For weeks, we heard that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski might need back surgery. Then, on May 29th, it became official: Gronkowski will go under the knife in mid-to-late June, and could be out a minimum of twelve weeks. That leaves Gronkowski's availability in question for the start of the NFL season. As a fantasy owner, what is the appropriate way to react to this news?
First, you need to determine the fantasy value of a perfectly healthy Gronkowski. Prior to today's news, David Dodds had projected Gronkowski to record 70 catches for 938 yards and 9 touchdowns... but in only 14 games. This means Dodds had projected the Patriots star to average 10.6 FP/G in standard leagues, 15.6 FP/G in leagues that award one point per reception, and 18.1 FP/G in leagues like the FFPC that give tight ends 1.5 points per reception.
But those numbers aren't useful in a vacuum: the proper way to value a player isn't to look at the number of fantasy points he scores. Instead, the concept of VBD tells us that a player's fantasy value is a function of how many fantasy points he scores relative to the other players at his position. I like to use a VBD baseline equal to that of a replacement player at the position, and "average backup" is a good proxy for that. In a 12-team league that starts one tight end with no flex option, that would be TE18. In standard leagues, TE18 on a points per game basis is Brandon Myers, the ex-Raiders tight end now with the Giants. Footballguys projects Myers to average 5.4 FP/G in standard leagues and and 8.9 FP/G in PPR leagues. In 1.5 PPR leagues, Martellus Bennett comes in at TE18 in our projections, with an average of 10.6 FP/G.
So how does that help us value Gronkowski? When healthy, we now know that Gronkowski will provide 5.2 more fantasy points per game than a replacement tight end in standard leagues (10.6-5.4), 6.7 more FP/G in PPR leagues (15.6-8.9), and 7.5 additional FP/G in 1.5PPR leagues (18.1-10.5). This equates to a VBD value of 83 points, 107 points, and 120 points if Gronkowski played in all sixteen games.
Suppose that by the time you draft, you know that Gronkowski is going to miss four games. If that's the case, the key is to value him by the number of points of VBD he will be projected to provide, and not his number of projected fantasy points. The table below shows how many points of VBD Gronkowski is worth in 0PPR, 1PPR, and 1.5PPR leagues based on the number of games he plays. The three columns on the right display how many adjusted fantasy points Gronkowski will be worth, defined as the number of fantasy points Gronkowski is projected to score when healthy plus the number of points a replacement level tight end will score in the weeks Gronkowski will be out.
|G||VBD||VBD||VBD||Adj. FP||Adj. FP||Adj. FP|
Let me walk you through an example by focusing on the "12-game" row. In PPR leagues, Footballguys has projected Gronkowski to average 15.6 fantasy points per game while the replacement-level tight end is at 8.9 FP/G. If you draft Gronkowski, you'll start a replacement-level tight end for four games (worth 0 points above replacement) and Gronkowski for 12 games (worth 80 points above replacement). Therefore, the cell in the "1PPR" column in the "12" game row says Gronkowski is worth 80 points. This is equivalent to saying that Gronkowski will produce 222 fantasy points, which is why that's how many Adjusted Fantasy Points he has in the 12 game/1PPR cell on the right. How do you get to that number? When Gronkowski is out, you will start your replacement-level tight end, who will score a little under 36 fantasy points in four games; meanwhile, once he's back, Gronkowski will score just under 187 points in 12 games. Therefore, you should really treat Gronkowski as a tight end who will score 222 points in the season, because that's the full-season projection for a tight end with 80 points of VBD.
As we get closer to the season, you can use this chart -- or, at least, the principles behind it -- to determine how to properly value Gronkowski. Even if Gronkowski is projected to miss four games, he would still be rank as the #2 tight end in standard leagues (we have Aaron Hernandez at #2 in standard leagues, projected to score 141 fantasy points if Hernandez plays in all 16 games; of course, his numbers might go up when Gronkowski is out). In PPR leagues, Jason Witten is our #2 tight end; 13 games of Gronkowski would be nearly as valuable (229 adjusted fantasy points) as 16 games of Witten (232 points if fully healthy). In 1.5 PPR leagues, Gronkowski loses ground on Witten (we project theCowboys star to lead all tight ends in receptions) but we still have Gronkowski ahead of Hernandez if he misses just three games.
The takeaway should be to not overreact to the news regarding the surgery. Let's go to the extreme: even if Gronkowski missed 10 games, in PPR leagues, that would still give him 182 adjusted fantasy points. That's one point more than we project for Dennis Pitta, Footballguys' #5 tight end in PPR leagues, to score over a fully healthy sixteen games. In other words, don't forget that Gronkowski is still an extremely valuable fantasy player even if he misses some time. On a VBD basis, he'll be a monster ever week he plays.
There are two other things to keep in mind. These projections assume Gronkowski is healthy once he returns, which is not necessarily a fair assumption. He would still be an injury risk, and to the extent he'd be more of an injury risk than your average tight end, you might want to bump his numbers down a bit. Remember, missing the first four games of the season does not mean Gronkowski will play in 12 games.
But there's another factor that's even more important to remember. At the end of the day, the first few weeks of the fantasy season are the least important weeks. If you're a Footballguys subscriber, you will have the tools in place to be a championship contender in your league. If that's the case, having a healthy Gronkowski for your playoff run would be a huge boost to any fantasy team. To the extent that Gronkowski is undervalued because he's going to miss a few games, keep in mind that not only can you start a decent player while he's hurt, but you will likely have a fantasy star on your roster during the most important weeks of the fantasy season.