For the Williamsville based Gronkowski family, sports was always in the blood. With one of five brothers, Dan, already in the NFL in Detroit, Rob Gronkowski is set to join him. The only difference is the Arizona tight end prospect is considered one of the best in this year's draft class at his position.
Despite missing his entire junior season due to a herniated disc in his back, Gronkowski chose to forgo his senior season with the Wildcats as it was his goal all along to reach the NFL level after three years of college football.
"This was definitely a tough decision," he said. "Leaving the Arizona family was hard. It was a great atmosphere, great football. I always wanted to play in the NFL. It was always a dream of mine and I wanted to fulfill my dream. When I have an opportunity I step on board. I don't like waiting around. So I made the decision."
Convincing NFL scouts and general managers that he can play isn't the issue. Splitting out wide as a receiver and working out of the slot Gronkowski compiled 75 receptions for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns, all school records, in just two collegiate seasons. It was clear he was an accomplished receiving threat. At 6'6" 264 pounds also offered the size necessary to be a capable in line blocker.
What Gronkowski needs to prove is that his back is fully recovered from surgery.
"Basically the doctor just shaved off the disc that was pressing on the spinal cord," he said. "It's just a real minimal invasion surgery. It's just about a three to five month recovery. It's been more than five months and I'm ready to go. I've definitely faced some scrutiny about the back, but I'm handling it well."
Gronkowski will only be performing the bench press at the combine, in all likelihood to prove his back is healthy. He's saving the rest of the testing on the field for his pro day, which is tentatively set for March 26th.
Though his receiving exploits are rarely questioned, his blocking has been more carefully examined by NFL scouts. Gronkowski is competitive as a blocker and fights to finish, but some scouts believe his technique could still use some work along with improved lower body strength.
"A lot of teams are asking about my blocking," he said. "Some teams say my blocking is good and some say it needs improvement. I feel I've had some great games blocking and some alright games blocking. I can definitely work in that area with some technique coaching-wise and I'll get better in that area, which I want to do."
Pushing Gronkowski to continually improve his game has been the never ending sibling rivalry that exists even now with four of the five brothers out of the home in which they were raised.
"Growing up there were big fights in the house, big competitions," Gronkowski said. "We'd always be playing sports, basketball, mini sticks in the backyard, backyard baseball. We were always competitive and I think that's why my family is where we are now with us brothers pushing each other throughout our whole life."
His older brother Dan was on Detroit's practice squad last season as a rookie. His other older brother Chris played with him at Arizona serving as a fullback/H-back and is also a member of this year's draft class. In fact Chris and Rob have been pushing each other daily leading up to their training in Miami at BPS Performance.
"He wasn't invited here," said the younger Gronkowski from the combine. "He's training and he's in the greatest shape of his life right now. He's the strongest he's ever been and really fast and he's going to impress some people when it comes to his pro day."
But among the troop of Gronkowski athletes, which includes his oldest brother Glenn who was drafted by the Anaheim Angels and is still playing in an independent league, Rob looks to be the one with the highest ceiling. And it's clear he's confident that he's among the best at his position.
"I would say I'm a top tight end because I bring the whole package," he said. "I'm ready to take on the big D-ends and go out and catch passes. I believe I have great hands and can catch anything in my path."
Gronkowski is expected to come off the board late in the first or early in the second round. The long term health of his back is believed to be the only concern for NFL talent evaluators, provided he runs well at his pro day, and that could push him to round two. But the talented tight end is hoping his name is called sooner rather than later.
"Everyone has a goal," he said. "My goal was to always be a first round tight end."