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Instant Debate

Rob Gronkowski vs. Travis Kelce: Which tight end would you want going forward?

Monday's episode of "The Top 100 Players of 2017" on NFL Network revealed the two highest-ranked tight ends: Rob Gronkowski (No. 23) and Travis Kelce (26). It's not uncommon to have these two mentioned in the same discussion -- in fact, Kelce has been referred to as "Baby Gronk" (though the Chiefs star bristles at the nickname). That said, they currently find themselves in very different situations heading toward the 2017 season.

At age 28, Gronk is coming off his ninth surgery since 2009 (this latest one being a back procedure). Multiple ailments limited the Patriots tight end to just eight games last season, and he posted career lows in catches (25), yards (540) and touchdowns (3). Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Kelce just enjoyed the best season of his NFL career, having earned first-team All-Pro honors after racking up 85 catches for 1,125 yards and four touchdowns. And while he missed just about his entire rookie campaign due to a knee injury that necessitated microfracture surgery, Kelce has bounced back in a major way, playing in every Chiefs game over the past three seasons.

So, which tight end would you rather build around going forward: Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce?

Travis Kelce is the safe bet. Rob Gronkowski is a dominant presence, but his durability has become more of a concern as his career has progressed. Kelce, on the other hand, has steadily become a bigger part of the Chiefs' offense. With Jeremy Maclin gone, he'll continue to be the favorite target of Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith. When rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes eventually gets his chance to lead this squad, he'll be just as willing to utilize the size and speed that separates Kelce from other top tight ends.

This would be a no-brainer if you could guarantee Gronk's long-term health. Since nobody can do that, expect Kelce to keep making his case as the best player at his position. Until Gronk physically can't do it and the staff is telling him he cannot play, I'll take him. He changes the game and is impossible to defend. Gronk has a physical style of play that we haven't seen at the tight end position since maybe John Mackey or Mike Ditka. I'll probably be shouted down on the interwebs, but I'm going with Kelce here. The age and the lack of wear-and-tear are easily the biggest reasons why. The discrepancy in career production has less to do with a discrepancy of talent than with the vastly different offenses the two play in. I'm not suggesting that Kelce has Gronk-ish numbers if they switch places, but he certainly looks a lot better working in an offense that isn't afraid to actually throw the ball downfield. Travis Kelce is a receiving threat in every aspect of the game ... but Gronk is an offensive weapon who can single-handedly beat an opponent in every aspect of the game. He's a brilliant football player who demands a defense covers him in a certain way (which most fail at). Both players -- who were born in 1989 -- are roughly equal, in my estimation. Rob Gronkowski has been more productive, but Travis Kelce has been more reliable of late. Gronk has slightly better hands, meaning he drops the ball less frequently. But Kelce is likely to play 16 games this season, while Gronk's injury history suggests he'll be lucky to appear in more than 10. And that's what tips the balance toward Kelce. Players with an injury-marred track record tend to run into more trouble the older they get. Kelce's played in 16 games for the past three seasons; Gronk hasn't accomplished that feat since 2011.

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