Rob Gronkowski is, in my opinion (I know nothing about actual football), the second- or third-most important player on the Patriots aside from (maybe) Vince Wilfork and (obviously) Angel Brady. Not only that, but he's far and away the best at his position in the NFL. He's tied for the league lead in touchdown catches. No, not among tight ends. Among EVERYONE. He's also 11th in the entire league in receiving yards. He's sort of an unstoppable weapon, with unbelievable hands, body control, and a LeBron-esque combination of size and speed. One could absolutely make an argument that he's a top-5 receiver in the NFL, and I think one would be hard-pressed to make an argument that he's outside the top 10. In short: he's sooooooooooooooo good.
So why is he normally in on PATs? Yes, he's a giant human who's a tremendous blocker. I understand that if you take the 9 guys on the Patriots best suited to block for PATs, Gronkowski is undoubtedly among them. But that's obviously not the best way to go about this. What if Tom Brady were among them? What if feature back Stevan Ridley were among them? Would they be out there to block PATs? Those guys are really important, and it's sort of a big deal if they're injured. I would absolutely put Rob Gronkowski in that "really important, sort of a big deal if he's injured" category. I know it's a freak injury, but why risk it? It's like having your starting pitcher carry around all the equipment.
One could argue that THE PATRIOT WAY IS THAT EVERYONE DOES A TON OF THINGS AND DOES THEIR PART THAT'S THE WAY GOD WANTS IT. Fuck you.
One could argue that Wes Welker sometimes returns punts, and he's just about as important as Gronkowski. While this is true, I would say that returning punts is a much more important and specialized skill, one that Welker is specifically suited for among Patriots players. Having the best punt returner rather than the 6th-best returning punts can make a big difference in a football game. But having the 2nd best PAT blocker instead of the 10th best? I guarantee that will make no difference at all.
Consider it this way: Do you think the Patriots will have a PAT blocked for the rest of this season? From 2006-2008 (the only years for which I can find stats on this, oddly), there were 17 total blocked extra points in the NFL. That's less than 6 per year. This year, only 4 teams have failed to convert every single extra point. So don't sit here and tell me that Rob Gronkowski is super valuable on PAT blocking. Put Hingle McCringleberry from Penn State out there to block on PATs for Christ's sake. IT DOESN'T MATTER.
As always, GD.