Despite years of dominance, Gronk is set to disappoint
It’s a painful thing to say. It’s hard to admit.
But I don’t want tight end Rob Gronkowski on any of my fantasy rosters.
In years past it was a decision of ADP. Do I spend a first or second-round pick for Gronk? More often than not he lived up to that price tag, dominating the league as one of the greatest to ever spike a football.
Ironically, his ADP is now multiple rounds later as the 89th player off the board according to FantasyPros.com. That’s good for the 11th tight end off the board, and if you are drafting for name value that’s an incredible value.
Unfortunately, that’s all Gronk is at this point for fantasy purposes. A name.
So, what’s changed? The last time we saw Gronk on the field was as the centerpiece of the 2018 New England Patriots team. He was the TE11 in 13 games, averaging just over eight fantasy points-per-game.
His 47 receptions for 682 yards and three touchdowns don’t even truly convey how lost Gronk was on the field. He was a shell of himself, moving sluggishly like a man who had one too many surgeries. Gronk had never had a season with less than 50 receptions, 700 yards or eight touchdowns before his 2018 performance since his rookie campaign, excluding seasons where he played eight games or less.
It was such a visibly different year for the star tight end that he abruptly retired in March of 2019 after their less-than-memorable 13-3 Super Bowl victory over the Los Angeles Rams. The injuries had taken a toll on the then 29-year-old tight end and he had enough.
Now, with a year removed from that 2018 campaign, fantasy owners are seemingly content to forget that awful year. But just because we love Gronk doesn’t mean we can afford to misremember what he was. He was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Patriots offense but finished third in targets behind running back James White and slot wide receiver Julian Edelman. Head coach Bill Belichick had to tailor the offense around White simply because Gronk couldn’t dominate the seam like he used to. He could block, but Gronk wasn’t the force he used to be. In the system where Gronk had thrived for years, he faltered.
So Gronk finds himself a new system in Tampa Bay, paired with his old buddy and all-time great quarterback Tom Brady. Let bygones be bygones, right?
Nope. Just because Bruce Arians is a terrific coach capable of leading the best passing offenses in recent history doesn’t mean that Gronk is the beneficiary of that. Arians has never utilized the tight end position. In 2015, Arian’s starting tight end was Darren Fells, who finished as the TE34. He split reps with Jermaine Gresham who finished as the TE44. In 2016, Arian’s starting tight end was Gresham who still split time with Fells, finishing as the TE32 and TE52 respectively. In 2017, Arian’s starting tight end was Gresham who split time with Troy Niklas. They finished as the TE30 and TE60, respectively. Arians simply does not use the tight end position.
One can argue that those talents are all inferior compared to Gronk. So fast forward to 2019 (Arians didn’t coach in 2018) when the fantasy community was drooling over what 2017 first-round pick O.J. Howard could be after an impressive rookie campaign. Experts warned people of Arians’ past with tight ends but reasoned that maybe the talent of Howard could outweigh the scheme. Howard was drafted as the TE4 according to Fantasy Football Calculator, and bombed fantasy rosters, finishing as the TE29 while splitting reps with tight end Cameron Brate who finished as the TE24.
See the pattern?
Now Gronk joins that same tight end room that still has Howard and Brate. Brady regressed last year and doesn’t look the same as his 2018 Pro Bowl form. Still good, mind you, but not to the standard we came to expect over his career. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will receive the majority of the work while Arians’ loves to script in running backs in the passing game, maybe rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who was added to the COVID list on Monday, or Ronald Jones if he improves his pass protection.
So, the fantasy community is expecting Gronk to be better than his 2018 finish despite being a year removed from football in a scheme that doesn’t utilize the tight end with a slowly regressing Brady as the third or fourth option in the passing game while splitting time with Howard and Brate. It won’t happen.
Gronk will score some touchdowns as a trusted target for Brady, but he simply won’t see the volume in a predictable way so that he can help fantasy owners this fall, certainly not for an eighth or ninth round price due to his name. He will help the Buccaneers far more than he will fantasy rosters this season. I currently have him ranked as my TE15. Let someone else buy the name, and take a later shot on Mike Gesicki, Noah Fant or Hayden Hurst, all of which are being drafted behind the inevitable Hall of Fame tight end.