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Taking Rob Gronkowski?

Footballguys staff members discuss the merits and pitfalls of taking Gronkowski early

Welcome to the 2015 Footballguys Discussion series, where we get a few staff members and toss them an open-ended question. Check out their answers.

Is Rob Gronkowski worth drafting with a top-six pick in a PPR league starting two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, and a RB/WR/TE flex? Why or why not?

Andy Hicks: It not only depends on the dropoff from the top rated tight end to the 2nd or 3rd ranked option, but all the way to 12th in standard leagues. The difference between Rob Gronkowski and the 12th rated tight end is arguably the biggest difference at all the fantasy positions. He definitely is so far ahead of the 2nd player at any position.

Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck are rated closely together before a reasonable drop off to the rest, there are 8 running backs and 7 wide receivers within 20 points at the top of both tiers. Gronkowski is projected almost 50 points more than Jimmy Graham and miles ahead of the rest. Of course there is a bigger difference between the top group of running backs and the 24th rated back, but Gronkowski is clearly the biggest difference maker at any position this year. A clear argument could be made for drafting him number 1 overall, let alone top 6.

If you are drafting in the top 6 the biggest issue isn't taking Gronkowski with your first pick, but who makes it back to you for your 2nd and 3rd pick. What are your running back and wide receiver options going to look like? Do you double down and take Rodgers and Luck and get difference makers at another 1 starter position and chase backs and receivers for the rest of the draft?

If you do take Gronkowski early you need to prepare very carefully for how the rest of your draft flows. When do you take your quarterback? Which position can you draft a lot of players later on and hope to get a starter or 2 at?

Jeff Pasquino: I'll vote no. With so much value at the tight end position from Rounds 4 and on, using a first round pick on Gronkowski will set your team too far back. I think the value discrepancy between him and the next 10-12 tight ends is not nearly as large as passing on a true feature tailback in the first half of the first round. The dropoff from RB6 to RB12 and beyond is significant, so I cannot see passing on a Top 6 running back if you have the shot at one.

While I can understand what Andy is saying about the difference between TE1 and TE12, that is not the discussion here. Passing on Gronkowski in Round 1 is not going to force a team to wait all the way for TE12. Top 5 tight ends will still be there for 5-6 rounds, so if you want a Top 5 tight end, you can still take one in the next 4-5 picks for your squad.

To say it another way, if I can take Lacy or Lynch and then take Martellus Bennett in Round 5 or 6, I'd rather have that than Gronkowski and LeSean McCoy or Jeremy Hill as my RB1.

Daniel Simpkins: Like Jeff, I’m typically going to shy away from taking Gronk that early in my drafts. I actually prefer taking one of the top two receiving options or top five running backs. This is because I feel that one of my strengths as a fantasy player is in identifying those late tight ends that have the potential to finish inside the top ten. This year, I love pairing two or three high-upside guys that are going later like Dwayne Allen, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, or Tyler Eifert. That being said, I don’t think taking Gronkowski will be a death knell for your team. As Andy spoke to, he does offer a clear positional advantage at tight end. This is where knowing your strengths and weaknesses of talent identification is important. If you feel confident you can make up the ground by pinpointing breakout runners later in the draft, taking Gronk with a first round pick is a viable strategy.

Chad Parsons: The main point is the opportunity cost of going with a tight end, even the mighty Rob Gronkowski, in the top-half of Round 1. While highly-drafted running backs can bust with the best of them, an owner must take a quality whack or two on the positional pinata in the first two or three rounds. With a top-6 selection, an owner - at worst - is getting a running back like Eddie Lacy, a known starter with limited competition on a quality offense. Passing on running back for a position with one starter (tight end) shifts the focus to the later rounds (plus waiver wire) options between the tight end and running back. Late-round or undrafted tight ends are regularly in the mix for weekly starter consideration with the high-variance already established for the position. At running back, the competition for waiver wire finds with starting upside is fierce. This entire process of scrambling for more contested positions from the waiver wire can begin with a single decision at the draft table to take Rob Gronkowski with an early Round 1 selection.

Stephen Holloway: I guess I'll be the contrarian and say that Gronkowski is worth a top six pick to me in PPR leagues where the tight end can also be used in the flex. He provides a clear advantage at the tight end position and there are abundant middle round wide receivers that I see outperforming their ADP that I don't mind going lighter at the top of the wide receiver position early.

Footballguys projections for Gronkowski are all three points per game higher than the TE2 and almost double the points projected for TE12. This distinct positional advantage combined with the increasing NFL wide receiver depth encourages me to wait until the second or third round to draft my first running back.

Jeff Tefertiller: I will piggyback Stephen. Of the players available in the first round, Gronkowski is the safest and offers your team an extra few points each game. Two things to consider: your league's scoring/lineups could dictate going QB or RB in the 1st AND if you take Gronkowski in the first, it is difficult to take a quarterback before the seventh or eight because you will be fighting to catch up at RB and WR. With so many viable QBs, this should not be a big deal.

Jason Wood: The question wasn't whether WE would take Gronkowski in our personal drafts, but whether he was WORTH a top-6 pick. OF COURSE HE IS. Honestly, I shudder to think how anyone can argue against Gronkowski's value this year. With Jimmy Graham going to an offense that will throw 150-200 fewer times than New Orleans, and Travis Kelce also being in a conservative offense, there is a CHASM between Gronkowski's value and anyone else at his position.

By way of reference, compare the top players at each position (using my projections, available to subscribers):

  • QB1 -- Andrew Luck -- 19 points ahead of QB2, 129 points ahead of QB12
  • RB1 -- Le'Veon Bell -- 54 points ahead of RB2, 172 points ahead of RB24
  • WR1 -- Antonio Brown -- 15 points ahead of WR2, 134 points ahead of WR30
  • TE1 -- Rob Gronkowski -- 60 points ahead of TE2, 130 points ahead of TE12

There's no question Gronkowski gives you the most value of any player not named Le'Veon Bell. He projects to be nearly 4 points per game better than the #2 at his position. No other player comes close to that (other than Bell). The notion that you set yourself back by drafting Gronkowski in the first round is a mathematical fallacy.

Clayton Gray: My biggest reason for taking Gronkowski early is that he is clearly the top tight end. If he's generally healthy, it would be an absolute shock if another tight end has a better fantasy season.

You can't say that about any other player.

Le'Veon Bell is awesome. So is Adrian Peterson. So is Jamaal Charles. If all three are healthy, seeing any of them finish as the top running back would be perfectly reasonable. Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte could easily be the RB1 as well. In all honesty, neither Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Anderson would be a shock either.

The landscape is just as cluttered at wide receiver. While Antonio Brown leads the field, Odell Beckham, Jr., Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, and Calvin Johnson are perfectly capable of taking that top spot. Even Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and A.J. Green have the talent and opportunity to be the WR1.

At tight end, we have Gronkowski and a bunch of guys who can't begin to match his combination of talent and offensive role. As Woodrow illustrated, despite how your roster may look at a glance, having Gronkowski puts you way ahead of the field. That's exactly what you should hope for with your early draft picks.