Is Patriots' Rob Gronkowski a shell of himself? Some analysts think so

ESPN NFL analyst Damien Woody, who is also a former New England Patriots, Detroit Lions and New York Jets offensive lineman, hasn’t exactly been shy in criticizing current players this season.

Last month, Woody traded barbs with Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield after Mayfield admitted to being bothered that Hue Jackson quickly joined the staff of the rival Cincinnati Bengals after being fired as head coach of the Browns.

On Monday, Woody was critical of the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski, saying he “doesn’t even recognize” the tight end right now.

‘A shell of himself’

Appearing on “First Take,” Woody and the other panelists were discussing the Patriots’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the day before, and he set his sights on Gronkowski.

“I’ve always pointed to the fact that Gronk has always been the guy that sets the table in the passing game. Gronk is a shell of himself,” Woody said. “And because he’s a shell of himself, it’s trickled down to everyone else.

“And in a team game, in a team sport, you’re only as good as the guys you play around and right now when you look at the Patriots – Gronk is not what he used to be, guys can’t separate like they once did in the past, and it has an effect on Tom Brady.”

Woody isn’t the only one: former coach Rex Ryan said Gronkowski looks “slow and stiff” on a different ESPN show Monday.

Gronkowski had two catches for 21 yards against the Steelers, a team he has historically done well against – he averaged six catches, 110 yards and a touchdown in his first six games against them. The catches came in the fourth quarter, on the drive that saw Brady throw a red zone interception for the first time in two years.

10 PHOTOS
NFL Week 15: Patriots lose to Steelers
See Gallery
NFL Week 15: Patriots lose to Steelers
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) lines up behind center during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Sean Davis (21) and Coty Sensabaugh (24) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) calls the crowd to action as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) huddles his team during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) and New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) get in a shoving match during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (23) intercepts a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
New England Patriots running back James White (28) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Sean Davis (21) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels (38) is tackled by New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks to reporters during the news conference after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Big game week previous

There have long been questions about Gronkowski’s durability and how long he might be able to play. At 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, he’s a nightmare matchup for defenses, but he takes a beating, both in defensive players doing whatever they can to try to take him down and from being a strong blocker.

He’s missed three games this season and 13 over the last two-plus years, and Bill Belichick and the Patriots reportedly tried to trade Gronkowski to Detroit last offseason but Gronkowski said he’d retire rather than go to the Lions, because he doesn’t want to play with any quarterback but Brady.

But Gronkowski had a huge game just a week earlier, against the Miami Dolphins, when he had eight catches on eight targets for 107 yards and a touchdown. He had seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against Houston, and three catches for 97 yards in Week 6 against Kansas City, both wins for New England.

10 PHOTOS
Miami Dolphins beat Patriots on last-second miracle play
See Gallery
Miami Dolphins beat Patriots on last-second miracle play
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 9: Adam Butler #70 of the New England Patriots pursues Kenyan Drake #32 of the Miami Dolphins as eh runs for the game winning touchdown during an NFL game on December 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 9: Rob Gronkowski #87 and J.C. Jackson #27 of the New England Patriots are unable to stop Kenyan Drake #32 of the Miami Dolphins from scoring the winning touchdown during an NFL game on December 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 9: Kenyan Drake #32 of the Miami Dolphins breaks the tackle by Kyle Van Noy #53 of the New England Patriots to run for the winning touchdown during an NFL game on December 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 9: Kenyan Drake #32 of the Miami Dolphins eludes the attempted tackles by J.C. Jackson #27 and Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots to score the winning touchdown during an NFL game on December 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 9: Adam Butler #70 of the New England Patriots pursues Kenyan Drake #32 of the Miami Dolphins as eh runs for the game winning touchdown during an NFL game on December 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 9: Kenny Stills #10 falls down in the end zone to celebrate the winning touchdown by Kenyan Drake #32 of the Miami Dolphins against the New England Patriots during an NFL game on December 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) scores to defeat the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)
El running back Kenyan Drake (32), de los Dolphins de Miami, corre para touchdown en la última jugada del partido de NFL ante los Patriots de Nueva Inglaterra, el domingo 9 de diciembre de 2018, en Miami Gardens, Florida. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)
Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Dolphins defeated the Patriots 34-33. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Whether it’s because of his health or game plans or a combination of both, Gronkowski isn’t getting as many targets as he has in the past: last year he was targeted 7.5 times per game, and in 2015 it was 8.0 times per game; this year, he’s at 6.1.

