Rob Gronkowski Is Your Mid-Round Tight End Target

Poking holes in the narratives surrounding Rob Gronkowski's depressed ADP.

Will "Gronk Smash" in 2020?

If you put your ear to the ground when Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement in April to join Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, you could almost hear the oncoming stampede of fantasy gamers eager to reach for him in drafts.

But then a funny thing happened. We got to July, and Gronkowski typically gets selected outside the top-75 overall picks.

What happened to the hype that should have accompanied Gronkowski to Tampa Bay? Shouldn’t everyone’s favorite football bro, and arguably the best tight end ever to play the game, rejoining the most decorated quarterback in sports history have folks in a frenzy?

It appears the narratives swirling around Gronkowski are too much for early drafters to ignore:

  • He is too old
  • He looked like a shell of himself in 2018
  • Bruce Arians’ scheme ignores tight ends
  • There is too much target competition in Tampa Bay

Does the crowd have it right, or has groupthink swung the pendulum too far in the wrong direction, making a bet on Gronkowski returning to form (or close enough to it) a proposition with minimal risk?


Is He Too Old?

Gronkowski averaged 15.5 fantasy points per game over his career, which is the most of any tight end in NFL history. There have been six tight ends to enter the league since 1997 who averaged at least 10 fantasy points per game and played an age-31 season:

Player
Year
Games
Targets
Recs
ReYds
ReTDs
PPR
PPR Pts
PPR/Gm
Rank
Tony Gonzalez
2007
16
153
99
1172
5
246.2
293.5
15.4
2
2017
16
96
57
520
10
169.0
241.3
10.6
8
2011
13
88
64
778
7
183.8
259.7
14.1
4
2013
16
111
73
851
8
206.1
212.7
12.9
8
2016
16
129
80
1073
3
205.3
205.1
12.8
5
Jeremy Shockey
2011
15
62
37
455
4
106.5
223.6
7.1
24

Takeaways:

  • Elite tight ends, even those with injury histories like Graham and Gates, have remained productive at age-31. In his final season and switching teams, Shockey (who barely qualified at 10.17 career fantasy points per game) was the only one who wasn’t a startable fantasy asset.
  • The Hall of Famer, Gonzalez, averaged 13 fantasy points per game throughout his career, which led all players in the cohort. He also had the most prolific age-31 season. Gronkowski has out-produced Gonzalez by a 16% margin on a per-game basis throughout his career.
  • 2017 was the year the wheels fell completely off for Jimmy Graham. Like Gronkowski, Graham had been worn down by injuries. His yards per target dipped by 36% and his yards per game by nearly 45% from the previous year. But Graham was able to maintain his fantasy value at age-31 by leading all tight ends in red-zone targets. Gronkowski is the one tight end who was Graham’s superior in the red zone. Graham’s 2017 finish (TE8) is something close to Gronkowski’s floor unless he experiences a similar efficiency drop, which (contrary to popular belief) he didn’t show evidence of when we last saw him on the field.

The recent history of aging, elite tight ends shows us Gronkowski is not too old to produce a top-5 fantasy season and is likely to at least return value at his current TE9 ADP.

Has He Lost It?

Our last memories of Gronkowski in 2018 did not include many majestic ‘Gronk Spikes’. You might even recall Rex Ryan saying Gronkowski looked like he was running with a piano on his back following New England’s Week 15 loss to Pittsburgh.

There is no arguing Gronkowski, who put up a career-low three touchdowns and just 52.5 yards per game, looked diminished in 2018. But he also played through back and ankle injuries from Week 3. We’ll never know the specifics around those injuries, but considering focusing on his health was the No. 1 factor in Gronkowski announcing his retirement at age-29, we can conclude they were severe enough to affect his play.

As bad as Gronkowski may have looked in his final season, he quietly maintained much of his past efficiency:

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