Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham weren't just valuable because they were leaps and bounds better than the rest of the TEs. They were legitimate top-20 fantasy players, possibly even better depending on your leagues.
Subtract the elite QBs and both Gronkowski and Graham become top-10 options. That's basically unheard of for a TE, outside of Antonio Gates occasionally going nuts when he's healthy. So what do you do with these players in 2012? Can they possibly repeat their success from a year ago? Could they somehow even get better?
ROB GRONKOWSKI (16 games played)
90 receptions, 1,327 yards, 17 TDs (124 targets)
JIMMY GRAHAM (16 games played)
99 receptions, 1,310 yards, 11 TDs, (149 targets)
By the end of the 2011 season, it seemed like each of these players was breaking some sort of TE record every game. So there's no way they can top those performances, right?
How about we start with where we will draft these players.
In FFPC formats (1.5 points-per-reception for TEs) I wouldn't blink if you took one of them first overall.
In standard (non-PPR) leagues, there will be more of an emphasis on RBs and QBs. Drafting Graham or Gronkowski any time from Round 2 onward seems about right.
PPR leagues get a bit trickier. You can have a very interesting conversation about taking one of the elite TEs versus taking Calvin Johnson.
Don't worry, Megatron will be drafted first so you shouldn't encounter this choice. Put it this way: Once the Big Three RBs (Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy), Calvin Johnson and the Big Two QBs (Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady) are off of the board, I'm considering taking one of the two TEs.
Why would I take a TE so high? Because of ceilings and floors. What I mean by that is what is the worst-case scenario (without getting injured) for Graham and Gronkowski? Something like 75 receptions, 1,000 yards and six TDs? So what if the ceiling is what they did last season.
But what if the ceiling is even higher? For Gronkowski, it really can't be. The addition of Brandon Lloyd and the improvement of the running game should figure to rob Gronkowski (is that a pun?) of a few targets, yards and TDs. For Gronkowksi, 2011 should be as good as it gets unless other Patriots skill-position players, not named Tom Brady, get injured.
What about Jimmy? Sadly, we're talking talking about a "What About Bob?" sequel. But Jimmy Graham? Lets not forget something about him.
Dude only played one year of college football and is entering his third year in the NFL. He can get better. The Saints never made a real move to replace Robert Meachem when he left, meaning there might be some more targets to go around.
Do I think Jimmy Graham can top what Gronkowski did last season? Nope. But I think that he could improve on all of his individual numbers. If Graham leads the Saints in receptions, he could easily end up being more valuable than Gronkowksi in PPR leagues.
So in PPR leagues, I'm taking Graham ahead of Gronkowski. But in standard leagues where TDs and yardage weigh more heavily, I'm taking Gronkowksi ahead of Graham.
Could taking a TE so early come back to bite you. Of course it could, if they get injured. But that risk exists with EVERY football player. So you can't think about it that way. If you're first- or second-round pick suffers a serious injury, you're in trouble no matter what position they play.
I'm going for Gronkowski and Graham early. If I don't get one of them, I'm waiting at TE. Probably until I fill out the rest of my lineup, unless Antonio Gates, Aaron Hernandez or Jason Witten fall to me later than they should.
How early are you willing to draft Graham or Gronkowski? If you've got an opinion or question, please use the comments. Thanks for reading and good luck this season.
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