2018 was a particularly frustrating year to own Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in fantasy football. The coup de grâce was the goose egg he put up in Week 16 on championship weekend (not to mention his underwhelming 4.1-point performance in the semis).
Coming off a down year at a position with so few stars, where will Gronkowski go in 2019 fantasy drafts?
Gronkowski has been the consensus No. 1 TE in terms of ADP for years now and he held that spot once again coming into 2018. His overall ADP average was No. 21, typically going anywhere between picks 18-23 in the second round. The first-TE-off-the-board spot at the end of Round 2 will likely be occupied by Travis Kelce in 2019, but how far will Gronk drop? To figure that out, we first need to see where he’ll rank among his peers.
Through 16 weeks, Gronkowski was the No. 7 TE in fantasy on a points per game basis (No. 10 in total points). Working backwards from 2017 to 2012, Gronk finished as the No. 1, No. 6, No. 2, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1 TE on a points per game basis. Aside from his 8-game 2016 season, fantasy owners knew they were drafting a surefire top-2 player at a position that has become increasingly difficult to fill.
You can look at that information two different ways. The first is that this season is an anomaly and he’ll return to elite status in 2019. The other way — the one I’d argue is the more realistic approach — is that this is the second time in three seasons Gronk has finished outside the top-5 TEs and this could be the end to his reign as the king of the position.
Looking at 2016 as the closest comparison to this season, you’d see one significant difference: he averaged 1.5 more points per game that season than this one. That may not seem like a ton, but one short catch per game adds up over time — anyone who had him and lost their fantasy championship by fewer than 2 points can agree.
The other concern is off the field and health. Those retirement rumors weren’t just rumors, he was seriously considering it. Gronkowski has been beaten to shreds in his nine-year career. He was injured in college too, so the last dozen years of his life have been filled with a lot of physical pain. That would wear on anyone, especially someone who will turn 30 this offseason and has made a significant amount of money in his career. No, I don’t think Gronk is retiring this offseason, but if you told me he didn’t play past 2020 I wouldn’t be remotely shocked.
TD Fantasy will spend the entire offseason gathering information for our pre-draft rankings, but let’s take a quick glance at the TEs fantasy owners would consider taking over Gronkowski in 2019 drafts:
Travis Kelce: I suspect no arguments here. Kelce is No. 1 in total points and average points and is playing in an offense that looks like it’s going to be prolific for some time.
Zach Ertz: Same here. Ertz is No. 2 in total points and average points and had more catches this season than any TE in NFL history.
The Young Ones
George Kittle: Kittle will take over the spot Ertz used to have — the consensus No. 3 choice that’s drafted a full round later than the premier options.
O.J. Howard: Injuries will certainly factor into his draft position, but Howard really played well in his 10 games this season. He averaged 12.1 fantasy points per game, good for No. 6 among all TEs and 1.5 points per game more than Gronk.
Evan Engram: Like Howard and Gronk, injuries matter here too. Engram lost some of his luster after a slow start to the year, but has gained it back as the season came to a close (particularly with Odell Beckham Jr. injured). He averaged just 0.14 points per game less than Gronk this season.
Eric Ebron: How repeatable is his touchdown performance from this season? There’s no doubt about his talent and first-round pedigree, but drops have always been a major issue for him. It hasn’t been as huge of a problem for him this season as he finished as the No. 4 TE in total and average points, but he’ll still be a risky option in 2019 with Jack Doyle still in the picture in Indianapolis.
Jared Cook: A rollercoaster of a start to the season smoothed out a bit down the stretch, but there are a lot of questions about the player who finished as the No. 5 TE going into next season. The obvious one is figuring out where in the world this performance came from since it does not fall in line with the rest of his career. The second is what team he’ll be playing on since he’s a UFA. Plenty of uncertainty here.
From my standpoint, I can’t draft Ebron or Cook over Gronkowski next season. All three players have major question marks around them and Gronk has a much longer history of success behind him. I also can’t make a compelling case to take Gronk over Kelce, Ertz or Kittle who are much safer options with just as much upside. So where does that leave us?
I believe Gronkowski will be drafted as TE4 based on reputation, but is fair game anywhere in the 4-6 range at the position. He’s right in the same tier as Howard and Engram. That means Gronk should be valued as a fifth-round pick, but I suspect he will be taken higher because of name value.
Kelce, Ertz and Kittle will be off the board in rounds 2 and 3, so Gronkoswki will be in play by round 4. It’s a far cry from when there was first-round buzz around him, but remember you’re not drafting for past performance. You’re drafting for the here and now.