At no point on Thursday when the Patriots play host to the Chiefs will Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce be in action at the same time. But that won’t stop the comparison approaching the season opener.
Who has the better tight end star, the Patriots or Chiefs?
The easy answer is that Gronkowski has had the better career, and Kelce is coming off a better season.
Gronkowski played in eight games last season, posting career lows in receptions (with 25) and touchdowns (three). He underwent back surgery in December and missed the Patriots’ Super Bowl run. It was the ninth surgery of Gronkowski’s career.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
He appeared in two preseason games this summer, the first time he’s played in an exhibition game since 2012.
Kelce led all NFL tight ends with 1,125 yards last season and was second with 85 receptions. Among all players, Kelce ranked third in yards after catch. He enjoyed the best of his four pro seasons, and his productivity has climbed each year.
Kelce says he’s not in competition with Gronk, although that hasn’t stopped others from measuring the pair. This summer, NFL Network ranked the top 100 players of 2016. Gronkowski came in at No. 23, Kelce at No. 26. They were the highest-ranked tight ends.
“I just try and go out there and be myself,” Kelce said. “Rob’s a heck of a player. Everyone is always comparing the two (of us) and saying, ‘Well, if he stays healthy, if this, if that.’ I just hope he stays healthy and goes out there and plays to the best of his ability because I love the competition.”
Gronkowski had similarly complimentary things to say Tuesday about Kelce.
“As a player, you try to look at every tight end throughout the league and try to take what you can from other tight ends,” Gronkowski said. “And he’s one of them that’s up there that you want to look at.
“His (ability) to get open out in the field, the way he can break off defenders and get that separation. That’s one thing that’s huge: as a receiver, as a tight end, as a running back running that route, you want to get separation.”
Even with the injuries, Gronkowski has been seen as the position’s gold standard. He’s a three-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler.
Kelce was the All-Pro tight end last season and is a two-time Pro Bowler. He was the Offensive MVP in last season’s Pro Bowl.
In head-to-head meetings, the teams split. In 2014, Kelce caught eight passes for 93 yards, with Gronkowski hauling in two for 31 yards. Each scored a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 41-14 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
In the 2015 playoff game in New England, Gronkowski had a huge afternoon, hauling in seven receptions for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Kelce had six catches for 23 yards in the Patriots’ victory.
He was the subject of extra attention from the New England defense that day, and he expects a similar greeting on Thursday.
“Just about every third down I got doubled or some type of bracket coverage,” Kelce said. “They tried to hammer me off the line and do whatever they can to get in my head. But it’s football, I know it’s coming and it’s going to be fun to see all the other guys when they’re singled up, and I’m getting bracketed, have some success.”