Whenever I’ve had a reason to write about a tight end and his place in our fantasy football circle of
trust honor, I’ve often bowed at the feet of the BIG FIVE. They are gods we worship to no end, unless of course Rob Gronkowski goes Gronking, and ends his evening by pile driving a bro while speeding away from the club on a scooter. And that’s just a Tuesday.
When we draft tight ends, the top tier usually consists of Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Gonzalez, and Jason Witten. And then there’s the rest, with varying degrees of separation at an unpredictable position.
But early in the draft season we’re seeing the continuation of a trend which developed last year, and it’s downright unhealthy. The investment needed to own the two tight ends at the very top of the BIG FIVE is exceedingly steep, and while the return may be glorious, it seems glorious may not quite be good enough.
Apologies for any confusion, as glory is what we’re all aiming for here. But the problem is that glory may only be truly attainable through Graham, and a frequently broken man.
That’s the Gronk, of course, and let’s take a moment to assess his very specific glory. You know that you’re purchasing a fragile package with the Patriots tight end, and for the purposes of this discussion we’re assuming he doesn’t miss any regular-season time, though that remains a strong possibility. And as long as his sideline time is minimal, it’s difficult to care too much. Gronkowski missed five games in 2012, yet in the games when he was on the field he averaged 71.8 receiving yards. That’s seven fantasy points per game from your tight end on his yardage alone, and then Gronkowski added 11 touchdowns.
Oh, but there’s more. On 55 catches, he averaged one touchdown for every five grabs. Yeah, just stupid. He also averaged 2.5 fantasy points per catch. To show how absurd that is, Graham averaged 1.7.
But there’s a problem with pursuing Gronkowski which goes beyond his potentially brittle bones and creaky back. You’re investing highly to beat a market which is stale beyond essentially two players.
Consider what we saw last year in ESPN leagues. Below is the average points per game for the top 10 fantasy tight ends, followed by their average draft position.
|Points per game||Average draft position|
Now, upon looking at that monstrosity there will be two opposing strategies, one common and quite lusty, while another seeks to avoid the lure of Gronkowski and Graham.
First, you could chase the most elite of the very elite production at the position, which pretty much requires drafting Gronkowski. With reduced opportunities in 2012 his average points per game was only down slightly from the behemoth pace he set in 2011 when he finished with 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns (14.7 points per game).
But as overwhelming and astoundingly absurd as Gronkowski’s production is (ditto for Graham, to a lesser extent), are you really achieving the value you’re seeking? This is the part when I remind you that value isn’t rooted in cumulative numbers. No, draft value is tied to how much you’ve invested in a player, and how much you’re getting in return.
In a standard 10-team league, Gronkowski was a late second-round pick last year. Yet of the other names on that top 10 list, six of them were selected in the 13th round and beyond. Sure, on average most of them may have produced about six fewer points per week than Gronkowski, but they were also available over 10 rounds later.
Gronk is good, Gronk is great, and Gronk is God-like (insert health disclaimer…again). But is he 10 rounds good? So far this year during drafts, Gronkowski has slid slightly due to his uncanny ability to break himself, and he’s level with Graham. At Fantasy Pros he has an ADP of 27th, while Graham is just ahead at 24th. Then the tumble begins down to Aaron Hernandez at 46th, nearly two full rounds later, and Jason Witten (67th), Tony Gonzalez (74th), and Vernon Davis (76th) are clustered together. There’s more minimal separation when we look at points per route run, where there was a gap of only 0.08 points between nine tight ends in 2012.
In the end, here’s the decision you’re left with: either pay for the Gronkowski and Graham tax and the separation it provides, or wait 10 rounds or more to join the pack, and roll with production that still meets TE1 criteria most weeks.
I’ll let you buy high on the big boys, while I wait for Scrub X.