Rob Gronkowski vs Julius Thomas


Rob Gronkowski makes an average of $9 million a year. He puts up ridiculous numbers, he brings a ridiculous personality, and he helps bring championships to the New England Patriots. He’s guaranteed $13.1 million.

Julius Thomas now makes an average of $9.2 million a year. He puts up ridiculous numbers, he’s a lowkey personality, and he failed to bring a championship to the Denver Broncos. He’s guaranteed $24 million.

Thomas is getting paid like Rob Gronkowski and that’s just fine for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They overpaid, but does it matter?

It does.

By being paid like Rob Gronkowski, Thomas will be compared to Rob Gronkowski. Their play on the field over the last few years also makes the comparison apt.

Gronk has put up 54 touchdowns over five seasons, with an impressive 17 in 2011 (his only complete 16 game season). That’s almost 11 TDs a season and that’s excellent production, even with just seven games played in 2013.

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It isn’t all about the touchdowns for Gronk, though. He put up a ridiculous 1124 yards in 2014 en route to winning the Super Bowl. It was his second 1000 yard season (2011) in his career. He’s averaging 14.2 yards per reception.

For comparison, Julius Thomas didn’t really start playing until 2013. He had just nine game appearances and one start, with one reception in two years before that. But in his two years he has already put up 24 TDs, 12 each season.

His yardage totals are nowhere near Gronk’s, though. Thomas hasn’t sniffed 1000 yards yet, getting closest at 788 in 2013. Last season was a down year at just 489. He averages 11.8 yards per reception.

Both these players were key offensive pieces for their respective franchises and even though Thomas is shifting teams to the Jacksonville Jaguars, both of them will continue to be key offensive players. They will be used in different ways, though. Let’s also keep in mind that Blake Bortles is simply not Tom Brady and may very well never be Tom Brady. What matters here is what the player can do with the ball when it is thrown his way and when it is in his hands. How he can help his team succeed.

For that, we look at yards after the catch, percentage caught, and dropped passes. We’ll turn to Pro Football Focus for the best numbers available there. Rob Gronkowski (+22.9) was their highest rated tight end in 2014 and Thomas (+5.4) was 13th overall. Gronk was ahead of Thomas in all PFF grading except penalties.

Let’s dive in.

Yards After the Catch

Gronkowski put up an impressive 460 yards after the catch in 2014, good for third among tight ends. That’s compared to just 176 for Thomas, good for 24th. Gronk also caught 39 more passes than Thomas, giving him higher raw numbers, so let’s move onto the averages.

Thomas didn’t excel on average after getting the ball in his hands. With just 4.1 yards average after the catch, he ranked 52nd among all tight ends. Gronk didn’t do too much better with 54.6 yards added after the catch on average.

Both of these players are averaging high per catch averages as mentioned before. Neither of them are breaking the game open when they get the ball in their hands, though.

Percentage Caught

Gronk gets a lot more looks than Thomas does. We’re talking 124 targets compared to just 60 for Thomas. That’s over double the number of targets. He is obviously a top receiving option for Tom Brady and an integral part of the Patriots offense.

Gronkowski caught 66.1% of those targets, pulling in 82 receptions. His percentage caught was 46th in the league among tight ends with at least 25% of snaps.

Thomas, in comparison, caught 71.7% of passes thrown his way, good enough for 27th among tight ends.

While there are some passes that are too high and some passes that are just thrown away in the general direction of a receiver, Thomas does present an incredibly reliable target for future quarterback Blake Bortles. Gronk isn’t far behind, of course, and he is certainly going to have plenty of missed opportunities with so many targets. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.


What tells the story about how reliable these tight ends are at catching the targets that are catch-able is in the drops statistic. Both players did well, but Gronkowski came away with seven drops (third most) compared to Thomas’s four (16th most).

We shouldn’t take this as a raw number, though. Of the 42 targets that Gronkowski didn’t haul in, just seven of them were drops. That is just seven balls he should have caught among those targets, bringing his percentage caught of catch-able balls closer to 92% and a drop rate of 7.87.

Thomas had four drops of 17 targets he didn’t catch. His real percentage caught of catch-able balls then is closer to 91%, with a drop rate of 8.51. He and Gronkowski are nearly dead even here.

These factors are critical for evaluating Julius Thomas with the Jaguars. He and Rob Gronkowski are being paid similarly and they should be putting together similar levels of performance individually. Obviously, the Jaguars are not going to be as productive in year two of the Blake Bortles era as the Patriots are under future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, but making sure that Thomas is at least keeping up with Gronkowski is an important measuring tool.

Based on yards after the catch, percentage caught, and drops, I think Thomas is pretty close to Gronkowski in terms of individual production. They match each other relatively well, though Gronkowski is clearly a bigger raw force for his offense. Thomas may become the Gronkowski of the Jaguars, we just don’t know at this point.

Just keep the Rob Gronkowski vs Julius Thomas debate in your heads as you watch Thomas play with the Jaguars in 2015 and beyond.

Next: Is Julius Thomas Overpaid?

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