Gronk for MVP?

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Brady, Manning, Watt, Rodgers. All names that have been bandied about in the MVP race, with Tom Brady the overwhelming favorite with 16 of 32 votes on ESPN's NFL Nation writers. That's more than double the next candidate, according to ESPN. But Gronk? He'd have Mike Reiss' vote, if Reiss could vote.

Here's the argument for Gronk, as Mike Reiss sees it:
- The Patriots were 2-2 in the first four games of the season as Gronkowski was working his way into the mix after not playing in the preseason while recovering from a torn ACL sustained in December 2013. Gronkowski was averaging 35 snaps in those games and clearly not yet at 100 percent. Over the last 10 games, Gronkowski is averaging 63.2 snaps per game, is back to 100 percent and the Patriots are 9-1.

- As voters, the easy thing to do is fall back on statistics to build a player's candidacy. But they seldom tell the whole story, and if there are two plays that perfectly capture Gronkowski's impact, they were Julian Edelman's 5-yard touchdown against Denver on Nov. 2 (second quarter, 11:45 remaining) and Shane Vereen's 5-yard touchdown catch in the same game (second quarter, :11 remaining). The attention Gronkowski drew in the red zone on those plays is over the top (3-4 players each time), opening one-on-one opportunities for others. To me, that's what an MVP is -- a difference-maker who makes others around him better. It's just harder to see that with a tight end compared to a quarterback or running back.
Along the same lines, watch Gronkowski's block on LeGarrette Blount's 3-yard touchdown run in Sunday's win over Miami when the game started to turn -- he comes in motion and clears out two players. He's a true combination tight end -- lethal in the passing and blocking games.

- Finally, and I left this until last because of the feeling that the emphasis on stats should be lessened a bit, Gronkowski checks out pretty well in that area regardless: 76 catches, 1,093 yards, 11 touchdowns.

I'll start with the last one - Gronk's numbers. Mike Reiss points out that there's a lot of emphasis on stats, which is true for better or worse. Peyton Manning won last year when he broke Tom Brady's record season from 2007, when Tom Brady was probably more valuable to the Patriots last year and had to do more with less. But Gronk has put up 1,000+ yards and 11 touchdowns, which is only the 2nd time a tight end has done that - the other being Jimmy Graham. He's ranked 11th in receiving yards and 1st among tight ends, about 100 yards ahead of the next tight end Greg Olsen. So, if you're into stats, there you go. Gronk is putting up some big numbers.

Let's talk about what should matter for this award: Gronk's value to the Pats. As Mike Reiss rightly points out, the Patriots struggled when Gronk was struggling to feel his way back at the beginning of the year, culminating in the blowout in Kansas City. When Gronk got back to his old self in Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals and after, the Patriots have gone 9-1, and have had several blowouts of their own mixed in. Fast forward to yesterday against the Dolphins. Gronk had 0 catches in the first half and 3 for 93 yards and a touchdown in the 2nd half and had some key blocks on a few other Patriots scores, as Mike Reiss points out.

Will Gronk actually win? I don't think so - I think it'll come down to a quarterback (cough Brady cough), but he should be in the conversation. He's been that good this year.