Anthony Olivetti

The Best Tight End In Fantasy? Rob Gronkowski.

Jul. 24, 2014 8:37 AM EST

For most fantasy footballers there’s no debate, Jimmy Graham is the top tight end. Hands down. But that’s false. Rob Gronkowski is. Now that you all think that I’m an idiot, let’s take a look at what both players have done so far in their careers and how it supports my argument.

Both players broke into the league in 2010. Gronk clearly had the better rookie season as he led in every meaningful category. He had 11 more receptions, almost 200 more receiving yards and twice as many touchdowns with a very impressive 10 scores. Graham’s rookie season wasn’t abnormal. Most rookie tight ends struggle their first year, especially when they’re still learning how to play the position.

Their second year is where both players really broke out. Graham posted a 99/1,310/11 line but once again Gronk led way with 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Jimmy Graham blew Gronkowski out of the water over the next two seasons as Gronk missed significant time due to various injuries. So Gronk stood out in the first two seasons and Graham surpassed him over the last two. But I’m more interested in what they’ve done on a per game basis not any one individual season.

Overall Graham leads the way in games played: receptions, receptions per game and receiving yards. It’s really no surprise that he has more catches than Gronkowski given that he’s played in 12 more games. Gronkowski led in receiving yards per game (65.1 to 62.3), touchdowns (42 receiving plus one rushing to 41) and touchdowns per game (0.84 to 0.66). They both have 12 games with 100-plus receiving yards, with Gronk breaking the century mark 24 percent of the time to Graham’s 19.3.

The most important stat of all for our purposes is fantasy points per game. Looking at how they fared in PPR formats, Gronk has averaged 16.07 points per game to Graham’s 15.05. Their rookie seasons admittedly skews the data but not as you might expect. When we take out 2010 Gronk averages 19.03 points per game while Graham averages 17.80. I’m not going to lie, I was very surprised by that last statistic and it doesn’t even take into account that weird rushing touchdown that Gronk scored in 2011.

I admit that it’s understandable to be afraid that Gronk is just going to get hurt again this season. But he’s already been cleared and avoided the active/PUP list to start training camp. Great news because it means that even if he’s limited to start the season he won’t be eligible for the reserve/PUP list which would cost him the first six games. He’s rightly earned an injury prone tag but it appears that he’ll enter this season healthy for the first time in a long time.

Next we need to consider what it will cost to have one of these two on your team. I looked at MyFantasyLeague and Yahoo’s ADP for both players. According to MFL Graham has an ADP of 9.05 and Gronkowski’s is 30.73. On Yahoo it’s 8.4 and 46.7, respectively. That’s a significant difference. You can get a comparable (and honestly better) player two to three full rounds later. When deciding who to take, it’s important to consider who you give up in order to get Graham and who you can get where you would otherwise be picking Gronk. Let’s say you were to take Graham with the ninth overall pick. If you opted to take a running back with your third round pick (and used MFL’s ADP) you’d be left to pick between Arian Foster and Zac Stacy. Neither are slouches (and I’m a known fan of Arian Foster this season), but what would happen if you took Gronkowski instead? Again looking at MFL’s data you could take Matt Forte or Eddie Lacy with that same pick and still get Gronk in the third. A much better combination in my mind. If you opted to take Graham and a wideout you’d probably end up with Keenan Allen or Pierre Garcon. Gronk and a wideout makes Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, and Dez Bryant all options, again a much better combination.

So on the plus side, Gronkowski leads in a number of statistical categories including fantasy points per game and he comes much cheaper than Graham. On the negative side is, of course, the injury risk. We can’t forget that even with the injury risk that Gronkowski comes with, he’s still going in the third or fourth round. What does that mean? Drafters aren’t that concerned that he’ll get hurt again. If they were he’d be going a lot later than he is.

Whether you consider them tight end 1 and 1A, 1 and 2, or 1 and some other number it’s pretty clear that Gronkowski is the smarter draft day decision. When selecting your team it’s important to consider not only who you’re picking but who you’re giving up in order to make that pick. When you take Graham in the first you’re sacrificing way too much without gaining anything at all. Gronkowski is the clear choice as the best tight end in fantasy heading into this season.