Earlier, I gave you my AFC and NFC Pro Bowl teams, the easiest part of which was picking the starting tight ends from each conference. Simply put, Jimmy Graham of the Saints and Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots, who were picked 52 spots apart in the 2010 NFL draft, are having two of the best seasons in NFL history at the tight end position.
And while only 11 weeks ago we were comparing Graham to Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley, it’s become clear of late that Graham and Gronkowski stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league’s tight ends. Both are in the top 10 in the NFL in terms of receptions, yardage, touchdowns and first downs.
In less than a week, I’ll give you my All-Pro team in this spot. For that, it won’t be quite as easy to deal with the tight end position, because I’ll have to decide between the two Gs. Maybe laying it all out in the final 2011 edition of Would You Rather will help provide some clarity.
Who would you rather have on your team?
Experience: 2nd season
Career stats: 122 REC, 1,569 YDS, 12.9 AVG, 15 TD
This season: 91 REC, 1,213 YDS, 13.3 AVG, 10 TD
Experience: 2nd season
Career stats: 124 REC, 1,765 YDS, 14.2 AVG, 25 TD
This season: 82 REC, 1,219 YDS, 14.9 AVG, 15 TD
Obviously Gronkowski’s career numbers are better than Graham’s, but it should be noted that he’s had more opportunities in the New England offense. Graham has only started 15 games in his two-year career, while Gronk has started 26. And I don’t think anyone will disagree with the notion that the offense is more crowded in New Orleans than it is in Foxboro.
On a per-start basis, Graham’s numbers are better across the board. He even has a very slight edge in touchdowns per start (15 in 15 vs. 25 in 26).
Let’s set aside their 2010 rookie numbers, because neither really had an obvious edge over the other. This year, Graham’s catching more passes but Gronkowski is scoring more touchdowns. But including Darren Sproles, the Saints have four other receivers with at least six touchdown receptions. Drew Brees likes to spread it around, especially in the red zone.
By comparison, New England has just two other receivers with at least six scores and only three with more than a single touchdown. It seems Tom Brady has been more a creature of habit, which has probably benefited Gronkowski a fair bit.
In terms of athleticism, versatility and explosiveness, Graham probably has an edge. Gronk is three years younger and probably stronger, but he also has a more frightening history with injuries after missing the entire 2009 college football season due to back surgery.
My take: Although it’s seemingly impossible to cover Gronkowski, especially in the red zone, I think I’d take the athletically gifted Graham. The age gap doesn’t worry me too much, because both look to have many good years ahead.
So, who would you rather?
Last week’s Would You Rather: Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles?