Fantasy Football: This Is the Year to Draft Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski's average draft position is hovering at the end of the second round in fantasy drafts this year, presenting a unique investment opportunity in the league's top tight end.

Rob Gronkowski is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history, and you can now draft him in the late second- or early third-round of fantasy football drafts.

That alone should pique your interest.

Gronk has been a perennial first-rounder in his career, and this discount presents an opportunity for extreme value.

This is the year to take Gronk. It’s party time.

A League of His Own

While he missed eight games to injuries in 2016, Gronkowski was completely dominant when he was healthy and on the field, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which indicates expected points added to his team's offensive output.

His Reception NEP per target (on 38 targets) came in at a whopping 1.32 points. Among 39 tight ends with at least 35 targets, that ranked first. New teammate Dwayne Allen was second at 0.95.

While the 1.32 Reception NEP per target is unsustainable, Gronkowski's career rate is 0.96, and his Reception NEP per catch is 1.46. Essentially every time he touches the ball, the New England Patriots' expected scoring goes up by 1.5 points.

Even factoring out the 2016 season as a small-sample outlier, his Reception NEP per target is still a highly impressive 0.93. The lowest mark he’s had in a season has been 0.86 (you know, just 0.01 points lower than Travis Kelce’s rate in 2016), demonstrating that even at his worst Rob Gronkowski is truly elite.

To showcase how dominant Gronk is, I took a look at his seasonal point per game averages in standard leagues over each year of his career and compared them to the point per game leaders at the wide receiver from that season. Here's how he fared:

Rob Gronkowski 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Fantasy Points/Game 7.0 15.1 13.0 11.9 12.3 12.2 9.0
Wide Receiver Rank 32 2 3 10 9 8 15

Just take a look at that table. Even an injured Gronk produced at the level of the WR15 last year, and in each other season beyond his rookie year, he had produced at the level of a WR1.

In fact, if you want to hear something crazy, in the four games during which he was fully healthy Gronk averaged 118.25 yards per game and 0.75 touchdowns, on top of 5.25 targets per game.

The point I am trying to emphasize here is that Gronkowski is essentially a WR1 that you can play in your tight end spot. That was the case for him in years past, and now he's being drafted at a significant discount.

But Shouldn't I Wait to Draft a Tight End?

To win your week in fantasy football, you need to score more points than your opponent. You ideally want each position on your roster to score more points than the corresponding spot on your opponent’s roster.

You’ll rarely outscore your opponent at every position, so you’ll have to gain as much of an advantage at each position you can in order to lock down that win. Playing a WR1 in your tight end slot is one of the ways to ensure that you have a significant advantage over your opponent.

The tight end position is also one of the most volatile positions on a weekly basis.

Besides having the highest injury rate of any position (Gronkowski himself being a perfect example of this), it is also a difficult position to predict on a weekly basis.

Last season from Week 1 to Week 16, there were 60 individual tight ends with at least one top-12 weekly performance. Of those 60 players, 16 only cracked the list once, another 11 only did it twice, and 9 did it three times.

The 12 players with the most appearances on the weekly top 12 tight ends accounted for just 43% of the total top 12 weekly finishes (82 of 192), so a significant portion of the remaining 57% of weekly top 12 finishes came from players you would have had to gamble on.

I mean, were you ever starting Mychal Rivera or Darren Waller?

Player Weekly Top 12 Finishes Points per Game
Travis Kelce 9 8.6
Kyle Rudolph 9 7.9
Hunter Henry 9 6.3
Greg Olsen 9 8
Jimmy Graham 8 7.8
Delanie Walker 7 8.2
Cameron Brate 7 7.6
Zach Ertz 6 7.5
Eric Ebron 6 6.4
Antonio Gates 6 6.8
Tyler Eifert 5 8.7
Martellus Bennett 5 7.1

I’m not trying to argue against drafting a tight end late or streaming them during the season. All I’m saying is that if Gronkowski is healthy, he is a huge advantage for your team and that his current average draft position is a terrific value, unlike in prior seasons.

He has averaged 7.01 targets per game over his career (including his rookie season) and has produced 0.77 touchdowns per game. Touchdowns are the backbone of winning weeks in fantasy, and Gronkowski scores one in three-quarters of his games.

He brings an uncommon stability to a volatile position, and his stable floor is actually closer to a WR1 value than to the value of other tight ends. Even through injury last year he managed to average 9.0 fantasy points per game and finished as a top 12 weekly tight end in 50% of his active games.

In three out of his four total weekly finishes within the top 12, Gronkowski was the TE1; only one other tight end (Jordan Reed) had even two weekly finishes as the TE1.

Gronk's Backstory

The reason for Rob Gronkowski’s fall in ADP is his concerning injury history. Last year, he missed a full eight games and was unhealthy or on limited snaps for another four.

He had to have offseason back surgery, which is doubly concerning, given his history of back injuries.

However, Gronk was quietly a full participant in OTAs, demonstrating that the Patriots are confident in his health already. To reiterate, he’s being discounted in fantasy for an injury that the Patriots aren’t worried about anymore.

Would the Pats let him do this if they were worried about his back?


If you do decide to draft Gronk in the late second round or early third (and you should really consider it), you will need to make up some value lost at other positions. Put another way, if you take him at that spot, you miss out at other strong options at the wide receiver and running back positions.

You have to be prepared and have a plan before you take a leap at tight end that early and really keep an eye on undervalued players in your draft.

Our algorithms project Gronkowski to finish as the top fantasy tight end on the strength of 69 catches 1,014 yards, and 11.3 touchdowns. At his lowest draft cost since 2014, if you ever wanted to take a chance on the Gronkowski edge, this is the year to do it.