The Gronk Effect

How much does Gronk being Gronk add to winning?

Rob Gronkowski has looked like the Gronk of old to start the 2021 season. Just how good has he been his whole career? (Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

One of the best parts of the 2021 NFL season thus far has been seeing the Rob Gronkowski of old. He has started the year with back-to-back games of scoring 2 TD, the first time he has done so in the regular season since October 2012 (5th time in his career).

After a remarkable performance on opening night when he had 8 catches for 90 yards (and 2 TD), I was curious how often he had done this in his career.

The answer is 7 times, and Week 1 was the first time he had since Super Bowl LII (the only time his team lost a game when this happened).

This simply inquiry and Gronk’s continued stellar play in Week 2 led to even more curiosity from me, culminating into some research into just how often Gronk’s teams win when he scores at least once and twice.

I wanted to know not only this, but where he stacks up against the best scorers in NFL history under these criteria. This way you’d see players who have scored as frequently as Gronk, the best of the best over their careers, hopefully including comparable samples to that of Gronk (11+ seasons).

What I looked up was players in NFL history to have scored at least 100 TD (including the postseason), and what their team’s winning percentage was in games where they scored at least one touchdown, then at least two touchdowns.

Lets get to it.

The Players

There are currently 33 players in NFL history who have scored at least 100 touchdowns (including the postseason):

Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison, Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Gates, John Riggins, Lenny Moore, Shaun Alexander, Tony Gonzalez, Barry Sanders, Tim Brown, Don Hutson, Steve Largent, Frank Gore, Franco Harris, Curtis Martin, Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis, Marshawn Lynch, Tony Dorsett, Rob Gronkowski, Ricky Watters, Steve Smith and Thurman Thomas.

Of these players (as of today), 4 have played less than or just as many games as Gronk: Jim Brown, Lenny Moore, Shaun Alexander and Eric Dickerson.

24 of the players in this group are in the Hall of Fame (7 of the players, including Gronk, are not yet Hall of Fame eligible). The two outliers are Shaun Alexander and Ricky Watters.

This achieves my goal of seeing Gronk compared to historically great scorers, players who have played a comparable amount of games (although you can argue Gronk having played less than most could skew the data; I would disagree).

Best Winning Percentage While Scoring at least One Touchdown

This past Sunday when Gronk scored against Atlanta in the first quarter, I asked myself “how well does his team do when he scores?”

Last Sunday was the 77th game in Gronk’s career he scored a touchdown, and once Tampa won, it became the 67th time his team won while doing so… in 77 career games Gronk has scored a touchdown, his team is 67-10 (.870).

It’s an absurd winning percentage, and soon led me to compare it to these other players.

Lets see where Gronk ranks in the group…

  1. .870, Rob Gronkowski

  2. .854, Don Hutson

  3. .805, Franco Harris

  4. .792, Jerry Rice

  5. .788, Jim Brown

  6. .776, Tony Dorsett

  7. .757, Marcus Allen

  8. .738, Thurman Thomas

  9. .731, Curtis Martin

  10. .726, Cris Carter

  11. .726, Lenny Moore

  12. .695, Jerome Bettis

  13. .690, Ricky Watters

  14. .686, Emmitt Smith

  15. .680, Shaun Alexander

  16. .675, Marshawn Lynch

  17. .674, Walter Payton

  18. .673, Frank Gore

  19. .667, LaDainian Tomlinson

  20. .667, Eric Dickerson

  21. .661, Terrell Owens

  22. .644, John Riggins

  23. .641, Randy Moss

  24. .641, Marshall Faulk

  25. .615, Marvin Harrison

  26. .584, Larry Fitzgerald

  27. .580, Tim Brown

  28. .571, Steve Smith

  29. .571, Barry Sanders

  30. .564, Antonio Gates

  31. .563, Adrian Peterson

  32. .552, Tony Gonzalez

  33. .537, Steve Largent

The only player in this group who is, quite frankly, even remotely close to Gronk in this respect is Don Hutson, who last suited up in 1945… yes he wore a leather helmet.

Only 8 players on this list saw their teams win more games while scoring at least one touchdown than Gronk has thus far: Jerry Rice (126), Emmitt Smith (94), Marcus Allen (88), Terrell Owens (80), Cris Carter (77), Randy Moss (77), LaDainian Tomlinson (70), and Franco Harris (70).

That’s 6 of the top regular season scorers in NFL history, and 7 of the top 8.

Quite impressive.

Best Winning Percentage While Scoring at least Two Touchdowns

I looked this up after Week 1 and was amazed: Gronk’s teams were 20-2 (.910) in the 22 games where he scored at least 2 TD. The two losses were a wild SNF game against the 49ers in 2012, and Super Bowl LII (also a pretty wild game). Other than that, all wins.

Gronk added a 21st win to that column on Sunday when the Bucs beat Atlanta, raising his team’s winning percentage in such games to .913.

