The evolution of the tight end as a pass-game weapon changed the way offenses operate in the NFL. Before Tony Gonzalez altered the record books, there was a time when the position was merely an extension of the offensive line, and perhaps an occasional outlet for quarterbacks. But some have developed into full-fledged weapons.
Two of them will be on display in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game — the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski.
Here’s a look at how they compare.
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Gronkowski: It didn’t take long for ‘Gronk’ to become a force in the league, especially in the red zone. He reached double digits in touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. He has 79 scores in his career to go along with four 1,000-yard seasons. Injuries have left us curious just how good those numbers could have been. He has only played a full 16 games in one of his nine NFL seasons.
Kelce: He missed his rookie season with a knee injury, but he’s put it on cruise control afterward. In the past five years, Kelce has 32 touchdowns and 5,236 yards. No tight end has more yards in that time frame. He briefly broke the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single season in this year’s finale against Oakland, but San Francisco tight end George Kittle broke it again hours later.
Gronkowski: While the statistics suggest he’s a benefactor of the air-it-out offenses, the tape shows he’s an old-school bruiser. He is also regarded as one of the NFL’s elite tight ends when it comes to blocking.
Kelce: The versatility in his route-running makes him a difficult matchup. He can mimic a slot receiver with underneath routes, but he has also shown enough speed to run downfield. And he is dangerous after the catch.
Gronkowski: After last year’s Super Bowl, Gronkowski hinted at retirement. Naturally, after last week’s win, he was asked about the possibility of it being his last game inside his home stadium. He side-stepped the question, leaving the possibility open that Sunday could be his final NFL game. He’s 29.
Kelce: Although he’s just five months younger than Gronkowski, Kelce appears to be in the middle of his prime, setting career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns in 2018. He signed a five-year extension in 2016.
Gronkowski: Football runs in the family. He has four brothers, and all played college sports. Chris and Dan briefly reached the NFL. And Glenn played fullback at Kansas State.
Kelce: His brother, Jason, is an All-Pro center for the Philadelphia Eagles. Travis was in attendance when Jason and the Eagles won last year’s Super Bowl.
Gronkowski: Gronk has a big personality, so it was a natural fit when he made a surprise appearance at WWE’s Wrestlemania last year. There have been reports that WWE would love to help Gronkowski start a second career with the company.
Kelce: In 2016, Kelce was the center of a reality dating show called “Catching Kelce,” formatted similarly to “The Bachelor.”
What they think of each other
Gronkowski: “The way he can move, the (savvy) he has is second to none. The way he can go up on a defender and plant one way and go the other, at his size and speed, that’s what makes tight ends special in this league,” Gronkowski said of Kelce earlier this week.
Kelce: “I cherish every game that I get to go against an elite tight end,” Kelce said this week. “I hope he can play as long as his body (allows) and as long as he wants to play. I think he is a hell of a player — that’s for sure.”