FOXBORO — They are considered the two best tight ends in the league, the two deadliest weapons over the middle of the field, and especially where it counts most — the red zone.
Debates have raged during the offseason between football pundits and fantasy experts on which third year tight end you’d rather have, which one is truly better.
Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham?
Tom Brady’s 6-foot-6, 265-pound matchup nightmare, or the 6-6, 260-pound freak Drew Brees has lining up for him?
Gronk or Graham? The Patriot or the Saint? They’ve been analyzed and dissected, right down to their distinctive touchdown celebrations. One spikes. The other dunks.
They were both on display yesterday with the Pats and Saints engaging in their first joint practice session of the week. And as usual, neither one could be adequately stopped or covered by the opposing team’s defense.
“They’re both such a tough task,” Pats cornerback Kyle Arrington said of the dueling tight ends. “Graham is a pretty good basketball player. He hasn’t played football that long, but you watch him, and it looks like he has. He’s just so athletically freakish.”
Gronk, of course, can do it all. He can block with the best of tight ends, and he’s big and fast and can catch the football. He’s virtually unstoppable in the red zone. Graham, meanwhile, having a hoop background, has amazing athleticism. He’s more in the Aaron Hernandez mold, but can also leap tall buildings while going up to get the football.
Ask Graham if he’d take himself over Gronkowski and Hernandez, and the athletically freakish hoop player turned tight end doesn’t hesitate. He’d pick himself.
“Of course I would,” Graham said. “I mean, I’m young. The thing about me, I’ve been playing for three years. I know I’m getting better. I’m focused on getting better. I know my weaknesses. I know where I need to improve.”
Graham described the tight end wars as “friendly competition.”
Gronk wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t even acknowledge a competition existed between the players, who were drafted in the second (Gronkowski) and third rounds (Graham) in 2010.
“There really is no competition. He’s a great player and that’s why every team has the position of tight end,” Gronk said yesterday. “He’s a great guy, a great player you can put the film on and see what he is doing to get open cause he’s doing a great job at it and you can learn from him. You can learn from other tight ends in the league, they’re doing such a great job and you want to take their concepts too and add it to your game.”
What might he be watching in Graham to study during these few days?
“His speed, his separation,” Gronk said. “He’s good at the long ball, how he goes up and grabs it in the air. I mean, he used to be a basketball player, so it’s kind of cool to see him go up and grab the ball at the highest point and that’s something you always want to do when the ball is coming at you.”
Graham also watches his “competition.”
“I think we all watch each other. I use the film, I try to take little bits that I can from each one of them,” Graham said. “Hernandez and Gronkowski. (Tony) Gonzalez in Atlanta. (Antonio) Gates (in San Diego). I study film a lot. Gronkowski uses his body really well. Me and him are similar in size. And Hernandez is really good in the routes. His technique and his routes is among the best as far as tight ends go.
“Hopefully I can learn from both those guys.”
Teams are still searching for that Gronk buster or Graham stuffer.
What might that player look like?
“I don’t know. Hungry, working hard,” said Graham. “I think that our teams exploit our talents very well. We’re very similar. (Tom) Brady and (Drew) Brees, they definitely go to us in the red zone. They definitely enable us to use our size and our body down the field.”
So who has the better touchdown celebration? The Gronk spike or the Graham dunk?
“His spikes are pretty good. He’s got some velocity on those,” Graham said. “But I’d rather dunk it any day.”
Funny thing, though. The best tight end on the field yesterday wasn’t Gronk or Graham. It was Hernandez. His one-handed catch down the sideline on a bomb from Brady was breathtaking.
But let’s not spoil a good duel.