Fantasy Football: Rob Gronkowski is a First Round Pick?

“New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a sure fire first round pick” is something you will hear for the next 4-5 months. Just because so many analysts say it, does that mean it’s absolutely true? One of the most useful things any fantasy analyst can do during the off-season is to challenge the conventional thinking for the upcoming season. After doing some research, I will not be taking Rob Gronkowski any earlier than picks 15-20.


Here’s some food for thought as we start this challenge. In his six year career, Gronk has gone over 1,000 yards receiving three of six seasons. In addition, he has only eclipsed 1,200 yards once. Durability is also of some concern. Of a possible 96 games, Gronkowski has played in 80. That means he has missed one full season of games. Among non QB’s his three best seasons have produced finishes of 6th, 19th and 15th in standard scoring. PPR scoring doesn’t see much of a shift, resulting in finishes of 6th, 17th and 15th. Again, this is a player that some are suggesting as an option after the top three WR in 2016.


I decided to go back and use ADP data from the 2015 fantasy football draft, and the results were quite fascinating. The following chart illustrates just how much difference one pick can make at the top of the draft.

Antonio Brown Standard246.2 PPR388.2   Pick 5          Rob Gronkowski Standard183.6 PPR255.6
Calvin Johnson  173.4  261.4    Pick 15       Calvin Johnson  173.4  261.4
Lamar Miller  184.9 231.9 Pick      25           Lamar Miller 184.9 231.9
Emmanuel Sanders 148.4 224.4    Pick 35       Emmanuel Sanders 148.4  224.4
Jonathan Stewart  146.8 162.8    Pick 45         Jonathan Stewart 146.8 162.8
Totals 899.7 1,268.7 Totals 837.1 1,136.1
Difference +62.6 +132.6
Per Game(13 Game Schedule) +4.8 +10.2

Granted, this chart was a long way of stating that Brown was the better pick than Gronkowski if you picked the same team after round one. Given that train of thought, let’s move to another simulation that puts different players on each team after round one. In the effort of being as fair as possible, each roster has three WRs, 1 RB and 1 TE.

Antonio Brown  Standard246.2 PPR388.2 Pick 5 Rob Gronkowski Standard183.6 PPR255.6
Demaryius Thomas  162.4 267.4 Pick 15 Calvin Johnson 173.4 261.4
Lamar Miller 184.9 231.9 Pick 25 Mike Evans 136.6  210.8
Jordan Matthews  145.7 230.7 Pick 35 Jonathan Stewart 146.8 162.8
Travis Kelce 117.5 189.5 Pick 45 Amari Cooper 140.7 212.7
Totals 856.7 1,307.7 Totals 781.1 1,103.3
Difference +75.6 +204.4
Per Game +5.8 +15.7

This exercise could be picked apart. People could accuse me of stacking the deck against Gronkowski to make my point. However, this is using ADP data and I also used Matthews and Kelce who were solid, but unspectacular. Also, we’re not talking about one or two points across the season. It’s a ton of points given up if you pick the Gronkowski side of the above chart.


Now, I can hear comments already. Antonio Brown will not be there at the number five pick in 2015. I absolutely agree. So, for this exercise, let’s assume Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones OR Odell Beckham are off the board the first four picks. This is an effort to reflect how the RB position may be valued after all the injuries in 2015. The fifth pick can be either Jones or Beckham. Assuming the other four rounds stay the same, here’s the number breakdown for Jones and Beckham.



Julio Jones Standard239.1 PPR369.1 Pick 5 Rob Gronkowski Standard183.6 PPR255.6
Totals 849.6 1,288.6 Totals 781.1 1,103.3
Difference +68.5 +185.3
Per Game +5.2 +14.2
Odell Beckham 223.3 319.3 Pick 5 Rob Gronkowski 183.6 255.6
Totals 833.8 1,238.8 Totals 781.1 1,103.3
Difference +52.7 +135.5
Per Game +4.0 +10.4

It bears repeating: the gap is not just a couple points. These differences can mean wins or losses throughout the season and in the playoffs.


Maybe you’re now thinking that pick number five is too high for Gronkowski, but he’s a perfectly good back end of round one choice. Now most fantasy players would agree that Bengals WR A.J. Green is a second round pick. So I took a consensus second round pick, and compiled data for 2015 and the best two seasons he and Gronkowski has had.

A.J. Green 2015 Receptions-86 Yards-1,297 TDs-10
2012 Receptions-97 Yards-1,350 TDs-11
2013 Receptions-98 Yards-1,426 TDs-11
Rob Gronkowski 2015 Receptions-72 Yards-1,176 TDs-11
2014 Receptions-82 Yards-1,124 TDs-12
2011 Receptions-90 Yards-1,327 TDs-17

Gronkowski has only beat out the production Green would give you once in six years. It has also been four years since that happened. Do you want to spend your first round pick hoping production happens again for the first time since 2011?


Here’s the elephant in the room. I haven’t compared Gronkowski to any RB at the 5th pick. In 2015, there were only six RBs that finished ahead of Gronk in standard scoring. That number drops to two if you play PPR. In the 2014 season, nine RBs scored more in standard. Six outscored Gronk in PPR. Any running back is a bit of a gamble to pick ahead of Gronkowski, but it is definitely possible.


SO we’ll assume that you got burned last season by the RB position and don’t want to take one even towards the end of round one. You can still safely take a WR ahead of Gronk and score more points. In 2015 we saw eight WR outscore Gronk is standard; 12 in PPR. The 2014 season saw nine score more in standard and 11 WRs scored more in PPR.


This piece is in no way a slight on the player Rob Gronkowski is, fantasy or otherwise. He is one of the most unique weapons in the NFL, and may wind up being the best TE we’ve ever seen by the time he retires. Gronkowski has helped change the way TE is viewed in football. When you break down the numbers you can start to see why he is not the best option as a first round pick. He has only returned first round value one season out of six. Hopefully, smart owners will keep this in mind on draft day and not fall into the trap of over-drafting Gronkowski.


All stats were compiled from:


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