LaVar Ball, a man who carefully considers all his words before they reach his lips, suggested he was a better tight end than Rob Gronkowski.
“Gronkowski can’t hang with me back in my heyday,” he told ESPN Radio while trumpeting his own athleticism.
Now, the best way to cut through Ball’s understandable myopic bias is to take an emotionless look at the numbers. Then and only then we can make an informed decision as to which man did more as a tight end during his prime.
Let’s start with Gronkowski, as he is still in the National Football League. He is currently listed as a member of the New England Patriots on the team’s official site.
Pro Football Reference has codified many relevant stats we can use to assess his prowess. Gronkowski has played seven seasons in the NFL, two of which were shortened by injury. In 88 regular games, he’s reeled in 405 catches for 6,095 yards and 68 touchdowns. He posted an NFL-leading 17 TD receptions in 2011.
In 10 playoff games, he’s caught 52 for 754 yards and nine touchdowns.
These exploits have led to four Pro Bowl selections and three first team All-Pro honors.
Because this is a data-driven examination we should ignore the fact he’s widely recognized as the premier pass-catching tight end in football and considered a transformative, one-of-a-kind talent at the position.
Ball, on the other hand, is not listed on PFR. A deeper dive reveals he returned two kicks for 28 yards in 1995 while a member of the London Monarch of the World League of American Football. Finding stats for his prior turn at tight end for the Long Beach City College team was difficult.
Ball also enjoyed two brief stints with the New York Jets practice squad in 1994 and 1995 but, again, it appears there was no dedicated statkeeper.
We must ignore the fact the only impressions he left with those who remember him are not great.
Based on this study, it’s fair to conclude that Rob Gronkowski is a better tight end than Ball, both on aggregate and during prime years.
Reasonable minds, of course, can interpret the numbers differently.