Viewed solely as a red-zone threat heading into 2011, Gronkowski surprisingly dominated with 90 receptions, 1,327 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns. Along with Jimmy Graham, Gronkowski shifted the way we perceive tight ends, who now appear equally capable of producing striking stat lines as wide receivers.
As managers begin to prep for their upcoming fantasy football drafts, one of the pressing issues they face will be where to rank Gronkowski. Owners who want Gronkowski this year must pay top dollar.
While the 23-year-old is still a premier player, his numbers will drop from last season, at least enough to justify Graham earning the No.1 ranking at tight end.
Here are some factors that will prevent Gronkowski from shining as a star in fantasy leagues this season.
Tom Brady runs an offense loaded with several viable receiving options who deserve plenty of targets.
New England amended this weakness by acquiring Brandon Lloyd during the offseason. Lloyd produced a remarkable 2010 campaign, catching 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. After a slow start last season, a trade to the St. Louis Rams revitalized Lloyd, who caught 51 balls in 11 games with his new team.
Lloyd could just as easily get lost in the mix and convert into the second version of Deion Branch, but he should play a sizable role in New England’s passing attack.
With all the attention awarded to Gronkowski, Hernandez’s stellar numbers fall under the radar when discussing top tight ends. Hernandez reeled in 79 passes in 14 games and rarely had a game where he did not contribute.
So the Patriots have four elite receiving options and only football. Something has to give.
Despite New England’s talented group of skill players, Gronkowski is undoubtedly the best player in the red zone.
Often drawing mismatches as a tight end who is too fast for linebackers and too strong for most defensive backs, Gronkowski gave Brady a reliable target for easy touchdowns. In single coverage, Gronkowski will usually win a jump ball.
Now that Gronkowski’s name is on the map as one of the league’s elite athletes, defenses should scheme to contain him in the red zone. Look for Gronkowski to draw double-teams as opposing teams make Brady find another receiver.
And look for Brady to find another player with ease, because he’s Tom Brady.
Gronkowski will still earn his share of scores, but his 17 touchdowns might drop to a more reasonable 10-12.
Last season, astute drafters were lucky enough to snag Gronkowski in the middle-to-late rounds. It’s safe to assume that they will fail to do so again this year.
In early drafts on Mock Draft Central, Gronkowski has an average draft position of 26, and that is actually a bargain compared to other rankings. He is touted as the 14th best player overall in ESPN leagues and 17th in Yahoo! formats
To acquire Gronkowski’s services, you will likely need to spend a second-round pick and pass up the likes of Marshawn Lynch and Roddy White. You may earn a leg up on the rest of the league at tight end, but that benefit comes at the cost of another skill position.
In order for Gronkowski to warrant his premium draft price, he must sustain his dominance as the game’s most productive tight end. If he fails to repeat the daunting task of leading the NFL in touchdown receptions, owners will realize they reached for Gronkowski after one spectacular season.
Drafting Gronkowski (or Graham) early in the draft gives you an advantage over the competition at tight end, but is it worth the investment?
While Gronkowski is clearly the position’s first or second most valuable choice, tight end looks deeper than usual this season. In addition to the dependable options (Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez), there are several young players looking to continue the trend of tight ends dominating offensively.
Instead of selecting Gronkowski after his breakout season, search for this year’s Gronkowski.
Brandon Pettigrew is a prime candidate to emerge as an elite fantasy contributor. The 27-year-old caught 83 passes for 777 yards last season with the Detroit Lions, whose offense is developing into a juggernaut akin to the Patriots.
With an average draft position of 112, according to Mock Draft Central, Pettigrew can be obtained in the later rounds while you save your early pick for another player.