Stats & Info: Rob Gronkowski

Life without Gronk

December, 9, 2013

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Patriots offense will be much less explosive without Rob Gronkowski

According to ESPN and Media reports, Rob Gronkowski suffered a season-ending ACL and MCL tear after being upended by safety T.J. Ward in the third quarter of yesterday’s game. This is a significant blow to the Patriots, who came back to beat the Browns and secure their 11th consecutive season with at least 10 wins.

What Gronk means to the Pats Offense

The Patriots go back to "life without Gronk" which was not a pretty sight the first time around this season. The Patriots offense ranked among the league's worst the first six weeks of the year when they last played without the tight end.

The Patriots are second in the league in points per game since Gronkowski made his season debut in Week 7, scoring over 11 more points per game than they did in the first six weeks of the season.

They ranked in the top five in most offensive categories with him in the lineup this season.

The Red Zone

The Patriots have also been much more effective in the red zone. The Patriots scored a touchdown on 68.8 percent of their red zone trips this season with Gronkowski on the field. When he was inactive in the first six weeks of the season, New England scored a touchdown on 40.9 percent of red zone possessions.

Since Gronkowski’s forearm injury in Week 11 of last season, he has missed 11 of the Patriots next 20 games (including playoffs) during that span.

Is Brady better with Gronk?

Since Gronk entered the league in 2010, Tom Brady has been significantly more effective with Gronkowski on the field. Through Week 13 of 2013, Brady has a 78.5 Total QBR with Gronkowski on the field. Brady has a 59.0 QBR without Gronk on the field. Brady has thrown 5.1 touchdowns per interception with Gronkowski on the field. That ratio drops to 2.2 touchdowns per interception with Gronkowski on the sideline.

This season, the connection between Brady and Gronkowski was not as strong as their first three years together. From 2010 to 2012, Brady threw only two interceptions to go along with 38 touchdowns when targeting Gronk.

This season, Brady threw four interceptions when targeting Gronk to go along with only only four touchdowns. Brady completed 59.1 percent of his passes to Gronkowski this year after completing 72.2 percent of his passes to Gronkowski in their first three seasons together.

Brady beats the blitz ... eventually

December, 1, 2013
Tom Brady has beaten the Houston Texans’ blitz before.

This time, it just took him a little longer to figure it out.

The Texans’ blitz gave Brady problems in the first half, holding him to 2 for 7 passing (with an interception and a sack) when sending at least five pass rushers.

But Brady was much improved in the second half against the Texans’ blitz, which Wade Phillips dialed up almost twice as often as in the first two quarters. The chart on the right illustrates the difference.

Brady’s two most notable passes against the blitz in this game were the touchdown throw to Shane Vereen that gave the Patriots their first lead of the game, and the third-down 17-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski to the Texans 43, which led to the eventual game-winning field goal.

The change in approach came in how far Brady threw the ball when he was blitzed. He elected to throw shorter passes.

Brady’s average throw against Houston’s blitz was 15.0 yards downfield in the first half and 8.5 yards downfield in the second half.

Brady beat the Texans’ blitz last year in both games he faced the Texans. Brady was 25 for 38 for 356 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in Week 14 and the Divisional Playoffs combined when Houston sent at least five rushers.

Brady did have one notable streak against the blitz come to an end. He had thrown 31 touchdown passes without an interception against pass rushes of five or more since he threw an interception against it in a game against the Washington Redskins in Week 14 of the 2011 season.

Brady's rookie targets let him down

October, 23, 2013

Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesTom Brady's numbers are down this year throwing to an inexperienced receiving corps.
Tom Brady has been below average statistically this season, despite the New England Patriots sitting atop the division with a 5-2 mark.

The Patriots fell to 5-2 after their loss against the New York Jets on Sunday. Brady posted a 29.5 Total QBR at MetLife Stadium, his third game with a QBR below 30 this season. Brady had only six such games in his previous 97 starts from 2006 to 2012.

He ranks 19th in the NFL in Total QBR this season with a 48.5 mark, below average on the QBR scale of 0 to 100. His five interceptions in seven games are only three shy of the number he threw in 16 regular-season games last season. His 6.0 yards per pass attempt would mark a career-low.

But the numbers indicate that Brady should not be the sole source of blame for the slow start.

Patriots rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have dropped nine percent of the passes thrown their way (NFL average is 4.3 percent). Three of Brady’s five interceptions this season were thrown when he was targeting rookies.