Brady victim of receivers’ struggles

Woody, who didn’t play with Gronkowski but did play with Brady for four seasons, winning two Super Bowls, wasn’t as hard on Brady. While others are ready to write Brady’s obituary, Woody doesn’t see it that way.

“If I think of a cliff, when somebody falls off a cliff, it is just a straight drop,” he said. “When I watch Tom Brady, there’s nothing that signals to me that this dude is a scrub. because when someone falls off a cliff, that’s the first thing you think of, is that this dude is now a scrub. There’s no scrub in Tom Brady right now.”

Brady’s numbers for the season aren’t that far off from what they usually are: he’s completing 65.9 percent of his passes, with 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions and averaging 7.8 yards per attempt.

23 PHOTOS
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski together
See Gallery
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski together
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (R) celebrates his touchdown against the Denver Broncos with quarterback Tom Brady during the first quarter in their NFL AFC Divisional playoff game in Foxborough, Massachusetts, January 14, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (L) celebrates with quarterback Tom Brady after scoring a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the second quarter of their NFL football game in Miami, Florida September 12, 2011. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 14: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (#87) is met by QB Tom Brady after his 1st touchdown in the 1st quarter - New England's 2nd touchdown. The New England Patriots play the Denver Broncos in the 2012 AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2011. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - NOVEMBER 24: New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski celebrates his 6-yard touchdown reception with teammate Tom Brady during third quarter action against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 7: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady are pumped following their first quarter touchdown connection. The New England Patriots visited the Miami Dolphins for a season opening regular season NFL game at Sun Life Stadium. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 05: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Rob Gronkowski #87 after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on October 5, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 12: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots talks to Tom Brady #12 during a huddle during NFL game action against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 18: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks to teammate Rob Gronkowski after the game was in hand against the Indianapolis Colts during late fourth quarter action during the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on January 18, 2015. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - NOVEMBER 1: The Patriots Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady celebrate together after they hooked up for a fourth quarter touchdown pass. The New England Patriots hosted the Denver Broncos in a regular season NFL game at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Rob Gronkowski #87 (L) and Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrate while holding up the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 02: NFL players Tom Brady (L) and Rob Gronkowski attend the 141st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Churchill Downs)
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 25: Tom Brady #12 and Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots react after Gronkowski scored a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 15: Rob Gronkowski #87 and Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrate their fourth quarter touchdown against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on November 15, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - OCTOBER 16: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with Rob Gronkowski after his touchdown in the third quarter. The New England Patriots host the Cincinnati Bengals in a regular season NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Oct. 16, 2016. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots hugs Tom Brady #12 after the New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 to win the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON - FEBRUARY 7: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left; head coach Bill Belichick, center; and Rob Gronkowski during the rally in City Hall Plaza following the Patriots Super Bowl LI Victory Parade in Boston on Feb. 7, 2017. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - APRIL 3: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady tackles teammate Rob Gronkowski after Gronkowski stole Brady's jersey at the mound for pregame ceremonies, where Brady threw out the first pitch, on Opening Day at Fenway Park in Boston on Apr. 3, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JUNE 13: New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski, left, takes a breather at the end of a drill as he walks near quarterback Tom Brady, right, during practice at the Gillette Stadium practice field in Foxborough, MA on Jun. 13, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2016, file photo, New England Patriots' Tom Brady (12), Rob Gronkowski (87) and James Develin (46) head back to the sideline after LeGarrette Blount scored a touchdown during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y. Gronkowski says he is retiring from the NFL after nine seasons. Gronkowski announced his decision via a post on Instagram Sunday, March 24, 2019, saying that a few months shy of this 30th birthday “its time to move forward and move forward with a big smile.” (AP Photo/Bill Wippert, File)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, top, tackles teammate Rob Gronkowski after he ran with Brady's recovered Super Bowl jersey as they joke around during Boston Red Sox Home Opening Day ceremonies at Fenway Park, Monday, April 3, 2017, in Boston. The Red Sox face the Pittsburgh Pirates in the baseball game. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates his touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Foxborough, Mass. The NFL’s top-ranked offense and top-rated defense are set to square off Sunday when the New England Patriots host the Carolina Panthers. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates a touchdown, during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
New England Patriots' Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski smile during Opening Night for the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

More from Yahoo Sports:
NFL Power Rankings: What’s wrong with the Rams?
Saints nearly blow MNF game in end-zone fumble
Ballon d’Or winner wants respect after ‘stupid joke’ at award ceremony
Eric Reid dons cleats promoting Colin Kaepernick, history of protest

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.