Rob Gronkowski was one of the best players of the past decade and one of the most dominant forces in the NFL when he was healthy. He will be a Hall of Famer one day without question. But, through Week 14 of the 2019 NFL season, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle is currently grading better than any single season Gronk had in his career.
There aren’t many tight ends who are the focal point of their offense. Gronk was regularly precisely that for the Patriots, and Kittle has become so too for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. Kittle leads the team in targets and has been their biggest playmaker at their biggest times of need.
Much like when the Patriots often turned to Gronk whenever they needed a play, when the 49ers needed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with under a minute left in New Orleans, Kittle was the go-to target. San Francisco ran four passing plays on the game-winning drive before positioning themselves for the field goal, and three of them were passes intended for Kittle. When a third-down pass sent his way was broken up, the team ran almost the same play the next down and converted 4th-and-2 to the tune of a 39-yard gain with 15 more tacked on for a facemask penalty.
Tight ends have become dynamic weapons in the passing game, and with spread systems prevalent throughout the college landscape, more and more players at the position are entering the league with minimal blocking skills. What separated Gronkowski at his best (from players like Jimmy Graham, for example) was that he was among the best blockers in the NFL as well as being one of the most dominant receivers. When compared to blocking tight ends, Gronk was able to hold his own and even out-grade them some seasons. The same is true for Kittle, and in that 49ers offense, blocking is far more important than in some other systems.