Let’s break down the performance of his rookie targets:

• Kenbrell Thompkins has caught 42 percent of the passes on which he was targeted, the second-worst rate among any qualified player in the last four seasons, regardless of experience.

• Aaron Dobson has a team-high five drops, tied for the third-most in the NFL among all pass catchers. Dobson has dropped 11 percent of his targets, the second-worst rate among all players with at least 40 targets.

Josh Boyce has played 50 snaps for the Patriots this season. He has one catch on six targets.

Zach Sudfeld had three targets (two of which were intercepted) in three games with the Patriots. One of those interceptions resulted from a Sudfeld drop. He was cut on October 3 and in a twist of fate, played for the Jets in their win over the Patriots on Sunday.
Julian Edelman
• Veteran Julian Edelman has been Brady’s only consistent target this season, leading the team in receptions (46), yards (455) and receiving first downs (21). He’s dropped only three percent of his targets.

• Tight end Rob Gronkowski made an impact in his first game back, recording a game-high 114 yards through the air. Danny Amendola continues to nurse injuries, but has been effective when on the field. Help could be on the way to get Brady's numbers back to the level he's performed in the past.

Pats hope Amendola replaces Welker in slot

July, 29, 2013
AP PhotosDanny Amendola, left, will likely be the top target for Tom Brady this season.
The 2013 New England Patriots have experienced a great deal of turnover from last season. Let's evaluate the top questions facing them as the new season approaches.

How significant are the personnel losses?
Including Rob Gronkowski, who is currently on the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots are likely without each of their top five receivers from last season to begin the season. Those five players (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead) represent more than 84 percent of Tom Brady’s completions last season.

Should Gronkowski miss Week 1, the Patriots would likely become the first team since the 1997 New Orleans Saints to start a season without their five leaders in receiving yards from the previous season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Who will Brady rely on?
The Patriots will be relying on Danny Amendola to help offset the loss of Welker. Amendola’s 2012 season was strikingly similar to Welker’s in his first season prior to joining the Patriots, with Welker catching just four more passes and Amendola catching two more touchdowns.

Brady hopes to replicate the success he had with Welker with Amendola this season, particularly out of the slot. Although Welker is regarded as perhaps the league’s best slot receiver, Amendola ranked second last season in receptions per game out of the slot behind Welker.

New England is now especially thin at tight end, but Jake Ballard could be a potential solution after missing the entire 2012 season. In 2011, he emerged as Eli Manning’s favorite red zone target, leading the New York Giants with eight red zone receptions.

What's at stake for Brady?
Brady continues to climb in the record books, and this season he has a chance to gain some more headway on other legends.

Brady (136-39 career record) needs 11 wins to tie Dan Marino for the fourth-most wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history and 12 to tie John Elway for third-most.

In his sixth game of the season, Brady could tie Drew Brees’ NFL record for consecutive games with a passing touchdown (54).

Brady (334) could pass Fran Tarkenton (342) for the fourth-most passing touchdowns in league history.

More important than any statistic, Brady and the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl in nine years. Since winning his first 10 career playoff games, Brady is 7-7 in the postseason.

Potential Gronkowski absence leaves a hole

June, 18, 2013

Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesOn Tuesday, Rob Gronkowski will undergo his fifth surgery since November.
Unlike his other four surgeries since November, Tuesday’s back surgery could sideline Rob Gronkowski through much of training camp if not the beginning of the regular season. If Gronkowski isn’t ready for Week 1, here are three reasons the Patriots should be worried.

The Brady-Gronk Connection
Over the last two seasons, Tom Brady has almost eight times more touchdowns than interceptions when throwing to Gronkowski. To all other targets, Brady has only about 2.5 times more touchdowns than picks.

The Brady-Gronkowski connection doesn’t just produce touchdowns. Since his rookie season in 2010, Gronkowski has caught 72.2 percent of his passes from Brady, tying the duo with Jason Witten and Tony Romo for the best completion percentage of ANY QB-TE or QB-WR combo over the last three seasons.

Gronkowski is by far the most productive receiving option returning to a Patriots team that has already lost Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch this offseason. Even if Gronkowski is back for Week 1, Brady will start the season season missing teammates who accounted for more than 62 percent of his completions from last season.
League Leader
In just three seasons, Gronkowski has already totaled 38 receiving touchdowns, the most in the NFL over that span. In league history, only two players had more touchdown catches in their first three years: Jerry Rice and Randy Moss.

