What Should You Do With Rob Gronkowski in Fantasy?

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) carries a football during an NFL football training camp joint practice of the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
AP

To Patriots fans, Rob Gronkowski is the biggest key to the offense this season. To fantasy football players, he’s a mystery and a headache.

Gronkowski is high-risk selection given his injury history, but depending on who you ask, he’s either a player to target as a potential bargain, or one to avoid entirely. There’s no question that when healthy, Gronkowski’s fantasy production is extraordinary. Gronk’s spectacular 2011 season, in which he scored 17 touchdowns and blew away the rest of his position in scoring, set the bar high. From 2010 to 2012, Gronkowski led all tight ends in points per opportunity. On a per-game basis, it’s hard to argue there’s anyone better.

It’s 2013 that has people taking long, hard looks. Gronkowski missed the first six games of the 2013 season coming back from arm and back injuries. In Week 14, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He played just 11 games due to injury in 2012, and sprained his ankle (requiring surgery) late in 2011.

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That’s a lot of missed time, and given that we haven’t seen Gronk play since blowing out the knee, there are plenty of questions as to how 2014 will look for the Patriots’ primary pass-catcher.

Depending on who you ask, Gronkowski is either the second or third tight end off the board in standard fantasy league drafts for 2014, after New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and ahead of Denver’s Julius Thomas. CBS ranks Gronk 2nd, Yahoo! 3rd. Fantasy Pros, which compiles the consensus of 51 fantasy football analysts, has Gronk right behind Graham at No. 2.

As far as where you should draft him? Graham is a consensus first-round pick who should be selected as high as 7th overall, according to Fantasy Pros. You have to go all the way down to pick No. 34 to find Gronk (Thomas is right behind at No. 36). In a 10 or 12-team league, that places Gronk at the end of the third round or in the fourth.

The problem is, Gronk likely won’t be there in the 4th round of your league, especially if you live in New England. CBS, my go-to fantasy site (I nerd out on their podcast every day), has Gronkowski ranked 23rd overall, putting him in the late second or early third round. At that point, you need to ask yourself whether taking possibly the biggest injury risk in the draft is worth missing out on a second running back or a stud receiver. Players you’ll be passing up on to get Gronk include guys like Doug Martin, Jordy Nelson, Zac Stacy, Antonio Brown, and Peyton Manning.

Should you draft Gronk? Depends on how risk-averse you are. The reward if he plays even 12 games should be worth the gamble, but the guys going around him—particularly the receivers—are safer picks. Take Gronk, watch him bounce back, and you may just win your league. Just don’t take him in the first round.