Rob Gronkowski is an impossible player to categorize at this stage of his career. He's the best tight end in football when he's on the field. But he's not on the field nearly enough.
Gronk has missed 14 regular-season games over the last two years, and he hasn't caught a pass in the playoffs since New England's last Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. He played that game at far less than 100 percent, which made a huge difference. Football greatness is predicated on availability, and Gronk hasn't been reliable since signing his big contract extension before the 2012 season.
Gronkowski's No. 41 overall ranking on The Top 100 Players of 2014 neatly sums up the difficulties of evaluating Gronkowski. If he plays 16 games, he's a top 10 player. But the Patriots have to be concerned that his never-ending parade of surgeries will continue.
One source of optimism for the Patriots: Gronkowski never looked like a guy coming off surgeries and back problems during the 2013 season. If anything, he looked more explosive than ever in his seven games. He jumped higher, he ran over more blockers and he gained more yards per game than any point of his career. Projected over a full season, Gronkowski was on pace for 1,353 yards. He isn't thought of as a big play threat, but his 15.2 yards per reception is a number you'd expect to see from a 190-pound burner.
It seems inevitable that Gronk will fall or climb dramatically on this list a year from now. He will go back to looking like a future Hall of Famer or we'll finally run out of patience.
Here are three more takeaways from Wednesday night's show, which revealed Nos. 41-50.
- It's amazing to think that Frank Gore's durability was a big question for him coming out of college. The last of a dying breed at running back, Gore is still going strong at age 31 for the 49ers. He deserves to be No. 46 overall because he does every aspect of his job well. If I had to choose one running back to get three yards to save my life, The Inconvenient Truth is the pick.
- Most wide receivers struggle when they change teams. Vincent Jackson, No. 44 on the list, has been exactly as advertised in Tampa.