Rethinking Rob Gronkowski
It has been three weeks since we published Where to Draft Gronkowski? and, unsurprisingly, there have been some developments that have caused me to rethink my Gronk Strategy heading into the final week of fantasy drafts.
First, let's recap what this is all about. Over the last two seasons, Gronkowski has averaged 19.6 fantasy points in PPR formats in 27 games. In 2012, no tight ends and only two WRs (Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall) had a higher average. In the last five years, the #12 TE has averaged 10.1 PPG, while the #6 TE has averaged 12.3 PPG. So a healthy Gronk gives you a 9.5-point average over the "last starter" and a 7.3-point advantage over a middle-of-the-road starting tight end. This weekly advantage is why so much time and energy is spent trying to predict if/when Gronkowski will return during the 2013 season.
You can read the previous reports at the above link, but the momentum for an early-season return seems to be picking up.
On the heels of an Adam Schefter report that it would be a "huge stretch" for Gronk to play Week 1, the Boston Herald quoted a source that said he was "right on schedule" for a return in mid-September.
Schefter's report wasn't all that surprising (or discouraging) as most of the speculation has been about whether Gronkowski would land on PUP, knocking him out of the first six games of the season. No one was really expecting him to return Week 1. Now it sounds like a return for the team's Sep 22 game against the Buccaneers (in Week 3) is a possibility. (The team may look at the the opponents in the first two weeks -- the Bills and the Jets -- and feel that they are "winnable" without Gronkowski, so there's no need to push his timetable up for those contests. The Buccaneers at home in Week 3 may also fall into this category.)
On Sunday, Schefter speculated that Gronk would return "about a month into the season." Here's the full quote:
It’s unrealistic to expect Gronkowski out there in Week 1, Lewis. Then, in Week 2, the Patriots have a short week and a Thursday night game against the Jets. So you have to figure if he does sit out Week 1, he’s likely to sit out Week 2 before getting 10 more days to see if he can go in the third game. The sense is that Gronkowski will be back at some point in the first half of the season -- the question is how soon that will be. One of the biggest roster decisions the Patriots face will be deciding whether to keep Gronkowski on the active roster or to place him on the PUP list, which would automatically sideline him at least the first six games. My guess is that he'll start on the active roster and we'll see him about a month into the season. Just a guess, subject to how he continues recovering.
Additionally, there are positive vibes that we can glean from the recent return of Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul, since he had the same back procedure (by the same doctor) as Gronkowski, only two weeks earlier.
To top it all off, Gronkowski took part in individual drills on Monday per beat writer Field Yates.
Everything seems to be headed in the right direction for an early season return. That means Gronkowski wouldn't go on PUP, but we'll know for sure on Saturday when the team has to make its final decision. If he doesn't go on PUP, then it's a clear indication that the team expects him to be ready to play early in the season.
This has and will continue to be a fluid situation. The Patriots don't like to disclose any injury information, so we're left to read the tea leaves when trying to assess his recovery. Our best guess is that Gronkowski misses the first three games and we're allowing for another 1-2 missed games due to other injuries/minor re-injury in season. We have upgraded our projection to assume that he plays in 11 of his team's 16 games. That makes him the #2 TE in standard formats and puts him somewhere in the early 4th round of 12-team standard scoring leagues in terms of Relative Value.
I would be comfortable using a 4th round pick on Gronkowski and wouldn't dissuade anyone from drafting him in the 3rd round provided they are prepared to accept the consequences if his recovery goes off the rails. Risk-adverse owners should stay in the 4th/5th round range, or avoid him altogether.
Those owners who do draft Gronkowski will want to pick another TE later in the draft to start while he's out. Jared Cook, Owen Daniels, Jordan Cameron, Brandon Myers, Martellus Bennett, Brandon Pettigrew, Fred Davis and Gronk's current replacement, Zach Sudfeld fall into this category. While Davis does have considerable upside, he also has a Week 5 bye (the earliest of this group), so owners may want to go another direction in case Gronk's recovery takes longer than currently expected.
I especially like Cameron since the Browns are likely to lean on him with Josh Gordon sidelined due to a suspension for the first two games. Cook and Sudfeld also have significant upside, while Daniels and Pettigrew offer "boring" production that can be valuable in a situation like this. Myers and Bennett are joining new teams, so their early season involvement is a bit tougher to gauge.
Finally, owners should not panic if they are unable to draft Gronkowski. Our TE plan still starts with Jimmy Graham in the 2nd round. After that, Gronk in the 4th, and Jason Witten/Vernon Davis in the 5th/6th are also good options. In PPR formats Witten is worth a 4th round pick and Davis has a ton of upside, so he's also worth consideration in the late 4th. Tony Gonzalez will offer solid production in the 5th/6th rounds as well. Greg Olsen, Cameron, Cook and Davis are also attractive options in the 9th/10th range.
Owners drafting this weekend should have more clarity by Saturday.