Gronkowski does most of his damage in the red zone, where he leads the league with 29 touchdowns since 2010. The only players with more red-zone targets than Gronkowski since his rookie year are All-Pro wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White.

But Gronkowski isn’t just a threat near the end zone. Since his rookie year, Witten is the only tight end with more receiving yards than Gronkowski, but Gronk ranks first at his position in yards per reception and yards after the catch.

Getting Physical
While Gronkowski’s back and forearm issues shouldn’t affect his size or his hands, his offseason surgeries threaten his physicality, which is arguably unmatched among the league’s current tight ends.

At 6’6” and 265 pounds, Gronkowski is an important part of the Patriots ground game. Last season, New England averaged 4.4 yards per rush with Gronkowski on the field compared to 3.9 yards per carry with him on the sideline.

And Gronkowski’s size and speed make him one of the game’s most difficult targets to bring down in the open field. In his three NFL seasons, Gronkowski has averaged 2.54 yards AFTER contact per reception. The next-best figure by a wide receiver or tight end is Jermaine Gresham’s 2.30.

What's next for Patriots if Gronk is out?

April, 8, 2013

Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsHow much will the Patriots miss Rob Gronkowski if he misses the start of the season?

Rob Gronkowski will likely require a fourth surgery on his left forearm, according to sources, which would mean 10 additional weeks of recovery and would put his availability for the start of the 2013 season in question.

Why the surgery hurts the Patriots
This would be a significant blow for a New England Patriots team that already lost leading receiver Wes Welker, who signed with the Denver Broncos this offseason.

No team relies on its tight ends more than the Patriots. Since 2010, when the Patriots drafted Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, New England has the highest percentage of receiving production coming from tight ends in the league.

When Gronkowski is healthy, he has proven to be one of the most productive receivers in the league.

His 38 career touchdowns are the third-most by any player in his first three seasons in NFL history. Only Randy Moss (43) and Jerry Rice (40) had more. Grownkowski is also the first tight end in NFL history to have at least 10 touchdown receptions in each of his first three NFL seasons.

Gronkowski has been Brady’s favorite target in the end zone over the last two seasons.

Brady has completed more than two-thirds of his throws to Gronkowski since 2011 and less than a quarter of his passes to all other Patriots.

Gronkowski’s 20 touchdowns on throws to the end zone since 2011 are by far the most of any player in the league.

Gronk was also one of the most valuable members of the Patriots offense last year. When Gronkowski was on the field during the regular season, the Patriots averaged more yards per play (6.1 vs 5.4) and the quarterbacks had a better completion percentage (66% vs 58%) compared to when he was off the field.

Why the Patriots can survive without Gronk
The Patriots have prepared for life without Gronkowski, after he missed five regular season games last year along with the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Even though Gronkowski may miss some time, it doesn’t mean the Patriots' two-tight-end offense will go away. In Weeks 11-15 last year without Gronkowski, the Patriots used multiple tight end sets on 55 percent of their plays, which was actually higher than the 42 percent rate in Weeks 1-10 with Gronkowski.

New England also signed wide receiver Danny Amendola in the offseason to replace Welker. Amendola has the skills to fill the slot receiver role that Welker perfected in the Patriots passing game.

His average target distance over the last four seasons is the shortest in the league and he nearly matched Welker's per-game production when lined up in the slot last season.

Amendola is also much more sure-handed than Welker, who’s 11 drops last season were the second-most in the NFL. Since 2010, Welker has caught passes at a rate of 12.5 receptions for every drop. Amendola’s success rate is considerably better at 21.9 receptions per drop.

Gronkowski injury will not slow down Pats

January, 17, 2013

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsRob Gronkowski's injury won't slow down the Patriots offense Sunday.
Rob Gronkowski is out for the rest of the postseason, but that doesn’t mean the New England Patriots' two-tight-end offense will go away. After Gronkowski’s injury last Sunday, the Patriots used multiple tight end sets on 50 of their 58 plays. For the entire game, they used at least two tight ends on more than 86 percent of their plays, their second-highest percentage this season.

The Patriots have become a more balanced team with multiple tight ends on the field. Including the playoffs, they’ve called a designed run on 55 percent of plays out of multiple tight end sets this season (41 percent last season, which was the second-lowest rate in the league).

Not only have they run at a higher rate, but they’ve been more successful.

