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Faceoff: Taking an Elite TE

The Footballguys staff discusses whether the elite tight ends are worth going after

Currently, Jimmy Graham is almost always gone by the end of the second round, and Rob Gronkowski is usually off the board before the fourth. In a standard PPR league, what is the highest draft pick you'll spend on one of them?

Jeff Haseley: I've seen Jimmy Graham go as high as 1.03 in a TE PPR 1.5 league. But getting back to the norm of 1.0 PPR, I would only target Graham after the following players have been selected. Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller, Calvin Johnson, Trent Richardson, and maybe LeSean McCoy, although I'm not as high on McCoy as others are. So my answer is 1.09 or later.

Jason Wood: In league's with savvy players, I think you have to consider Graham as early as the late first round. If you're feeling a bit more daring, he makes a dream choice in the second round of a PPR league if you roster a credible stud RB1 in the first round. I'm finding that it's next to impossible to roster him beyond the middle of the second round, so that's your bogey. I would (and have) drafted him as high as 1.10 this preseason, and he would be my primary target at 2.01 or beyond.

Gronkowski's situation is a bit different given the uncertainty of his recovery timetable. The logic goes that a healthy Gronkowski, even for 12-14 games, is so dominant that he's worth the risk and possible use of a replacement tight end for a few weeks. While I generally agree, I PERSONALLY am not willing to pull the trigger on Gronkowski in the third round -- which is where I've seen him go in every mock and expert draft we've done so far. And considering everyone that's taken him in the third has been met with a deluge of "nice job" and "good pick" cheers from other league mates, there's essentially no chance I'll be high enough on Gronkowski to roster him. And if Gronkowski returns to practice during camp? You can be sure he'll vault back into the late first, early second -- and I would still rather have Graham in that scenario.

KyleWachtel: In PPR leagues, I'm still choosing any of the elite RB1s and Calvin Johnson ahead of Jimmy Graham, which means the earliest I will take him is at 1.11. Ideally, I'd like to have a later first round pick where I could hopefully scoop up a top running back and then grab Graham in the early portion of the second round. That strategy worked out perfectly for me in a recent experts mock where I landed C.J. Spiller at 1.09 and then Graham at 2.04.

As for Rob Gronkowski, not even Graham can rival his production when he is healthy. In fact, Gronkowksi's 14.3 fantasy-points-per-game (FPPG) over the past two seasons trumps Graham's 11.3 FPPG during that same timeframe. According to those numbers, Gronkowski would only need to play a little more than 12-and-a-half games to match Graham's production for a full 16-game season. That type of dominance is why I still rank him 24th overall and hope he falls to me somewhere in the third round.

Chad Parsons: Rob Gronkowski is a clear target player for me in leagues this year. Drafting Jimmy Graham means passing on a top-12 level running back in most leagues and I would prefer a Julio Jones or Dez Bryant in the mid-second over Graham as well. Considering that Gronkowski and Graham have similar ceilings and the reason Gronkowski is going later is mainly artificial in my eyes, makes Gronkowski the clear play if spending a top-50 pick on tight end this season. I would consider Graham after the top shelf receivers are gone (Calvin, Julio, Dez, Green, Demaryius) and a PPR option like Sproles or Steven Jackson are gone at running back. For Gronkowski, I would take him anywhere in the third round or later.

Stephen Holloway: I agree with Chad and will be passing on Jimmy Graham at his current price and be looking long and hard at how far Rob Gronkowski drops. I would almost welcome him missing the majority of camp workouts and be doubtful to play in the season opener. There is ample depth at the tight end position that you can draft Gronkowski, knowing he will miss a few games and still have a viable replacement for him at a reasonable price. When he gets on the field, he will be heavily involved and be a huge component of the Patriots' offensive game plan and be a fantasy game changer.

Andy Hicks: My preference would be to take neither and look for Vernon Davis or Tony Gonzalez in the fifth round. Last year I did take Rob Gronkowski in the first and when he was fit he was a monster, but that was the problem, his fitness.

This year he is dropping to the late third, early fourth and that is a lot better value. Depending on who my first two picks were, I would definitely consider him in the third.

Jimmy Graham, if for some strange reason he was there in the third then I would probably snap and take him then, but my preference would be to have a combination of four running backs and wide receivers, before grabbing Davis or Gonzalez in the fifth. Graham and Gonzalez would sure be hard to pass up though in the third and it's probably a dilemma I'll be faced with in the coming month. The ultimate answer would probably depend on who I got in the first two rounds and differ on a draft by draft basis.

Sigmund Bloom: If you're picking the second half of the first round, you should target Graham unless a McCoy/Charles/Spiller falls into your lap. As Jason said, you might chance him falling to the second round, but honestly, the quality of running back you'll get in the early second is not a big enough drop from those available in the late first to risk losing out on Graham. If Gronk is there in the third, just take him. You can get a good tight end late to cover his missed games, and he should be a major trump card in the second half of the year, including the fantasy playoffs. There are other approaches at tight end that can work, but quarterback and wide receiver are deep enough to feel okay about neglecting them in the first three rounds, and you only really need to come away with two top running backs in the first three rounds to be in good shape.

Jeff Pasquino: In a PPR league, I think the difference between Jimmy Graham and having a Top 5 wide receiver in a start three wide receivers league (or two wide receivers and a flex) as your first wide receiver is a big deal. I would much rather have Dez Bryant or Julio Jones as my WR1 and get three wide receivers in the first 5-6 picks and then target the likes of Jason Witten, Vernon Davis or even Tony Gonzalez after locking up two running backs and three wide receivers in the first five picks. If you were to go with Graham in Round 1, your first wide receiver is likely to be in Round 3 (waiting for your first running back until Round 3 is very risky) and that's a big drop in value.

Gronk is a different story. Taking him in Rounds 3 or 4 represents good value, as he can carry your team in the back half of the year in a big way. Even with values in Rounds 5-8 at the tight end position, Gronk can really dominate on a per-game basis. If he is there at the back end of Round 3, I would be very tempted if I felt that I got a good start in Rounds 1 and 2.

Matt Waldman: It looks like this year I'm in the neither camp. I'd rather have 9 receivers and 17 runners than Graham this year. I also have Witten's stats projected high enough that I would prefer to take him after I take either two backs, two receivers, or one of each. I have Gronk as a fifth or sixth route pick in terms of projections, but I can see reaching for him when looking at the tier of receivers and backs that are available between Witten (my 38th overall player) and Gronkowski (my 64th). You just have to realize you're missing on a solid WR2 or RB2.

I'm becoming more tempted with the idea of waiting on tight end this year. Dwayne Allen, Travis Kelce, Dustin Keller, Tyler Eifert, and James Casey are all options I believe could outplay their current value. I'd get two of these five after the 10th round and play the match ups.

Will Grant: I think that unless you're in a league that awards 1.5 PPR for a tight end compared to 1.0 PPR for everyone else, you're probably going to have to overpay to get Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, especially now that Hernandez is out of the picture. Yet, like Matt, I think Witten is the smart play if you're looking for an elite tight end.

However, I think if you miss out on the BIG 3, your best bet is to hesitate a bit, pound running back and wide receiver for a bit until the 6th, 7th, or 8th round and then go with two second tier tight ends and follow a tight end by committee approach. The second and third tiers are really deep this year, and there are some even potential sleepers like Martellus Bennett, Brandon Myers and Dwayne Allen that are being drafted as backup tight ends that have the potential for a Top 10 finish, and will certainly have Top 10 weeks.