Ben Coates was Gronk before Gronk so he knows how NFL history should look at him

Ron Borges

Ben Coates has a special appreciation for the work of Rob Gronkowski because in New England Ben Coates was Gronk before Gronk.

A 1990s' all-decade selection and five-time Pro Bowler, Coates retired 19 years ago as the fourth-leading receiver among tight ends in NFL history. The three above him were Hall-of-Famers Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow and Shannon Sharpe.

So why in the 14 years he’s been eligible for the Hall of Fame has his name never come up?

“I wonder why,’’ Coates told the Talk of Fame Network this week. “I was all-decade. Five-time Pro Bowl. Two-time All-Pro. When I retired everyone knew Coates. Now I've been swept under the rug.’’

Coates had the same kind of downfield explosiveness as Gronkowski and was just as devastating as a blocker. That’s one reason he is an admirer of Gronkowski, believing he is one of the few complete tight ends in the game today.

So who was the Patriots’ greatest tight end?

“(Number) 87!’’ he said with a laugh because they both wore that number. “If you’re a ‘90s' guy, you pick Coates. Now? You pick Gronk.’’

Coates is right in arguing you can’t compare eras. When Coates was with the Patriots, Drew Bledsoe was in his heyday and Curtis Martin was running for over 1,200 yards a season. Gronk’s era was different. It was a passing game on nearly every down, with the rules far more liberal about allowing receivers to run free.

So what might have happened had Coates played under those conditions?

“I’d say I’d have receiving numbers in the 120-130s (catches a season),’’ said Coates, who in 1994 set what was then the single-season reception record for a tight end with 96. “I watch the NFL today, (and) it looks like 7-on-7 practice. Everybody (gets a) free release. I’d love to play today.’’

To hear where Coates ranks Gronkowski all-time and learn if he thinks he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer tune in to your local SB Nation Radio stations or download our free app at iTunes or on the TuneIn app. You can also listen to this show or any of our past shows on our website,

This week you’ll also hear from former head of NFL officials Dean Blandino on the league’s decision to make pass interference calls reviewable next season. Blandino, who is now a rules analyst for FOX Sports, believes that idea will prove to be unwise.

“We’re going to slow it down (on replay) now and see contact not seen by the naked eye,’’ Blandino said. “That’s why the competition committee has been opposed to it.’’

Blandino fears there will be unintended consequences, including one that could cause fans and the media to question whether calls were made for reasons other than simply getting them right.

“The (legalized) gambling part of this (which the NFL is involved with as a partner in the revenues) takes us into a realm we’ve never been in before,’’ Blandino cautioned. “(Head of officials Al Riveron) will be in the second-most important position in the league. It’s critical.’’

So is Blandino when it comes to this move. Tune in to learn the full extent of his fears and why he thinks the Hail Mary pass could become a real problem under the present setup.

Our Talk of Fame hosts, Hall-of-Fame voters Ron Borges, Clark Judge and Rick Gosselin, also visit with NBC Sports football analyst and Hall-of-Fame voter Peter King to get his take on what the biggest offseason story is, whether Gronkowski is a first-ballot Hall of Famer in waiting and if the revamped Cleveland Browns are for real or just another off-season mirage.

Rick’s “Dr. Data’’ segment analyzes the history of the 23 quarterbacks drafted first overall and dissects what that could mean for Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray if he becomes the 24th.

And Ron delivers a Hall-of-Fame argument for Cedric Hardman, the former San Francisco 49er and Oakland Raider pass rusher whose 121.5 sacks rank 30th all-time. Should that number be enough to gain Hall of Fame consideration for the guy once known as “Nasty?’’

To hear that and a lot more just tune in to SB Nation Radio on Wednesday nights or listen to our free podcast at iTunes, the TuneIn app or wherever you get your podcast feeds.