Expected Points Added (EPA) measures the sum of the differences between the expected points before the play and after the play based on 10 years of NFL play-by-play data.

Despite Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing a lot of time this season, the Patriots averaged 5.2 EPA per 100 designed rushes this year out of multi-tight end sets (including playoffs) -- they averaged just 1.8 EPA per 100 designed rushes out of those formations last season.

That has contributed to the Patriots leading the NFL in EPA on all designed rushes -- 14 points more than the second-place Redskins. That’s more than the difference between Washington and seventh-place New Orleans in that category.

The Patriots ran for a first down every 3.2 carries out of multiple tight end sets, the best rate in the league. All eight of their rushing first downs Sunday, including both rushing touchdowns, came with two tight ends on the field.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady
New England’s success in the running game has allowed Tom Brady to maintain his production despite Gronkowski and Hernandez missing time. His Total QBR out of multiple tight end sets increased from 74.5 last season to 76.9 this season.

Consider that Hernandez and Gronkowski were on the field together for 922 plays last year (including playoffs), compared to only 169 plays this season.

Michael Hoomanawanui played in all 50 multiple tight end sets after Gronkowski’s injury against the Texans, and filled in admirably as a blocker. Patriots rushers averaged 5.3 yards per rush out of multiple tight end sets Sunday, their second-highest average this season.

The Ravens allowed the fourth-most yards per play (5.5) against multiple tight end sets during the regular season. Look for the Patriots to continue their success running and passing with multiple tight ends Sunday.

Eight stats to know: AFC championship

January, 15, 2013
The AFC Championship Game will have a familiar look to it when the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots meet Sunday night. It will be a rematch of both a regular-season meeting (won by the Ravens) and last year's AFC championship.

Here are eight notes, nuggets and numbers you need to know heading into the matchup:

The rematch
This will be the first time two teams have met in a conference championship game in consecutive seasons since the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers met in three straight from 1992 to 1994.

It’s the first instance of teams meeting in consecutive AFC championships since the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos met in 1986 and 1987.

Home-field advantage
Tom Brady is 86-15 in his career in home starts (including postseason).

Among quarterbacks whose careers began in the Super Bowl and made at least 20 starts at home, Brady has the best home winning percentage (.851).

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco ranks fourth (35-7, .833).

Brady also passed Joe Montana for the most career playoff wins with his 17th on Sunday. He’ll tie Montana’s mark for most appearances in conference championships with his seventh.

The value of Gronk
The Patriots will be without Rob Gronkowski, who broke his arm in Sunday’s win against the Houston Texans.

The chart on the right shows how the Patriots fared with Gronkowski on and off the field during the regular season.

There was a significant difference in their performance, though that was not an issue against the Texans in the divisional round.

Road-field advantage
Flacco is no slouch on the road. His five road playoff wins are tied (with Eli Manning) for the most in NFL history by a starting quarterback.

In fact, the Ravens' eight postseason road wins are a total eclipsed by only two NFL teams: the Green Bay Packers (10) and Cowboys (nine).

Good names, bad list
John Harbaugh is 0-2 in his career in AFC title games. He could become the fifth coach to lose his first three conference championship game appearances.

The others: John Madden, Chuck Knox, Marty Schottenheimer and Andy Reid.

Flacco’s nice touch
Flacco is 8-of-12 for 324 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield in the playoffs, including the game-tying touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter against the Broncos on Saturday.

Flacco completed 37 percent of those attempts during the season with seven touchdowns, and had the most attempts without an interception (81) of any quarterback.

The Ray Lewis Effect
Ray Lewis leads the Ravens with 30 tackles this postseason. The Ravens have allowed opponents to complete only 49 percent of their passes when sending five or more pass-rushers with Lewis this season.

Without Lewis, Ravens opponents are completing 65 percent of their passes against such pressure.

Four has been the magic number
The Ravens are the No. 4 seed in the AFC.

No. 4 seeds are 6-1 all time in conference championship games, including a win by the Ravens in 2000, when they went on to win Super Bowl XXXV against the Giants.

Gronkowski's value almost unmatched

November, 18, 2012
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesHold the celebration: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski may have suffered an impactful injury

How significant would the potential loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to a reported broken arm be for the New England Patriots?

Consider the following notes on Gronkowski’s value to the team.

• Gronkowski’s two touchdown on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts gave him 37 for his career, the third-most by any player in his first three seasons in NFL history. Only Randy Moss (43) and Jerry Rice (40) had more.

