Gronkowski: First round or back in 2010?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

There's almost no chance Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski returns this season after back surgery. The bigger question for the Wildcats is whether he plans to take a redshirt and return next fall.

Gronkowski, a third-year junior, met with reporters Wednesday for the first time since his back became an issue early in the preseason, and he said he's eyeballing entering the NFL draft this spring.

The only thing that might keep Gronkowski in Tucson is his high expectations.

"It would definitely have to be the first round, else I won't go at all," said Gronkowski, who underwent surgery on a herniated disk and nerve damage in his lower back three weeks ago.

It was mostly a foregone conclusion heading into the season that Gronkowski wouldn't stick around for his senior year, and the odds were fairly good that he'd have been selected in the first round -- or at least early in the second. At 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Gronkowski owns prototypical size, above-average speed and is a good receiver and blocker. Despite missing the first three games of 2008, he finished with 47 receptions for 672 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns.

He and Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham, who, in a horrible coincidence, suffered a season-ending knee injury, were generally projected as the nation's top two tight ends entering the season.

Back injuries are tricky, though. Gronkowski said he expects to be 100 percent within three months, but even if he blows away NFL personnel folks at the combine or in private workouts, they likely will have questions about whether his back might be an on-going issue, which would hurt his value.

Another season hanging up big numbers with impressive quarterback Nick Foles might alleviate those worries.

Speaking of Foles -- and this likely will break Arizona fans hearts after the red zone problems at Washington -- Gronkowski said he's been a fan for a while.

"Me and him always had a connection going [over the summer]," Gronkowski said. "He was throwing me a lot of fades in seven-on-sevens."

Gronkowski said his back started bothering him before preseason practices began, and an MRI revealed the disk and nerve problems. Coach Mike Stoops maintained a policy of silence on the injury, while Gronkowski opted to see if rehab work -- a long shot -- might be enough to get him back on the field.

He tried to return the week of the Iowa game on Sept. 19, but it became immediately clear he wasn't ready.

"It came back right after practice," he said. "The pain was just shooting down my leg."

He's about three weeks away from beginning rehab work. Mostly, he's been relegated to playing Xbox from the recliner in his apartment.

"My "Halo" skills are up," he said. "No one talks garbage to me anymore."

He described missing the season as "brutal."

"I thought this was going to be my season and the team's season," he said. "I thought we were going to make it to the big house. I wanted to be with the team that made it to the Rose Bowl this year."

Now the question is how badly the NFL wants him.

"I'm going to definitely look into the NFL -- you've always got to look at that option," he said. "If I don't like what I get back, I'm definitely going to come back."