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Is Gronk the greatest tight end ever? ‘Absolutely not,’ Jimmie Giles says

The Bucs’ 2011 Ring of Honor inductee suggests he was a greater downfield threat than Rob Gronkowski.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady insists longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski (87) is the greatest at his position in NFL history. Jimmie Giles (88) respectfully disagrees.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady insists longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski (87) is the greatest at his position in NFL history. Jimmie Giles (88) respectfully disagrees. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2021); Times files (1979) ]
Published Jan. 13|Updated Jan. 14

The premier pass-catcher of the creamsicle era, never tentative in his routes or remarks, took a hard slant Wednesday.

Jimmie Giles does not agree with Tom Brady’s assertion that longtime teammate Rob Gronkowski is the greatest tight end in NFL history — or even Bucs history, for that matter.

“Absolutely not,” Giles, a 2011 inductee into the Bucs Ring of Honor, said when asked if Gronk is the greatest ever.

“Make no bones about it, Rob Gronkowski is a good tight end, there’s no question about that. But man, if I had had the opportunity to catch as many passes as these guys have, there’s no telling what I could’ve done.”

If the bravado sounds antiquated, so was the offense in which Giles performed during his eight-plus seasons in Tampa Bay, where he totaled 279 receptions for 4,300 yards and 34 touchdowns.

Giles was the leading receiver in the Bucs’ first playoff triumph (also against the Eagles), catching three Doug Williams passes for 43 yards in Tampa Bay’s 24-17 victory on Dec. 29, 1979. Williams attempted 15 passes all afternoon as the Bucs leaned on workhorse back Ricky Bell (38 carries, 142 yards two touchdowns).

By contrast, Brady attempted 15 passes in the second quarter alone in Sunday’s 41-17 rout of the Panthers.

“I caught three balls (in the playoff game),” Giles said. “Most teams now pass 50 or 60 percent of the time, so they use short passes like they do a 2- or 3-yard run.

“That just wasn’t the football we played, and I do look at the opportunities that I could’ve had if I had been in that position to make things like that happen. But there’s no question Rob is one of the best tight ends that ever played.

“But to say he’s the best, I think Tom needs to look at some highlight films of No. 88.”

If Brady did examine some of that grainy footage from the franchise’s inaugural generation, Giles suggested he would have seen a fleeter tight end. Still a Tampa resident and devout Bucs fan, Giles pointed to a 42-yard Brady strike to Gronk over the middle during Sunday’s third quarter.

“He caught a long pass going down the middle and got caught by two guys,” said Giles, founder of a local insurance-adjustment business still run by his family.

“I know a guy that would’ve never got caught. And that was before Tom’s time, so he never saw this particular guy play. But if he looked up in the stadium every Sunday, he’ll see that guy’s name.”

Statistically, Gronkowski’s regular season numbers, in terms of yards per reception, mildly eclipse those posted by his predecessor.

Giles (350 catches, 5,084 yards, 41 TDs) averaged 14.5 yards per catch for his 13-year career; Gronk (621 catches, 9,286 yards, 92 TDs) has averaged 15.0.

In the seven seasons in which Giles had at least 25 catches, he averaged at least 14.0 yards per catch five times. In three consecutive seasons (1980-1982), he averaged at least 17.5 yards

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Gronkowski has averaged at least 14.0 yards in eight of his 11 seasons. Moreover, his touchdowns for every 6.8 receptions eclipses Giles’ scoring rate (every 8.5 catches).

Yet the 67-year-old wasn’t altering his route Wednesday.

“(Gronkowski) is one of the greatest; he can’t say he’s the greatest,” Giles added. “He was a lot better when he was a little bit younger, but he still didn’t run away from a lot of people. I remember a guy that used to run away from people in the league — defensive backs, safeties, whatever, it didn’t matter.”

A guy named Jimmie Giles?

“I’ll let you say it,” Giles said.

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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