Gronkowski’s scores on Sunday extended his current streak of consecutive games with a touchdown to four.

• Grownkowski is the first tight end in NFL history to have at least 10 touchdown receptions in each of his first three NFL seasons.

• Gronkowski is one of three players in Patriots history to have three consecutive seasons with at least 10 touchdowns scored. The other two are Corey Dillon (2004 to 2006) and Randy Moss (2007 to 2009).

• Tom Brady was 7-for-7 for 137 yards and two touchdowns when targeting Gronkowski in Sunday’s rout.

• Gronkowski caught his only end-zone target Sunday, his fourth straight game with a touchdown on a pass into the end zone.

• Brady is 5-for-7 targeting Gronkowski in the end zone in his last four games after starting the season 2-for-6 on those throws in New England’s first six games.

Rodgers connecting with Nelson downfield

October, 20, 2012

Brett Davis/US PresswireAfter last week, Aaron Rodgers (left) and Jordy Nelson appear to be back on the same page.
Not many people saw Aaron Rodgers' six-touchdown performance coming in Week 6 against a Houston Texans defense that had the lowest Total QBR allowed (11.6) in the NFL. Rodgers finished with only the fifth game in NFL history with at least 330 passing yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Three of Rodgers’ six touchdowns went to Jordy Nelson, who has 19 TD receptions since the start of last season. (Only Rob Gronkowski has more, 20.)

Rodgers opened up the scoring by connecting with Nelson on a 32-yard touchdown down the right sideline. Nelson beat cornerback Johnathan Joseph on the play, and Rodgers took advantage of single-safety coverage as safety Danieal Manning was not able to give help over the top in time. (Single-safety defense is defined as one safety deep in pass coverage, usually down the middle of the field.)

On Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, how much will Rodgers try and target Nelson deep down the sidelines? Although the two had success against the Texans, Rodgers numbers are down considerably from last season on throws to Nelson outside the numbers that traveled more than 10 yards downfield.

On such throws in 2011, Rodgers completed 20-of-27 attempts to Nelson, the third-best completion percentage among any QB-WR duo in the league (minimum 10 targets). This season, Rodgers is just 5-of-13 on such throws to Nelson.

Against the Texans, Rodgers took advantage of single-safety defense to find Nelson down the sidelines with no help over the top. That’s something Rodgers struggled to do in the first five weeks of the season. Against Houston, Rodgers completed 10-of-14 attempts for 159 yards and three touchdowns against such coverage on throws outside the painted numbers, including five completions to Nelson.

In the first five weeks on throws outside the numbers against single-safety coverage, Rodgers was 19-for-39 (48.7 percent) on throws and averaged less than four yards per attempt.

Rodgers and Green Bay will face an improved Rams secondary. St. Louis has held opponents to a completion percentage of 33.3 down the sidelines on throws more than 10 yards downfield -- that’s the fourth lowest completion percentage in the league. In fact, the Rams have allowed only one pass play of at least 30 yards outside the numbers.

Also, the Rams have sent at least five pass rushers on 40.9 percent of opposing QB dropbacks over the last two weeks. That indicates Rodgers could see more single-safety defense and opportunities to attack the sidelines.

Rodgers will have to stay upright, however, as the Rams have a league-high eight sacks with such pressure in the last two weeks.

No downfield game sends Packers downhill

September, 11, 2012

AP Photo/Mike RoemerThings have not been looking up of late for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Since winning 19 straight games (including playoffs), the Green Bay Packers have lost three of their last five.

In Week 1, Green Bay’s 13-game home win streak came to an end. Now they host the Chicago Bears on Thursday.

Green Bay has opened up the season with consecutive losses at home only twice in the Super Bowl era (1988, 2006).

Under the current playoff format since 1990, only 25 percent of teams that started 0-1 went on to make the playoffs. And, if history is any indication, then Thursday is a must-win situation for the Packers. Each of the five times the Packers have started 0-2 under the current playoff format they have missed the playoffs.

During the Packers’ 19-game win streak, Aaron Rodgers completed 55.5 percent of his throws 15 yards or more downfield. In his last four games, including last year’s playoff loss to the New York Giants, Rodgers has completed just 25.8 percent of such throws.

Rodgers’ counterpart, Jay Cutler, completed 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) of his throws 15 yards or more downfield in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts. Only Drew Brees completed more such throws. However, since joining the Bears, Cutler has thrown two touchdowns and nine interceptions on passes at least 15 yards downfield against the Packers.

