The quarterbacks are getting a lot of the attention ahead of Super Bowl 55, which is sort of understandable. Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady is making his 10th appearance in the NFL’s ultimate game. Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs is making his second, and he’s already well established as one of the most exciting young players in the sport. But don’t overlook the matchup between two of the best tight ends ever to play the game: Tampa Bay’s Rob Gronkowski and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.
I did a double take when I saw that both players were 31. Gronk came into the league as a 21-year-old, a second-round pick by the Patriots in the 2010 NFL Draft. Kelce started his career at 24, a third-round pick by the Chiefs in 2013, and he was only active for one game that year.
Over eight seasons, Kelce has accumulated 7,881 receiving yards and scored 48 touchdowns. He posted a career-highs with 1,416 yards this season, a record for tight ends, and 11 touchdowns.
Injuries have sapped Gronk’s later years. He sat out last season, but joined the Bucs for a reunion with Brady in 2020. He finished the year with 623 yards and seven touchdowns.
Both players have taken different paths in the playoffs. The Buccaneers have relied on Gronk more as a blocker, giving Cameron Brate most of the work as their pass-catching tight end. Gronk has just two catches in three playoff games this year. Still, it feels a little shortsighted to think that he might not have a slightly more involved role here, at least as a red zone threat. He’s just three years removed from a 116-yard, two-touchdown performance in Super Bowl 52.
You can bank on a big game from Kelce. He’s Patrick Mahomes’ favorite receiver, having led the team in targets and catches this year, and a key to the quarterback getting the ball out as quick as he does—how do you think they beat the blitz so effectively? He’s got three touchdowns in two playoff games this season, topping 100 yards in both outings. He had four touchdowns in three postseason games with the Chiefs last year, including 43 yards on six catches and a touchdown in Kansas City’s Super Bowl win over the 49ers.
Sure, the Buccaneers will be keyed in on Kelce, but that doesn’t make him any easier to stop. Plus, Tampa Bay is just middle of the road when it comes to stopping tight ends. They’ve allowed 10 touchdowns to opposing players at the position through the regular season and the playoffs. Packers tight end Robert Tonyan found the end zone against the Bucs in the NFC Championship game. I would expect Kelce to have another big outing in this one.