Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs features the most productive tight end in the NFL in 2020, one who just set a single-season NFL record for his position in receiving yards.
That would be the Chiefs' Travis Kelce, whose 1,416 yards during the regular season were second among all NFL players in 2020, regardless of position, behind only Stefon Diggs' 1,535 yards in Buffalo. However, Super Bowl LV also features the most productive postseason tight end in NFL history, and that is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Rob Gronkowski, who back in 2011 set the single-season tight end yardage record at 1,327. Kelce has since topped that twice but Gronkowski is still the playoff king with 83 receptiosn for 1,206 yards and 12 touchdowns. Our Carmen Vitali compared the two superstar tight ends last week.
So far in the 2020 playoffs, Kelce is averaging 10.5 catches, 113.5 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game for the Chiefs. In three games this postseason, Gronkowski has two catches for 43 yards. Given their roles in their respective offenses – Gronkowski lines up tight with the offensive line far more than Kelce – it won't be a surprise if Kelce ends up with the bigger numbers on Sunday.
However, would it be a huge surprise if it went the other way? After a year of retirement and healing, Gronkowski was impressively productive in his return to the field in 2020. He eventually finished third in the Bucs' second-ranked passing attack with 623 yards on 65 catches. He caught seven touchdown passes and according to NFL Next Gen Stats was targeted 16 times in the end zone this season, tied for the most among all NFL tight ends. He has also caught eight passes for 194 yards and four touchdowns on "go routes," including the playoffs, tied for the most such targets for tight ends.
Those are the numbers. Then there is this: He is Rob Gronkowski.
Since joining the Buccaneers in a summer trade following his un-retirement, Gronkowski has said on multiple occasions that his goal with his new team is simply to play whatever his role is to the best of his ability. And sure enough, he has maintained an upbeat and team-oriented attitude, to the point that his position coach, Rick Christophel, says it's a joy to be around him every day. But there's still plenty of that 'Gronk' inside waiting to get out, and he's clearly primed to shine once again on the game's biggest stage, if called upon.
I'm always going for the big play, man," said Gronkowski. "Sometimes, you know, it just doesn't happen. Sometimes there's other people making big plays, sometimes I'm not ready to make the big play, I would say. But overall, I'm always going in with the mindset ready to dominate, ready to go."
Gronkowski's return to the game and trade to Tampa reunited him with Tom Brady, his quarterback throughout a nine-season tenure with the New England Patriots. The very last pass that Brady threw to Gronkowski while both were still wearing Patriots uniforms resulted a 29-yard highlight-reel catch down to the two that set up the only touchdown in New England's 13-3 win over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. There were shades of that in the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay when Brady hit Gronkowski on a fourth-down go route for 27 yards to set up Ryan Succop's 46-yard field goal and the team's final points in a 31-26 win.
Gronkowski's only other catch in the first two playoff games was a 14-yarder in New Orleans in the Divisional Round. The Buccaneers, whose running game has come alive in the playoffs, have used the big tight end to block more often, with tight end Cam Brate instead catching 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. In fact, this season Gronkowski has lined up tight with the line on 88% of his snaps. Compare that with his 64% tight rate in 2018, his last year in New England. But we can't assume the results of the past three games will dicate what is going to happen in the Super Bowl. Gronkowski only had five catches for 78 yards in a three-game span at midseason before suddenly going off for 106 yards on six grabs in Week 12.
That game was against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I love playing my role in the offense but at the same time I'm always trying to step up my role," said Gronkowski. "I'm always trying to find another way I can take my role to another level. But you never know what can happen, man. We got a bye week this week, an extra week to get fresh, get prepared. It's the Super Bowl. I'm trying to go big in the game. I'm sure every player that's playing the game is trying to go big in this game. But at the same time, I'm just trying to stay in my lane to help the team the best way I possibly can with my role in order to win."