Cardinals at Patriots
One of the four matchups in Week 2 between 1-0 teams. Tom Brady has never lost a home opener as the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback (9-0). He’s also 35-1 in his last 36 regular-season home starts. Both of Brady’s touchdown passes in Week 1 went to his tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Not including a kneel down, New England used at least two tight ends on all of its offensive plays against the Tennessee Titans, and Hernandez and Gronkowski each played 66 of a possible 67 offensive snaps. Wes Welker was on field for 42 of the Patriots’ 67 plays (62.7 percent). That was his lowest snap percentage since Week 3 of 2010. Last season, Welker was on field for 88.7 percent of the Patriots’ snaps.

Lions at 49ers
Can the 49ers slow down a second straight high-powered offense from the NFC North? San Francisco has won eight straight against Detroit -- the longest by either team in the history of the series.

Alex Smith was 15-of-16 for 152 yards and a touchdown when targeting his wide receivers in Week 1. Smith didn’t complete more than 13 passes to his wide receivers in a game last season, and was just 1-of-5 in the NFC Championship game.

The 49ers secondary will have to try to stop the Lions duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.

Stafford has thrown for at least at least 350 yards in four straight games, which is tied for longest streak in NFL history with Drew Brees. And Johnson has at least 100 receiving yards in four straight games. No Lions player has at least five straight 100-yard receiving games since Pat Studstill had six consecutive 100-yard games in 1966.

In their win last season at Detroit, the 49ers sent four or fewer rushers on 55 of Matthew Stafford’s 56 dropbacks. Since the start of 2008, no quarterback has had more dropbacks against such pressure in a single game.

Tight ends changing offenses, draft strategy

April, 25, 2012

Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireRob Gronkowski (left) and Jimmy Graham (right) are leading the new wave of the way tight ends play in the NFL. Both finished in the top 7 in receiving yards last season with over 1,300 yards.
The evolution of the modern-day tight end has made it possible for NFL teams to view the position as much more than an extra offensive lineman who catches the occasional pass. Tight ends have become primary options in the passing game.

Tight ends such as the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (second round, 2010) and Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints (third round, 2010) often line up in the slot or at wide receiver because of their ability to make plays.

Six tight ends who lined up in the slot or at wide receiver in 2011 had more than 500 yards receiving (including playoffs). Both Graham (938) and Gronkowski (876) had more than 800 yards each.

There has been a dramatic increase in 100-yard receiving games at the position since the 2001 season. Last season, there were 28 100-yard receiving games by tight ends compared to just four such games in 2001.

Tight ends have also become downfield threats. Since the start of the 2008 season, 30-plus yard receptions for tight ends have progressively risen from 64 in 2008 to 107 last season.

Who among this year’s draft prospects at tight end could blossom into a high-end contributor? ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Todd McShay thinks Stanford’s Coby Fleener “is most ready” to contribute right away (check out the breakdown of the 2012 TE class).

Fleener was effective stretching the field last season, catching 15 of 24 targets (62.5 percent) with seven touchdowns on throws -- from expected No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck -- traveling at least 15 yards downfield. Fleener caught 10 touchdowns for Stanford last season, most of any tight end in FBS.

Fleener, who is 6-6 and nearly 250 pounds, did not work out at the NFL Scouting Combine, but at Stanford’s Pro Day, he ran 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash and is widely considered a first-round pick.

In addition to Fleener, Dwayne Allen of Clemson and Georgia’s Orson Charles are two other draft prospects that have a “good chance” to contribute as rookies in 2012. There are prospects beyond Fleener, Allen and Charles who could be worth a draft pick, according to McShay. Oklahoma’s James Hanna ran 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash and had a 36-inch vertical leap at the Combine.

The evolution of tight ends, according to McShay, has started to alter the ways NFL teams are evaluating defensive backs as well. Teams might be forced to look for and draft bigger defensive backs as a counter-measure to the more versatile tight end corps in the NFL.

How Broncos muscled up to help Manning

March, 28, 2012
With the hoopla surrounding Peyton Manning's decision and the subsequent trade of Tim Tebow, it may have been easy to overlook some of the lower profile free-agent signings.

ESPN Stats and Information took notice, collecting the best tidbits on how some these low profile signings can make a big impact.

