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Tale of the tape: Gresham vs. Gronkowski

Doug Farrar
Yahoo Sports

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Perhaps the most interesting thing about the two tight ends almost universally regarded as the best 2010 prospects is that neither one of them played a single down in 2009. Between the knee injury suffered by Jermaine Gresham and the back problems that Rob Gronkowski has been dealing with, anyone with a desire to put together comprehensive reports on these players has to go back to 2008. It's a worthy endeavor in both cases, as both players have the potential to define NFL offenses if they can set their medical concerns aside:

Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma

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Gresham

Height: 6-5
Weight: 261
40 time: 4.66
Short shuttle: 4.53
3-cone: 7.07
Vertical: 35"
Broad jump: 9'05"
225lb bench: 20
Starts: 19
Receptions: 111
Yards: 1,629
Avg.: 14.68
TDs: 26

Rob Gronkowski, Arizona

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Gronkowski

Height: 6-6
Weight: 258
40 time: 4.68
Short shuttle: 4.17
3-cone: 7.18
Vertical: 33.5"
Broad jump: 9'11"
225lb bench: 23 reps
Starts: 18
Receptions: 75
Yards: 1,197
Avg.: 15.96
TDs: 16

Pros: Gresham is a huge target who provides an absolute matchup nightmare at every level of the defense. He can get open on a variety of routes beyond the typical quick slants. Has the speed to get vertical and challenge on intermediate routes, and he's excellent with deeper seam and sideline routes. Once he gets the ball and heads upfield at the second level, he's nearly impossible to tackle, which allowed him to gain more than 20 yards per catch and score 11 touchdowns in 2008. Has good spin out of the tackle and forces defenders to use everything they've got to bring him down. Fakes well off press at the line, and he gets going quickly for a big man. Gresham looked sharp in Oklahoma's pro day March 9, and teams probably won't be too gun-shy about his injury recovery.

Pros: Quick release off the line, whether lined up tight or split wide. Gronkowski has a fluid motion while running routes – he's not chocko-blocko in space like some tight ends. He has excellent hands and the ability to adjust to inaccurate and mistimed throws. Not exceptionally fast, but has a solid understanding of fakes and angles to get free when he needs to. Can drive-block very well for his position and has a good sense for sealing the edge in pass protection. A very tough runner after the catch who will force defenders to put everything into their tackles. Did not work out at the NFL scouting combine (bench press only) while still recovering from his back injury, but he looked ready to go at pro day on March 27, running a 4.65-40 with the wind at his back. He caught the ball well and impressed in position drills. Like Gresham, he's done his best to erase any longstanding medical concerns.

Cons: Not a dominant blocker for his size, especially in blitz pickup. Could be a more consistent hands-catcher. Will operate best in a scheme that regards him as more of a "big receiver" as opposed to an old-school tight end.

Cons: Some will be concerned about the possibility that Gronkowski has spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that can put pressure on areas of the spinal cord and/or spinal nerves. Gronkowski and his agent have refuted the rumors to date. If the diagnosis is true, the condition could lower his grade considerably.

Conclusion: The temptation with Gresham will be to look at his size and ask why he isn't as physical as Brandon Pettigrew(notes), the Oklahoma State phenom who went to Detroit in the first round in 2009. What the tape tells me is that Gresham is a larger version of the tight ends that have come out of spread-based offenses in the past few years – their primary asset is their ability to catch the ball and get upfield, using their size to make things happen in ways that receivers can't.

Conclusion: If Gronkowski checks out medically, he's got all the tools to be an excellent hybrid tight end, with the ability to catch consistently and block reliably. But there is the possibly of a recurring condition that can lead to a greater risk of paralysis, and caused the early retirement of Washington Redskins tackle Chris Samuels(notes).

Pro comparison: Antonio Gates(notes), San Diego Chargers

Pro comparison: Jason Witten(notes), Dallas Cowboys

Doug Farrar is a regular contributor to Yahoo! Sports' Shutdown Corner