The Gronk Effect: The Value at Tight End

By JJ Buck
JJ Buck Having the best player and a decided advantage at one position is a good feeling heading into a fantasy football weekend. Two of the last three years, I drafted Rob Gronkowski. I was all in on winning that position, plus the upside the best tight end in the game brings with Tom Brady. Last year Gronk was gone, so my strategy turned to Jordan Reed in the third round. The Washington target had a respectable season; 102.60 total points in standard scoring and 168.60 in PPR leagues.

The issue with Reed, he hasn’t brought the return Gronkowski has, to draft him in the third round. According to Fantasy Pros 2017 ADP results, Reed is being selected on average in the third round (36) behind Gronk, Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce. Over the last four years, Reed has played in nine, 11, 12 and 14 games. He has all the ability and a quarterback that will feed him the ball, but chasing Gronk like numbers early is not worth it.
Only three tight ends produced 200-plus fantasy football points in PPR formats last season. In past seasons if you waited too long, you were left with roller coaster rides at the position. Heading into the 2017 season, there is a lot of value at the position. Are we still buying Gronk as the number one TE?

Tier Gronk

The answer is yes. Even coming off his third back surgery, I will go for one last ride with Gronkowski. Best case, you’re able to grab him at the turn or mid-to-late second round after you’ve selected a stud in the first. While 2011 Gronk – 90 receptions, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns – is gone, a double-digit TD fantasy football campaign with over 1,000 yards is a lock if he’s healthy. Five of his seven seasons with Tom Brady have produced double-digit TD’s. Until Brady’s arm falls off and Gronk is in a wheelchair, it’s ‘Yo soy fiesta’.
2017 ADP - 19

Best Bets

These fantasy football targets provide stability and game winning weekends.

Greg Olsen (CAR) – The Panthers TE was targeted 129 times last season. He finished third in PPR scoring (207.30), with 80 receptions for 1,730 yards. Carolina added Christian McCaffrey and the first round pick will be a much needed target underneath for Cam Newton, but he won’t forget about his go-to guy. Olsen might see a few less targets, but his TD numbers should rebound after only scoring three times last year. His career high was eight in 2009. Triple-digit target potential with an uptick in TD’s, he’s as reliable as they come.
2017 ADP – 40

Travis Kelce (KC) – With Alex Smith at the helm, touchdowns are not the thing you’ll be banking on with Kelce. What you get is Smith’s top target (117 targets – 85 rec.) who is coming off the top-scoring PPR season 223 points according to Fantasy Data.
2017 ADP – 39

Jimmy Graham (SEA) – The 30-year-old finally found his rhythm in Seattle. Playing in 16 games he caught 65 of his 95 targets. He led the Seahawks with 17 red zone targets, catching five of his six TD’s in the RZ. Until Eddy Lacy can maintain his offseason weight in season, expect the same RZ usage for Graham.
ADP – 67

Jordan Reed (WAS) – It’s easy to feel bitter when your burned by a player, but injuries happen. Reed is as talented as anyone at the TE position and while I might be off him, it would be hard to pass him up in the fourth round.
ADP – 36

Solid not Sexy

Potential top-five finishers. Questions equal value.

Zach Ertz (PHI) – Philadelphia invested in their offense, grabbing weapons for second year quarterback Carson Wentz. Will the wide receiver additions push his value down? His 78 receptions last season saved him in fantasy football PPR as he did not score a touchdown in the final seven games of the season. A Wentz sophomore slump could be avoided with this safety valve.
ADP – 108

Hunter Henry (L.A. Chargers) – The second-year player from Arkansas will only see his targets go up. Weeks 10-13 last year showcased what a season’s worth of targets could produce; he caught 18 passes (24 targets) for 290 yards (72.5 y/g) and three touchdowns. Antonio Gates is still a comfort blanket for Philip Rivers – 93 targets in 2016 – yet Henry still caught eight TD’s on the season.
ADP – 107

Kyle Rudolph (MIN) – Sam Bradford force fed this man the football last year. It turned into 83 rec., 840 yards and seven touchdowns. Whatever you might think of Bradford in real life, forget it when thinking about Rudolph. I expect his career high reception total to drop, but I’m buying the touchdowns. He was targeted 24 times in the red zone with 10 of those being inside the 10-yard line. Only Jordy Nelson (29) saw more RZ targets.
ADP – 84

Tyler Eifert (CIN) – The 26-year-old is primed for a top-flight season if he can stay healthy. A notch below Jordan Reed in risk vs. reward, he’s played in 15, one, 13 and eight games in his four seasons.
ADP – 76

Martellus Bennett (GB) – Aaron Rodgers, that sums up his value. A look at Jared Cook’s playoff performances against Atlanta and Dallas (7-78-1 TD, 6-103-1 TD) shows what can happen when Rodgers clicks with one of his guys. Nelson is still the top red zone target in Green Bay. Last year’s run with Tom Brady should mimic his role with the Packers which produced 168.10 fantasy football points in PPR leagues.
ADP – 92

Honorable Mention

Cameron Brate (TB) – A top-10 finisher at the position last year, Brate could easily slide into the list behind Bennett. However, I don’t expect eight touchdowns. If he remains the number one tight end in Tampa, that’s all you need for value.
ADP – 151

Dennis Pitta (BAL) – The fact Pitta overcome that nasty hip injury and is still playing football is amazing. He could end up being a steal as Joe Flacco’s number one target. He put up 82-729-2 on 119 targets last year. With the revolving door at WR, betting on an uptick in touchdowns could payoff.

Long Term Investments

Evan Engram (NYG) – Larry Donnell and Will Tye are not road blocks for Engram, who was one of three tight ends selected in the first round this year. How the Giants plan to deploy the 6-foot-3, 234-pound Ole Miss product will be key; do they split him wide often or will he need to anchor the edge and be a blocker?
ADP – 171

David Njoku (CLE) – Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was all in after rookie mini-camp saying, “To be as big as he is over there with his crazy muscles and being 6-foot-5 and jumping and catching it one-handed, it definitely makes for an easy target to throw.” A team desperate for playmakers needs to find time for Njoku on the field.
ADP – 169

O.J. Howard (TB) – The 19th overall pick slides into an offense that was tight end friendly last year. Cameron Brate tied Henry with eight touchdowns, leading all tight ends last season. Mike Evans and the addition of DeSean Jackson gives Jameis Winston plenty of options. Howard’s time might come later, but make sure he’s on your watch list.
ADP – 112

As with any player, keeping an eye on camp reports as we head towards draft season. A first team role or injury could slide a rookie up the board.

Bye Week Fillers

We’ve gone this far and haven’t mentioned Jason Witten. Dak Prescott gave him the eight most targets of any TE last year, 95, and he averaged 42 yards-a-game scoring three times. That’s production you leave for Cowboy fans. Julius Thomas, Eric Ebron, Coby Fleener, the list goes on. These are the guys you leave on the wire and see what plays out.