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Next Gen Stats: Gronk a freakishly stellar specimen

Tom Brady is solidifying his case as the greatest quarterback the game of football has ever seen, but he's not the only future Hall of Famer driving the New England Patriots' top-ranked offense.

Of all great tight ends in history, Rob Gronkowski is the most freakishly physical at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds along with the movement skills of a wide receiver.

The unique talents of Brady and Gronkowski allow the Patriots to play any style of offense. They can steamroll the Colts with Gronkowski lead-blocking for LeGarrette Blount in a power-rushing attack. They can spread out the Bills or Jets with Gronkowski and Dion Lewis as extra receivers.

How dynamic is Gronkowski?

In a game that featured speedsters such as Lamar Miller and Kenny Stills along with playmakers such as Lewis, Julian Edelman and Jarvis Landry, it was the monster-sized tight end who finished with the two fastest speeds by a ball carrier in the Patriots' Week 8 victory over the Dolphins.

Gronkowski's 47-yard touchdown in the first quarter was the third-fastest speed (19.33 mph) by a tight-end ball carrier this season, per Next Gen Stats.

Among players with at least 25 receptions, only Allen Robinson (17.2), Stefon Diggs (16.8), Allen Hurns (16.5) and T.Y. Hilton (16.3) have a higher yards-per-catch average than Gronkowski's 16.2. It's stunning to realize the All Pro tight end is second only to Robinson with 13 plays of 20 yards or more.

Stopping Gronkowski is a Herculean task that would require a Frankenstein-like mashup of Jamie Collins' size and athleticism, Josh Norman's playmaking ability and Patrick Peterson's speed and quickness.

The Patriots' fortunes rise and fall with the health of their ultimate mismatch at tight end.

Here's what else we learned from Next Gen Stats in Week 8:

  1. Todd Gurley posted his fourth consecutive top-five speed (21.70) among running backs as a ball carrier on his 71-yard touchdown run. It was not only his fastest run this season, but also the highest speed on any Week 8 touchdown. Gurley squeezed through a hole of 2.80 yards and pulled away from safety Eric Reid, who never got closer than 2.02 yards of separation. As NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks points out in the video to the right, Gurley ran hurdles for Team USA in Europe in 2011 and clocked the seventh-fastest time in hurdles at the University of Georgia.

It's safe to say the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis is among the NFL's fastest tracks. The matchup between the Rams and 49ers featured five of the top eight speeds from Week 8.

  1. As expected, hotshot Raiders rookie Amari Cooper had a tougher time shaking Darrelle Revis than he did with Jimmy Wilson and the Chargers' secondary in Week 7. Cooper needed to run a season-high 2.81 yards per yard gained in Week 8. While Cooper had his hands full with Revis, Michael Crabtree earned a decisive victory in his matchup with Antonio Cromartie. Crabtree gained an average of 5.28 yards of separation with Cromartie in coverage on six of seven receptions.
  1. If you haven't seen the highlight by now, Julio Jones turned heads in Atlanta by starting in the end zone and tracking down Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander on an interception that was nullified by penalty. Jones covered 128.0 yards on the play, reaching a top speed of 21.72 mph as he kicked into turbo between both 30-yard lines. Jones' top speed this season is 22.46 mph, just shy of Darrius Heyward-Bey's 23.11 and 23.03.
  1. For all of the offseason hype directed toward young tight end Josh Hill, it has been Benjamin Watson with the unlikely age-34 breakout season in New Orleans. Watson led all tight ends in distance covered as a ball carrier (232) for the second time in three weeks. He's on pace for 76 receptions and 944 yards as Jimmy Graham's replacement in the Saints' aerial attack.
  1. Speaking of tight ends, Broncos fans will happy to know that Vernon Davis' lack of production in San Francisco isn't due to loss of speed. Davis' top two speeds of 21.91 mph and 20.90 are first and third among tight ends this season.
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