Rob Gronkowski’s Fantasy Analysis

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Health Issues Abound  

Rob Gronkowski’s fantasy analysis now has an ever increasing level of importance, in the aftermath of news that he recently underwent a second back surgery. Along with the emergence of off-field concerns with teammate Aaron Hernandez. The operation was successful, which was also the case with the arm surgery that was performed in late May. But it was the fourth procedure on his left forearm, and the seventh surgery overall. And the sheer volume of operations is disconcerting, and certainly far from a desirable scenario for the Patriots, and for fantasy owners. Factor in the Hernandez situation, and Gronkowski’s status has become an immensely popular topic.

At this point, nothing has deterred owners from selecting Gronkowski very early in the 2013 drafts. Which  underscores how important the prolific fourth-year TE has become in the fantasy landscape. This has been the case since the statistical explosion that occurred in 2011, involving both Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Which has been instrumental in reshaping how fantasy owners view the TE position. Gronkowski’s  accomplishments have punctured a hole in the ceiling at which a TE can realistically be chosen in fantasy drafts, as many owners have been more than eagerly redefined their priorities on draft day, in order to secure him for their rosters.

Owners Are Still Drafting Gronkowski Early  

Even though Graham’s success with New Orleans has worked in conjunction with Gronkowski’s output to create the fresh mindset, Gronkowski’s numbers would have singlehandedly achieved the metamorphosis strictly on their own. Just in case you now only remember the debate regarding Gronkowski’s ADP last summer, but do not recall the specific numbers that hastened the discussion, Gronkowski not only led all TEs with 17 TDs in 2011, but also all WRs. Plus, his 1,327 yards also paced TEs, with that total being exceeded by only five WRs. And, his total of 90 receptions was surpassed only by Graham and three WRs. The list of exceptional statistics was seemingly unrelenting, including his 83 YPG average, his 22 receptions that gained at least 20 yards, and the fact that he scored in 10 of his 16 contests.

The remarkable numbers that Gronkowski generated in 2011 merged with Graham’s accomplishments during the same campaign to significantly alter the way that fantasy owners regarded the tight end position. That  prompted many owners to select that record setting tandem near the onset of the 2012 drafts. Gronkowski’s  ADP of 15 (and Graham's equally lofty 13) represented uncharted territory when digesting the perceived value of TEs on draft day. For some recent perspective, Antonio Gates garnered a ADP of 38 in 2011, Dallas Clark was first to depart the boards at 39 in 2010, and Jason Witten was first among TEs at 40th overall in 2009.

Gronkowski was able to perform in all 16 regular season contests in 2011, and he could not replicate that achievement last year. He missed five games due to a broken forearm, which forced his numbers to decline. His 790 yards placed him seventh among all TEs, and his 55 catches left him just 13th.  Yet, he still managed to score 11 times, which the most at his position, and was surpassed by just three WRs. While his somewhat abbreviated absence from the lineup diminished the return on last season’s lofty investments, the TD total remained impressive. And the majority of disappointment from owners appears to have only slightly reduced the emphasis on selecting Gronkowski during the draft process this summer, as both Gronkowski and Graham remain the only two inhabitants of an exclusive tier that easily transcends all other TEs. Gronkowski's current ADP of 21 represents only a slender drop from last season, and he continues to make an extremely quick departure from the draft board in comparison to other TEs in recent seasons. And it demonstrates the appeal that owning Gronkowski still possesses, even with the uncertainty that emits from his health concerns. 

The Patriots Need Gronkowski More Than Ever

His value to the Patriots will not be diminishing anytime soon, as the offense urgently needs Gronkowski in the lineup. Because the roster currently does not possess an overabundance of weapons. Wes Welker's sojourn to Denver has deprived Tom Brady of a dependable, prolific target, who collected at least 111 passes in five of his six seasons with New England, while also accumulating 1,165+ yards in five different years with the team. Danny Amendola might become an acceptable substitute, but the former Ram was sidelined by an ankle injury for five contests last season, and  a whopping 15 games by a dislocated elbow in 2011. He has missed far too many contests in his career to ignore, which makes it premature to automatically label him as an adequate replacement.

If you are among those who simply assume that Brady will generate huge numbers regardless of losing several critical targets weapons, you might to peruse the team's depth chart at WR. Beyond Amendola, his current options are rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones, and Julian Edelman. This only enhances the importance of Gronkowski to both Brady and the Patriot aerial attack. Plus, if Aaron Hernandez would be unavailable to the team in the aftermath of his off the field issues, then Gronkowski's value would rise further. While Bill Belichick could always locate other options to line up at TE, his best option currently beyond Gronkowski and Hernandez is former Giant Jake Ballard. And (even though you may not want to read this) Tim Tebow is a possibility. There are a multitude of reasons why Gronkowski's presence is crucial for New England, and he should stockpile numbers upon his return as a result. But when will that be? The length of Gronkowski's recovery period is largely dependent upon the athlete himself. How careful he is during the period in which rest is essential. How diligently he later works at preparing himself mentally and physically. And how effectively he takes care of himself while getting back into football shape. How Gronkowski handles himself in the next few months will play a monumental role in determining when he becomes a contributor to the offense once again.   

Where You Should Draft Him

Garnering specific details concerning injuries and legitimate timetables for recoveries are always massive challenges. And in this case, the New England Patriots are involved, which will complicate the ability to forecast Gronkowski’s availability even further. You should expect him to begin the preseason on the PUP list. And certainly Week 1 of the regular season is in question. Knowing this, it is best to employ a draft strategy that embraces the uncertainty that will persist throughout the summer, and base your interest in drafting him primarily upon how critical you believe it is to employ a second round draft pick for his services. In other words, you know that he will generate yardage and TDs if he is sufficiently healthy to line up for New England. And his production will be considerably better than any other options that you have at the position. With the exception of Graham, who will depart the draft boards even earlier.

I do not personally recommend using a second round pick on a TE. Even on the exceedingly productive Gronkowski. However, it is easy to understand the argument that Gronkowski’s ability to accrue fantasy points makes him worthy of a hefty investment. You must the decide if the advantage that you are likely to enjoy over the TE’s of your competitors is so enticing, that you are willing to forego drafting a RB, WR or QB in the second round, and expend that early pick on Gronkowski. If that is the case, and you remain steadfast in the desire to invest in him this summer, then you should be prepared to grab him in Round 2. Because there is at least one owner in each of your leagues who will choose to secure him at that point. Then, continue to monitor his health, as well as the other news surrounding his team.