Ben Coates was always there for Drew Bledsoe; Rob Gronkowski can't say the same for Tom Brady.
Photos via Getty Images

When most people think of number 87 for the New England Patriots today they think of Rob Gronkowski, but not me.

Just before I entered the workforce my father let me in on a little secret. “Half of life is just showing up,” he said. “If you’re there each day they’ll begin counting on you and you’ll separate yourself from the pack.” I didn’t think much of those words at the time, but looking back he couldn’t have been more right, which is why I’d take Ben Coates over Rob Gronkowski every day of the week.

Rob Gronkowski is a physical specimen at 6-6, 265lbs. Not only does he possess all the physical tools, but when healthy he is the most dominant force in the NFL today. Gronk was drafted by the New England Patriots in the second round (42nd overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, but why wasn’t this world-beater a first round selection you ask? There were health concerns coming out of college. 

Gronk missed three games for Arizona in 2008, and all of the 2009 season after injuring his back while lifting weights. Still, the Patriots blew right through the yellow caution and hoped for the best, and for a while that’s exactly what they got. Gronk played in every game his first two seasons and turned the NFL into his personal playpen.

No tight end in the history of the NFL has hauled in more TD’s in a single season than Rob Gronkowski. Gronk found pay dirt 17 times in 2011. Since his rookie season he’s started 44 games and scored 42 TD’s. That’s not a misprint. Gronk has basically scored a TD every game he’s started in his NFL career, that’s Jerry Rice territory. Ben Coates, even at his best, never came close to that type of production.

Coates was 6-5, 245lbs during his playing days and was drafted in the fifth round (124th overall) of the 1991 NFL Draft without much fanfare. Coates had a solid career and amassed 50 TD’s during his nine seasons with the Patriots from 1991-1999. It’s worth noting he only started four games his first two seasons. Marv Cook was entrenched as the Patriots starting tight end during the 1991-1992 seasons.

Coates played in 142 of a possible 144 games over his nine seasons as a Patriot with 105 starts, and one of the two games he missed was when his mother past away. Coates still holds the franchise record for receptions by a tight end in a single season with 96, which was six more than Gronk in 2011 when he snagged 90 balls. Coates also led the team in touchdown receptions six straight seasons between 1993 and 1998 and led the team in overall receptions five times. Not bad for a fifth round draft pick. Coates was easy like Sunday morning and the poster boy for dependability.

Gronk, on the other hand, has already had more surgeries during his brief NFL career than Coates had missed games during nine NFL seasons with the Pats. Gronk has had hip, arm, lower back, hamstring, ankle and knee issues. Gronk is the Clay Buchholz of the Patriots; someone blessed with incredible talent, but just can’t stay on the field.

On Friday evening Gronk said he anticipates playing a full season, but that means nothing. I mean, what else is he supposed to say? I intend on missing another 14 games over the next two years?

Look, I like Gronk, and I’ll be rooting for him to come back strong this season and challenge Jimmy Graham as the best wide receiver, oops; I mean tight end in the game, but the best predictor of future futility is past futility. Sadly, Gronk is like that punctured can of diced tomatoes you bypass at the grocery store. The contents may still be good, but you can't trust it. When I go through the checkout I want to know what I’m paying for. I need a product that's durable and consistent.

There is only one number 87 in my mind, and something tells me his Dad had a similar talk with him.

Which # 87 would you rather have?

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Shout out: Fox Sports, Pro Football Talk, WEEISporting News

Unknown 7/21/2014 10:56:00 AM Edit

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