Rob Gronkowski began dreaming of the NFL when he was in eighth grade.
Even then, he had a plan.
Gronkowski would be taken in the first round of the NFL draft, just like University of Miami tight end Jeremy Shockey.
He would catch touchdown passes, maybe even win a Super Bowl. He'd play against - or, even better, alongside - his brothers, the guys who he grew up roughhousing in Gordie and Diane Gronkowski's spacious backyard outside Buffalo, N.Y.
So excuse the former Arizona Wildcats' tight end if he's not deliriously happy over the three-day draft, which begins today in New York City. Playing in the NFL is just part of the plan.
"It's weird," he said, "to think it's actually going to happen."
Draft experts are split on where Gronkowski, a 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound tight end, will go in the draft. But nearly everybody agrees that he'll be off the board by the end of the second round.
Gronkowski has visited 10 teams over the last few weeks but said he has "no clue" where he might be headed.
"They tell me, 'Never try to figure it out because you never know,'" he said. "Hopefully, it goes how I think it might go."
Gronkowski's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has guaranteed the Wildcats' star will be taken in the first round. It's a main reason why Gronkowski opted to bypass his senior season for a shot at the pros. In two seasons, he caught 75 passes for 1,197 yards - tops in Arizona history for a tight end - and scored 16 touchdowns.
Others aren't so sure.
Scott Wright of NFLDraftCountdown.com has the Bengals taking Gronkowski in the second round. The Patriots, Chiefs and Ravens are also known to be interested in the tight end as a second-round pick.
That Gronkowski, 21, is even being considered a high-round pick is an accomplishment. He missed all of the 2009 season after undergoing surgery to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve in his back.
Rehabilitation was slow. Gronkowski wasn't able to run at the NFL Scouting Combine and had to delay his pro timing day at the UA by a few weeks.
When he was finally healthy, Gronkowski showed scouts why many consider him an elite talent.
The ex-Wildcats' tight end ran back-to-back 40-yard dashes in 4.65 seconds and looked sharp in individual drills during last month's pro day on campus. Bengals tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes took special interest in Gronkowski, leading many to speculate that he could be headed to Cincinnati.
"I came a long way, but that's what hard work is for," Gronkowski said. "I've dedicated myself to the whole rehab program, to get back to where I was shape-wise, strength-wise and speed-wise. Hard work pays off."
Gronkowski is one of 13 Wildcats who could be taken in this year's draft.
Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell is viewed as a third- or fourth-rounder, and cornerback Devin Ross, linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka, safety Cam Nelson, running back Nick Booth and wide receiver Terrell Turner, among others, could all be late-round selections.
Nelson said he'd be happy as "Mr. Irrelevant," the last player taken in the draft.
"Our whole group feels like if we get the opportunity, we'll all make the team," he said. "We all love football, and we're not afraid to work."
And then there's Chris Gronkowski.
Rob's older brother and UA teammate could be selected in the late rounds by a team needing a fullback or an H-back.
There's even a slim chance the Gronkowski brothers could be reunited on the same team.
"That," Rob Gronkowski said, "would definitely be a dream come true."
On StarNet: Get in-depth coverage of the 2010 NFL draft at azstarnet.com/sports/football/professional/nfl
THE MOCK 10
The Star's Ryan Finley predicts the top 10 picks in today's NFL draft:
Pick/Team Selection, School
1. Rams QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
2. Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
3. Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
4. Redskins OT Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
5. Chiefs OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
6. Seahawks S Eric Berry, Tennessee
7. Browns WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State
8. Raiders OT Trent Williams, Oklahoma
9. Bills QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
10. Jaguars RB C.J. Spiller, Clemson
• What: NFL draft - first round
• Where: New York
• When: 4:30 p.m.
• TV: ESPN, NFL Network
WHERE WILL GRONK GO?
Who needs Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay when you have a whole panel of experts? Here's a look at where four draftniks believe Rob Gronkowski will be drafted.
• Bengals (2nd), Ryan Finley, Arizona Daily Star
• Chiefs (2nd), Pat Kirwan, NFL.com
• Ravens (2nd), Rob Rang, CBS-Sports.com
• Chiefs (2nd), Chad Reuter, ESPN.com