Rob Gronkowski has emerged as arguably the greatest tight end in history and the New England Patriots will need him firing on all cylinders if they are to defend their crown this season. The Patriots won the 2015 Super Bowl in controversial circumstances marred by the Deflategate scandal, and they have been installed as 8/1 favourites to win it again this time around.

Their recent success owes much to the dominance of quarterback Tom Brady, but the contribution of Gronkowski cannot be overlooked. The hulking 6ft 6ins, 265lbs New Yorker was a second round pick in the 2010 draft and has become a lynchpin of their success ever since. In 2011 he broke the record for the most touchdowns ever by a tight end with 17 receiving touchdowns and 18 overall. That was the first time a tight end had ever won the accolade of gaining the most touchdowns in a season, a honour which is normally the preserve of wide receivers. That season he also set the record for the most receiving yards by a tight end, with 1,327.

Were Rob Gronkowski to lead NFL in touchdowns once again in 2016, the Patriots would be very hard to beat. But it will be a mammoth task. Since 2010 he has been consistently excellent, scoring 65 receiving touchdowns. That puts him at third in the all-time list of touchdowns for a tight end, and as he is only 27 he has plenty of time to surge to the top of the list.

But since 2011, he has never lead NFL in touchdowns at the end of a season. He got 11 touchdowns in 2012, just four in 2013 when injury curtailed his season, then got 12 in 2014 and 11 in 2015. It’s an exceptional return for a tight end but it has not been good enough to emerge victorious in the race to lead NFL in receiving touchdowns. He has been close, but in 2012 it was James Jones on 14, in 2013 Jimmy Graham on 16, in 2014 Dez Bryant on 16 and last year we saw a three way tie between Allen Robinson, Brandon Marshall and Doug Baldwin. With the exception of Graham, all of those are wide receivers, highlighting the uphill struggle he faces.

What’s more, he has none to his name so far this season, so for Rob Gronkowski to lead NFL in touchdowns this season would be a phenomenal achievement. He missed the start of the season through a hamstring injury, allowing rival receivers to surge ahead of him. Wide receiver Mike Wallace of the Baltimore Ravens has three touchdowns already, as do Kelvin Benjamin and Larry Fitzgerald. Even his position as top tight end is under threat as Jack Doyle of the Colts and the 49ers’ Vance McDonald both have two.

But it is a long old season the return from suspension of Brady should boost his chances. Brady loves Gronk, who has long been the most trusted weapon in his passing game. Brady has been forced to miss the first four games of the season due to his part in Deflategate, but with him back in the team he will resume the old trusted partnership with Gronk and they will seek to lead the Patriots to glory once more.

The bookmakers currently have Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown as 12/1 favourite to finish the season with the most touchdowns, ahead of CJ Anderson, Ezequiel Elliott and Jordy Nelson, all on 14/1. Brown already has two touchdowns to his name, Anderson has three, Elliot has two and Nelson also has two. Gronkowski is way back on 33/1 but that might be a good bet now as his form should improve when he shakes off his injury in line with Brady’s return.

In terms of receiving touchdowns, Gronk is 8/1 joint third favourite along with Bryant, while Brown is 7/1 and Odell Beckham Jr is 5/1 favourite. That shows that there is still plenty of scope for Rob Gronkowski to lead NFL in touchdowns by the time all the dust has settled and all the smoke has cleared.