, well then, the Patriots can simply cut their losses like they did with Chad Johnson and Albert Haynsworth.