Lets see how it stacks up against the other 32 players…

  1. .970, Jim Brown

  2. .952, Don Hutson

  3. .944, Jerome Bettis

  4. .941, Marshawn Lynch

  5. .913, Rob Gronkowski

  6. .891, LaDainian Tomlinson

  7. .882, Jerry Rice

  8. .852, Franco Harris

  9. .850, Randy Moss

  10. .839, Shaun Alexander

  11. .833, Ricky Watters

  12. .824, Marcus Allen

  13. .813, Frank Gore

  14. .810, Antonio Gates

  15. .808, Eric Dickerson

  16. .804, Emmitt Smith

  17. .800, Cris Carter

  18. .800, Curtis Martin

  19. .794, Terrell Owens

  20. .792, Tony Dorsett

  21. .789, Steve Largent

  22. .781, John Riggins

  23. .771, Marshall Faulk

  24. .762, Thurman Thomas

  25. .760, Lenny Moore

  26. .733, Marvin Harrison

  27. .719, Walter Payton

  28. .706, Adrian Peterson

  29. .692, Steve Smith

  30. .667, Tony Gonzalez

  31. .640, Barry Sanders

  32. .636, Larry Fitzgerald

  33. .526, Tim Brown

Only 4 players in this group saw their teams win more often while scoring at least twice than Gronk: Jim Brown, Don Hutson, Jerome Bettis and Marshawn Lynch.

What’s interesting is Marshawn Lynch could have been perfect in this respect, but in his last career game he scored 2 TD against the Green Bay Packers, but the Seahawks lost 21-26. The team he was on had won all of the previous 16 times he scored at least 2 TD in a game.

What Does It All Mean?

I was talking over this information with a friend of mine, and he said “Gronk is probably the most impactful non-QB ever?”

You could very well make that argument.

I’m not sure how strong it would be, because there is one layer of this that does need to be discussed: Gronk has always played on teams that… win.

Yeah you know that Tom Brady guy.

Gronk has played his entire career with Brady. He has never played on a team that won less than 11 games in a season, and has only once been on a team that did not win at least one playoff game (his rookie season). A lot of that has to do with… Brady.

When Gronk does not score a TD, the team he is on is 53-23 (.697). Only two other players on the list saw their teams win at least 60% of their games when they did not score a touchdown: Franco Harris (.633) and Marvin Harrison (.600). Harris played 12 of his 13 seasons in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and won 4 Super Bowls in the process, while the starting QB for 12 of Marvin Harrison’s 14 seasons in the NFL was Peyton Manning.

This might lead you to the following question, “is Rob Gronkowski a product of Tom Brady?”

A good player to compare him to then, is Randy Moss, who played 41 games with Tom Brady during his time with the Patriots.

There were 24 games where Randy Moss caught a touchdown from Tom Brady, and the Patriots went 20-4 (.833) in those games. There were 12 games he scored at least 2 TD with Brady, and the Patriots went 11-1 (.917) in those games. The 17 games where Tom Brady started and Randy Moss did NOT score a touchdown, the Patriots went 12-5 (.705).

When Moss played with Brady, you can argue the team was ever so slightly better than when Gronk has been with him.

Moss caught a touchdown in 58.5% of the games he played with Brady (as opposed to the 50.3% of games Gronk has caught a TD), so you could argue he did more to unlock that .833 winning percentage, but that percentage being .870 over a larger amount of games for Gronk is still ultimately more impactful (close, but Gronk gets the edge).

Moss had at least 2 scores in 29.3% of his games with Brady, nearly double the rate Gronk has in his career (15.0%), so the frequency at which Moss unlocked that .917 winning percentage is more impressive.

Randy Moss scored at least once in 50.2% of his games over his career, which is essentially identical to Gronk (the only receivers in this group with a higher percentage of games scoring a TD are Don Hutson and Terrell Owens). He scored at least twice in 17.2% of games in his career.

If he played his whole career with Tom Brady could those winning percentages have been higher? Maybe the percentage of scoring at least one TD, but the percentage of games scoring at least 2 TD was mainly the product of a magical 2007 regular season; remove those 16 games and Moss scored at least twice in 4 out of 25 games (16.0%) with Brady, a bit better than Gronk for his career (and under Moss’s career average). I don’t think it would be 29.3% of games, but it would probably be in the high teens or low twenties if he played with Brady the same amount of time Gronk has.

Randy Moss was a Hall of Famer before he ever played with Tom Brady, and even though he had a rough few seasons before coming to New England, they helped each other have one of the best seasons at their respective positions in NFL history. Just as much as Moss helped Brady (and vice versa), the same can be said of Gronk.

No one is arguing how good Randy Moss was, and I don’t think you should argue how good Gronk is either.

Gronk has benefitted from playing with the best QB of all-time, but he has certainly made an impact that has helped Brady and the Pats/Bucs be even better. If he has done so over his career at comparable rates to another legend (Moss) that played with Brady, then surely he’s no slouch himself.

Is he the most impactful non-QB ever? That’s too complicated of a question with several worthy answers, but I think data like this shows at minimum Rob Gronkowski is one of the most impactful pass catchers in the history of the NFL.