(SportsNetwork.com) - The modern-day NFL is a quarterback-driven league but if you take away the game's most important position, two players stand above everyone else as the most impactful in the league, Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt and New England tight end Rob Gronkowski.
And it's no coincidence that Watt and Gronk, who is preparing for Super Bowl XLIX against Seattle in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 1, were the only two unanimous selections to the 2014 All-Pro team.
Both of those superstars are matchup nightmares.
Down in South Texas, Watt is as versatile as it gets, a player capable of moving up and down the line of scrimmage in an effort to identify lesser offensive linemen.
It doesn't matter if you are a guard, tackle or center, if Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel or Watt himself think you are a weak link, you're going to have a 6-foot-6, 300-pound monster, who can somehow bench press a Ford F-150 while staying quicker than a hiccup, in your face.
Gronkowski, meanwhile, is the offensive version of Watt, a 6-6, 270-pound traditional Y-back, who can put any linebacker on skates with his pure strength yet still beat them athletically in the passing game.
If you try to defend the three-time All-Pro with a defensive back, it becomes a game of basketball where Gronk can use his imposing frame to box out the coverage.
That's why Jeremy Lane's critique of Gronkowski was such as a surprise.
"I actually don't think he's that good," the Seahawks nickel cornerback said Thursday. "He's OK."
A player like Jeremy Lane is OK, Gronkowski is on the fast track to Canton as long as he earns his stripes in the longevity department.
You can give Lane credit for adopting the "Legion of Boom" swagger despite being a junior member of pro football's best defensive backfield but why poke a bear who has better numbers through five NFL seasons than any other tight end in NFL history?
The real stars of the Seahawks' secondary are of course All-Pro corner Richard Sherman and star safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. And no one talks more trash than Sherman yet even he deflected questions about stopping Gronkowski.
"I don't know -- I'll be sitting there with popcorn," Sherman said when asked what will happen when Chancellor, the hard-hitting strong safety who is the one who will be dealing with Gronkowski most of the time, and the Pats' Pro-Bowler collide. "It will be good football though."
Dan Quinn, Seattle's highly-respected defensive coordinator who is expected to become the next head coach of Atlanta after the Super Bowl, understands what he and his charges are up against.
"He's a terrific tight end," Quinn admitted. "I think he's a unique guy; the run game, the pass game, the catching radius, and I think at the end of it, just great hands to finish on routes.
"So when he's up in the air, generally he's strong handed to come down with it so those are a few of the things that impress us about him and why we regard him so highly."
Lane didn't get that memo, however.
"He does have a big body, (but) from what I've seen on tape, he don't like your hands being put on him," Lane said. "So if we put our hands on him and shake him up a little bit, he won't catch that many balls as he should."
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion," Gronkowski mused when told about Lane's critique.
"Did it tick you off?" a reporter pressed.
"It may," Gronkowski responded.
Anyone want to take bets on what happens if the 190-pound Lane gets his hands on Gronk?