TE Joel Dreessen and TE Jacob Tamme, Denver Broncos
Dreessen has made catches on 72 percent of the passes targeted for him the last three seasons. Among tight ends with 100 attempts, Dreessen’s reception percentage ranks tied for second with Antonio Gates and trails only Jason Witten. Together, Dreessen and Tamme have 93 more receptions, 1,055 more yards and 12 more touchdowns than all Broncos tight ends over the past two seasons.

WR Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots
Over the last two seasons, tight end Rob Gronkowski and 5-foot 9-inch wide receiver Wes Welker have been the Patriots’ top two targets on throws that traveled more than 20 yards in the air.
Not only does Lloyd have the most receptions (27) on such throws the past two seasons, he has almost single-handedly out-produced the entire Patriots receiving corps (see chart).

WR Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers
Royal will bring a new dimension to the Chargers' offense. Over the last four seasons he has 158 receptions within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, twice as many as the top Chargers wide receiver over that time (Vincent Jackson, 74). In 2009, Jackson had 28 such receptions, the most in a season by a Chargers wide receiver since 2008. Royal has averaged nearly 40 such receptions per season, with a single-season high of 69 in 2008.

FB Lawrence Vickers, Dallas Cowboys
The Houston Texans picked up 5.2 yards per rush last season when Vickers was the fullback, compared to 3.0 yards per rush with James Casey at fullback. Only Ryan D'Imperio of the Vikings (5.8) and former Cowboys fullback Tony Fiammetta (5.6) had more yards per rush behind them last season.

RB Michael Bush, Chicago Bears
The Bears picked up 28 rushing first downs when needing 3 yards or less last season, the second-fewest in the NFL. Bush picked up 34 first downs in such situations last season, second-most in the NFL.

RB Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers
Tolbert may have been acquired to give Cam Newton a rest. Last season, Newton had 39 rushes inside the red zone, three times as many as the next highest quarterback. Tolbert is one of nine runners with 20 or more rushing touchdowns in the red zone over the last three seasons.

OL Adam Snyder, Arizona Cardinals
Adam Snyder

Snyder took on full-time duty at right guard for the 49ers in Week 3 last season, replacing Chilo Rachal. Snyder’s impact on the line turned out to be a big one. With Snyder in the lineup, the 49ers averaged 4.6 yards per rush and allowed a sack about 8 percent of the time. With Richal in the lineup, the 49ers averaged 3.2 yards per play and allowed a sack almost 13 percent of the time.

Matt Slocum/AP Photo
Eli Manning matched his 2007 postseason with 9 touchdown passes, one of many similarities between this championship and that one. Manning won Super Bowl MVP on both occasions.
The New York Giants are Super Bowl champions again, winning Super Bowl XLVI against the New England Patriots by the same margin and in a similar thrilling fashion as their regular-season victory.

Once again, quarterback Eli Manning was the king of the fourth-quarter comeback, something he’s done multiple times in his career against the Patriots.

Here’s a deeper look at the notes, stats, and trends behind this game.

Why the Giants won
Manning joined a list of players to win multiple Super Bowl MVPs, along with Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, and Tom Brady. Manning’s fourth-quarter performance was a near-duplicate of his previous Super Bowl effort, as the chart on the right shows.

Via Elias, Manning set a Super Bowl record for the most consecutive completions by a quarterback to start a game, with nine. The previous mark was held by Phil Simms for the Giants against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.

Manning was precise on his short passes, completing 28-of-32 throws that traveled fewer than 15 yards in the air. His 88 percent completion rate on those throws considerably exceeded his season rate of 67 percent entering the game.

Manning’s 75 percent completion rate overall was the second-best ever in a postseason game for a quarterback who threw at least 40 passes. The only one better was Drew Brees, earlier this postseason against the Detroit Lions.

It was Manning’s eighth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, most in the NFL, two more than Tim Tebow and Alex Smith. His five career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime of postseason are tied with Joe Montana for third-most all-time, behind Tom Brady (7) and John Elway (6).

Why the Patriots lost
Brady had a good game statistically, setting the record for consecutive Super Bowl completions with 16, and combining with Manning for a 70.4 percent completion rate (fourth-best by quarterbacks in Super Bowl history). But he could not quite match Manning’s performance.

Brady was 0-for-5 when throwing the ball at least 20 yards in the air downfield, including both the intentional grounding that gave the Giants a safety and the game’s first score, and the incomplete Hail Mary attempt into the end zone on the game’s final play.

