Faceoff: Taking an Elite TE
Clayton Gray: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are going extremely early for tight ends. In a standard PPR league, what is the highest draft pick you'll spend on one of them?
Andy Hicks: Despite the outrageous stats posted by Gronkowski and Graham, I just couldn't pull the trigger on these guys before the 3rd. Before last year it was almost unheard of for a Tight End to post a VBD rating in the first round, but here we are with 2 guys this year. I can't help thinking it was an amazing anomaly rather than the future for the Tight End position. I'll let someone else either prove me wrong or be vindicated myself by letting them go.
Jeff Haseley: Considering Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski went 1.02 and 1.03 in our recent Footballguys Staff IDP league, I'd say, if the scoring format is favorable, the first round is definitely not too high. The aforementioned draft uses IOP scoring. For the tight end position, receptions are rewarded 1.5 points and .15 points per 1 yard receiving. Combine that with the ability to start two tight ends in your lineup and the elite automatically yield a distinct advantage. Both Graham and Gronkowski put up numbers equivalent, if not better than, some elite wide receivers last year. Expectations are high again in 2012 for the two stalwarts. If in a regular standard 1 PPR for tight ends, I say treat Gronkowski and Graham like they are wide receivers and draft them when you normally would draft an elite WR. The second round is usually about right in a 12 team re-draft. Getting either of those two in the third round is a bargain.
Jeff Pasquino: These guys offer a great advantage over other teams in mandatory TE leagues - but only if they replicate their 2011 numbers. I can make a case for both of them being less valuable than last year. Mark Ingram could steal touchdowns from Graham. Aaron Hernandez (and Brandon Lloyd) could do the same for Gronkowski. So for me it is hard to go after either of these guys until later in Round 2, especially knowing that Hernandez will probably be there 1-2 rounds later.
Will Grant: It depends on the size of the league and the scoring format. In a standard 12 team league, where tight ends get 1 PPR, I think a mid second is about the most that I'd pay for either of them. That will be much lower than they will probably go, but I'm OK with that. In a 12 team league, I think there is enough depth in the middle TE tier to keep an eye on things and still draft someone who will help your team.
In the league that Jeff mentions, it's a 16 team league with 1.5 PPR. As I mentioned in the other face off, having a stud TE in a 1.5 PPR league is pretty critical, and with 16 teams, taking them near the top of round 1 didn't surprise me. I don't know if I'd take a TE at the #2 or #3 position... but I think that's more of realizing what type of TE value could be left when you are back on the clock at #30 overall. If a mini-run happened at turn, you could be stuck with the #5 or #6 TE. Maybe worse. In a 12 team 1.5 PPR I'd definitely say 1st round and 16 team, I might go as high as #3-#4 overall. Especially with Ryan Matthews hurt now.
Mark Wimer: I've been consistently drafting Graham in the first round of TE-required leagues - as high as the third pick - in either 1pt PPR or 1.5 pt PPR leagues. In the auction format, I've spent up to 16% of my total cap on Graham, and felt I got a bargain on him at less than 20% of cap. When a guy like Graham (who I personally like just a bit better than Gronkowski) breaks a decades-old record for receiving yards at his position (Gronkowski broke it last year, too) you know you are looking at a truly superior player at his position - we just happen to have TWO superior tight ends that have emerged for 2012. Heck, if Aaron Hernandez weren't on the same team as Gronkowski, we might be looking at THREE elite fantasy tight ends - and Hernandez is only limited because he's on the same team as Gronkowski.
Additionally, Graham's teammates have remained very stable from 2011 to 2012, with no new factors involved among the potential starting lineup - and with all the coaching turmoil, it's likely that Drew Brees will have a big role in how the offense runs - and he loves Graham. Oh yeah, and there is no "Aaron Hernandez"-type #2 tight end competing with Graham in New Orleans.
However, in New England, Gronkowski has some "X-factors" in play, including the arrival of Brandon Lloyd at wide receiver and turnover at starting running back (Ridley or Vereen?). Also, Hernandez is an elite athlete himself - if Gronkowski gets dinged up he might become the 1B option in New England this season.
In conclusion, I have no qualms about taking Graham early in the first round of PPR drafts - Gronkowski would still tempt me in the second half of the first round, even given his less-certain prospects for repeating as a top-two fantasy tight end.