INDIANAPOLIS — University of Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski doesn’t lack for confidence, proudly proclaiming himself as the top tight end prospect in the upcoming NFL draft.
"I would say I’m the top tight end because I bring the whole package," Gronkowski said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. "I’m ready to take on the big defensive ends. I’m ready to go out there and catch some passes. They are going to get a tough, physical player who likes to do the dirty work and likes to make big plays down the field.
"There are some great receiving tight ends out there and there are some great blocking tight ends, but the greatest ever can usually do both. Being a true tight end, being able to block, being able to go out for passes, being able to catch the ball."
Projected as a potential late first-round draft pick, Gronkowski has some major medical questions to answer to cement that status.
He missed the entire season last year due to a back injury that required surgery.
Gronkowski underwent a microdiscectomy on his back where a surgeon shaved down a protruding disc from the spinal cord.
Doctors repaired his L2 and L3 vertebrae, which is the lumbar spine in the lower back.
“My back is holding up great," he said. "It’s 100 percent now. No pain. I’ve never felt this great in a while. I’m ready to go with my back. My back is 100 percent.
"It’s a real minimal invasive surgery, it’s a real easy process, but it takes about three to five months recovery rate. It’s been more than five months, but I’m ready to go.”
Nonetheless, Gronkowski has faced heavy scrutiny from NFL teams’ medical officials.
"I’m definitely facing some, but handling it well," he said. "I’m going to be 100 percent because I’ve been cleared by many doctors. There really are no issues about my back any more.”
Gronkowski won’t be working out at the combine other than performing in the bench press.
The 6-foot-6, 264-pounder said that he’s 100 percent healthy, but won’t work out for NFL teams until late March. He’s trying to plan a March 26 workout.
Gronkowski said he has only been running for the past few weeks and is working on improving his conditioning.
He’s aiming for a 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash.
Gronkowski said that he has met with the St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals.
He said that the Rams informed him that they plan to draft a tight end at some point this year.
The Rams hold the 33rd overall pick of the second round.
The Bengals draft 21st overall and the Ravens have the 25th overall pick of the first round.
"I’m pretty sure I talked to the Baltimore Ravens," Gronkowski said. "I’ve got a lot of meetings coming up, and I’m sure they’re right in there."
Gronkowski said that he would welcome becoming an understudy to Ravens tight end Todd Heap.
"That would be great going to a team with an established tight end," Gronkowski said. "They’ve been in the league and they know what it takes, they’ve been there. They’re one of the best in the league at their position. It would be great to come into the league and learn a lot from one of them."
In two college seasons, Gronkowski caught 75 passes for 1,179 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Gronkowski acknowledged that he needs to upgrade his blocking skills.
“A lot of teams say my blocking is good and a lot of teams say my blocking needs improving," Gronkowski said. "I believe I had some great games blocking, I also believe I had some all right games blocking. I definitely need work in that area.”
With the Wildcats, Gronkowski occasionally played wide receiver in the slot. He said he was used with his hand in the dirt at the line of scrimmage roughly half the time.
What’s his best attribute?
"My hands,” he said without hesitation. “I believe I have great hands. I’ll catch anything in my path."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.