The last time Brady failed to complete a pass of that length with at least five attempts was in Super Bowl XLII (0-for-8).

Rob Gronkowski, one of Brady's favorite targets, was on the field for 45 of the Patriots' 62 plays (73 percent), his lowest percentage of plays on the season. Gronkowski was held to three catches and 26 yards and was the intended receiver on Brady’s interception.

Pivotal Plays
Giants: Manning completed only 2-of-8 throws of 15 yards or longer, but one of the two completions was huge -- the 38-yard catch at midfield by Mario Manningham on the Giants game-winning drive.

Patriots: Wide receiver Wes Welker had a crucial drop on 2nd-and-11 with 4:06 remaining in the game on a pass thrown 23 air yards down the field that would have given New England possession in the red zone.

Welker was credited with five drops in the first 18 games of the season, none on a throw more than 10 air yards downfield. His rate of passes dropped was seventh-best in the NFL this season, among those targeted at least 100 times.

Under the Radar
Theme of the postseason: The Giants picked up 100 yards after contact on offense in Super Bowl XLVI, something they did in three of their four playoff wins. In the regular season, the Giants picked up 100 yards after contact just twice (Week 3 vs Eagles and Week 16 vs Jets).

Unsung hero: The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Giants punter Steve Weatherford is the first punter in Super Bowl history to pin an opponent inside the 10 three times in one game.

Stat of the Game
The Giants are first team to win a Super Bowl with fewer than 10 regular-season wins since NFL went to 16-game schedule in 1978 (excluding strike-shortened seasons).

The Giants are the second team to win both a regular season game and a Super Bowl against the same opponent by the same margin. The Giants beat the Patriots twice by four points, matching the 1994 San Francisco 49ers, who beat the Chargers by 23 points in both the regular season and Super Bowl XXIX.
The ESPN Stats & Information crew has been providing Super Bowl-related notes, nuggets and information to our talent covering the game in Indianapolis this week. The volume of material can get overwhelming, so we wanted to boil the game down to what matters most.

We asked our analysts what they think are the most important statistics in this Super Bowl.

Merril Hoge: First-Down Performance
Hoge felt that the game would be decided by which team performs better on first down.

The New England Patriots ranked fourth during the regular season, averaging 6.4 yards on first downs. This was due largely to their success at throwing. New England led the NFL with 2,380 first-down pass yards and ranked third with 8.9 yards per pass attempt.

The New York Giants' defense held Tom Brady in check on first down in their Week 9 meeting, limiting him to 12-for-21 passing.

The Giants have been very good at holding opponents on first down during the postseason. Aaron Rodgers was 10-for-20 on first down, sacked twice, and held to just 4.1 yards-per attempt in the Giants' Divisional Round win at Green Bay.

The Giants offense has run the ball much more effectively on first down in the postseason (5.1 yards per carry compared to 3.6 during the regular season) and quarterback Eli Manning has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions on first down in the playoffs.

The Patriots defense was very susceptible on first down in the regular season, allowing nearly 7 yards per play, worst in the NFL. But in the postseason, New England's defense has been the best unit at defending first down, yielding just 4 yards per play.

Herm Edwards: Third-Down Conversions
He cited the ability of third-down conversions in reducing opponents' possessions. He referred back to Super Bowl XLII and the Giants' first drive of the game, which spanned 16 plays and almost 10 minutes.

The Patriots' offense converted at a 46 percent rate on third down during the regular season, tied for fourth-best in the NFL, considerably better than the Giants' 37 percent rate.

However, Eli Manning averaged the most yards per passing attempt on third down (10.2) during the regular season and had 13 pass plays of at least 30 yards on third down. No one else had more than nine.

Lastly, the New York's defense is one that has previously stopped the Patriots on third down. The Giants held the Patriots to 5-for-15 on third down in Week 9.

Other analysts weigh in

Tedy Bruschi said "rushing yards" was the key stat, and in New England’s case a healthy Rob Gronkowski would be a boost to the Patriots' run blocking. On New York’s side, Bruschi said a solid ground game is "who the Giants are" and that it controls the clock.

Trent Dilfer cited "goal-to-go TD scoring," especially third-and-goal. Dilfer said the execution by either team -- whether it’s offense or defense -- in that situation will be as important as any in the game.

Cris Carter had two notions: Manning’s fourth-quarter numbers, and the number of times Gronkowski is targeted.

Mark Simon and Vince Masi contributed to this post.