Everybody loves Rob Gronkowski. Fantasy football enthusiasts especially love him because of the guarantee he brings. Sure-fire TE1 fantasy production while regularly outscoring the other players at his position. Money. In. The. Bank.
Rob Gronkowski was born to dominate the tight end position. He is a size-speed freak with great after-the-catch ability due to his exceptional 108.1 Height Adjusted Speed Score, above average 11.65 Burst Score, tremendous strength, and a devil-may-care attitude about putting his body in precarious positions on the football field. Like an unwitting Gulliver confused by the miniature defenders who want to take him down, Gronkowski is the lovable giant of the NFL. Fantasy gamers specifically love Gronkowski, because he is currently healthy and is easily the best player at his position. Unsurprisingly, his cost in fantasy drafts has marched all the way into the top-10 players off the board. To acquire him, it will require a first round draft pick since his current ADP per myfantasyleague.com is 7.2.
No one questions his game changing abilities. The sole question is whether or not “Gronk” is worth his price tag. After evaluating the risks associated with selecting any tight end in the first round, even a beast like Gronkowski, I have concluded that the cost is too high. Of course, a majority of the fantasy community disagrees.
The Opportunity Cost is Real
The prevalent argument from the pro-Gronk drafting community is as follows: “By selecting him in the first round, you immediately have an advantage over your league mates because of the giant gap in projected points between Rob Gronkowski and the next best TE. Not only does he offer the guarantee of a weekly high floor but also the highest ceiling of any other tight end.”
The argument above is predicated on some assumptions while containing multiple inaccuracies. By selecting Rob Gronkowski with a first round pick, you are actually giving your league mates an immediate advantage over your team. With the exception of leagues with scoring systems specifically designed to benefit the position (such as 1.5 PPR for TEs), the tight end is not a premium position in fantasy football. The best TEs produce far fewer fantasy points per game than the top tier running backs and wide receivers.
Selecting Rob Gronkowski in the first round will have opportunity cost repercussions later in the draft. His owners have passed up a chance at rostering a high floor, elite running back or missed out on a top-tier wide receiver. Most leagues require owners to only start one tight end, which presents fantasy gamers with a dilemma the moment they select Rob Gronkowski using early-round draft capital. Select a running back at the expense of the best available receiver or vice versa? Meanwhile, their competition is happily stocking up on top-tier options at positions that have multiple starters per week leaving the Gronk owner with lesser options at the critical WR1 and RB1 slots. Selecting Gronkowski in the first round condemns his owner to a draft replete with difficult decisions and constant compromises.
Tight End Fragility is a Thing
Rob Gronkowski‘s 19th-overall VOS rating (+5.3 VOS) is excellent, but not quite deserving of a first round acquisition. Gronkowski’s VOS is outside the top-12 players, because tight ends drafted in Rounds 1-12 have endured a 44-percent bust rate over the last two years. This indicates that the tight end position suffers from a similar fragility and uncertainty that plagues the running back position. Therefore selecting any tight end in the first round, even the big Gronkowski, is sub-optimal.
The tight end fragility rate in recent years is terrifying. As a positional cohort, tight ends miss 16.8 percent of their games due to injury. Rob Gronkowski is no stranger to the injured reserve list. Since 2012, Gronk has suffered a fractured forearm, a herniated disk, a torn ACL and MCL. All of which required surgery.
The generic “injury prone” is unfair (every player is just one hit/bad fall away from injury), but he does come with more injury risk than Greg Olsen and Martellus Bennett. Fantasy drafters would find it easier to replace a first-round running back than Gronkowski if he succumbs to injury. Most running backs have clear cut backups and the RB position is easier to replace with players available on most waiver wires.
Doomed by History
From Jimmy Graham to Tony Gonzalez, no tight end with a first round ADP has ever met or exceeded the fantasy point output expectations of his draft position that season. Just as selecting Graham with a first round pick in 2014 was a sub-optimal fantasy draft tactic, selecting Rob Gronkowski with a first pick in 2015 offers less value compared to the running backs and wide receivers with similar average draft positions. Gronkowski’s 1.07 ADP is outrageously expensive, because Gronk (and every NFL tight end) plays with the specter of an inherently high bust risk at a non-premium fantasy position. Fantasy owners are better off targeting Gronk’s best comparable players: Travis Kelce (47.09 ADP) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (127.20 ADP) later in the draft while stockpiling players at the premium running back and wide receiver positions throughout the early rounds.