New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been an elite fantasy football player since he joined the NFL in 2010. Most notably, in 2011, he became the NFL single-season record holder for receiving touchdowns by a tight end (17).
In turn, his name carries a lot of weight in fantasy drafts.
Regardless that Gronkowski has yet to return to full health and function following his January ACL repair, his current average draft position (ADP) in standard fantasy football leagues is early in the fourth round.
This boom-or-bust player could make the difference between an owner winning or losing her fantasy league. However, the masses are apparently drafting him due to his upside.
There is one question that should be on every owner's mind: does Gronkowski’s upside exceed his risk as a fourth-round draft pick? In other words, is he more likely to boom or to bust?
Historically, he has boomed. From 2010-’12, he led the NFL in standard-scoring fantasy points per opportunity (carries plus pass routes) among tight ends that played at least 25 percent of offensive snaps for the season, per Pro Football Focus advanced metrics.
Moreover, he was a top-two tight end—the other being Jimmy Graham—in total-fantasy points scored in the 2011 and 2012 regular seasons. In 2011, Gronkowski scored an average of 8.1 standard-scoring fantasy points more per game than the worst starting tight end, Dustin Keller, in a ten-team league. And he scored 2.6 points per game more than the worst starter, Kyle Rudolph, in 2012.
Due to his proven upside, Gronkowski’s ADP among all major drafting sites is currently 32.6 overall in standard-scoring leagues, per Fantasypros.com. His ADP would not be so high if owners factored in his risk when calculating his value for the upcoming season.
Since his first year of playing football at the University of Arizona, Gronkowski has accumulated a lengthy history of significant injuries. It began with him missing his entire college junior season due to back surgery; the injuries have piled up since then.
Gronkowski’s Noteworthy Injuries While in NFL
Regular-Season Games Played
High ankle sprain (required surgery)
Hip Injury, Forearm fracture (4x surgeries secondary to infection), and Low Back Pain (offseason surgery).
Complications of Offseason Forearm and Back surgeries, hamstring strain, and torn ACL/MCL.
Many of these injuries are insignificant when estimating Gronkowski’s risk of future injury. Some, on the other hand, are significant.
Here are the recurrence rates of each of his significant injuries in chronological order:
His high (syndesmotic) ankle sprain that occurred in 2011 comes with an approximate eight percent recurrence rate during the 3-year period following the initial injury, according to a study by Nussbaum ED et al, per The American Journal of Sports Medicine.
The microscopic lumbar discectomy he had to treat his lumbar disc herniation in 2012 comes with an approximate eight percent chance of a recurrent disc herniation, according to a study by Takahashi H et al, per the Journal of Spine & Neurosurgery.
The hamstring strain he suffered during the 2013 regular season—a common symptom of a lumbar disc herniation—should not have come as a surprise. If it was truly hamstring strain, and not radicular pain from his lumbar spine, there's a 12-31 percent chance of recurrence within the following two years, according to a journal article by Sherry MA et al., per The Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.
Lastly, his ACL and MCL tears from Week 14 of the 2013 season required Gronkoski to have an ACL reconstructive surgery. He is still considered probable to return to play in Week 1. Whenever he does return, he will have a higher risk of suffering another knee injury.
According to a literature review by Smith HC et al. from Sports Health, an athlete with an ACL injury within the previous 12 months is 11.3 times more likely to injure her graft or contralateral ACL than an athlete without a history of an ACL tear. To make matters even worse, the same athlete has a 29.5 percent increased chance of sustaining another ACL injury within 24 months of returning to play.
Granted, these statistics represent the general population, and not an elite professional athlete with the best medical care that money can buy. So Gronkowski’s injury recurrence rates are likely lower than the ones previously provided. Nevertheless, the aforementioned literature does indicate Gronkowski’s lengthy past injury history does increase his chance of future injury.
Due to his continued rehabilitation from the offseason ACL surgery, a reasonable expectation for the Gronkowski’s fantasy production for the 2014 regular season would include a slow start for him during September. It would also include an increased chance of him missing game time due to future injuries.
Therefore projections for Gronkowski’s 2014 fantasy production are as follows: 12 games, 66 receptions, 858 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns. This would give him a season total of 140 standard-scoring fantasy points and 206 points-per-reception (PPR) fantasy points.
Using Value-Based Drafting (VBD) calculations, Gronkowski’s fantasy value for the 2014 season makes him a worthwhile fifth- to sixth-round pick in standard-scoring leagues, and a fourth- to fifth-round pick in PPR leagues.
It’s worth noting that if you do value him as such, another owner will likely draft him before the fifth round. Therefore, you should make other plans for your tight end position in 2014. Some tight ends with great value for their ADP include: Kyle Rudolph (ADP: 109.1), Charles Clay (ADP: 140.4), Ladarius Green (ADP: 143.1) and Delanie Walker (ADP: 145.8).