Fantasy Football: What Should Rob Gronkowski Owners Do?

The title of this article is, in my mind a very funny joke. There is no simple answer.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is not easily replaceable for his NFL team, as our own Dan Pizzuta highlighted on Thursday. By numberFire’s Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target analytic, Gronkowski has been the most valuable pass-catcher on a per-target basis among those with at least 20 targets through Week 12.

The man known as “The Gronk” also handily tops the chart in standard fantasy scoring on a per-snap basis (0.20 points per snap) among tight ends playing at least 20 percent of their team’s snaps. Unfortunately, his most recent back surgery should sideline him for around eight weeks, which will put his return well after the fantasy season concludes.

If you own Gronkowski in fantasy football, you’ve got to act fast, but in order for this “break glass in case of emergency” approach to work, we have to find you all options who are actually, y’know, available to pick up. We looked at tight ends owned in less than 10.0% of ESPN fantasy football leagues who could be decent stretch run options for your fantasy teams.

Streaming tight ends the rest of the way may be the best bet, but if you're looking at rest-of-season options, which widely-available tight ends could help you stabilize your fantasy roster?

Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons rookie Austin Hooper is by far the cream of the available crop. Already this year he has produced a very strong 0.14 standard fantasy points per snap, which ranks 13th among qualifying tight ends. He also ranks second in Reception NEP per target (1.03) among the 45 tight ends with at least 20 targets this year.

He hasn’t been utilized much in his first season, having had to split snaps with veteran/dad runner Jacob Tamme. Tamme was placed on injured reserve after shoulder surgery, however, which should have opened up even more playing time and looks for the young Hooper. Instead, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel has stepped up the past two weeks and surpassed Hooper in the passing game. In Weeks 11 and 12, Hooper totaled just three catches for 16 yards receiving on five targets.

Still, Hooper is our highest-projected available tight end, coming in 20th in our rest-of-season fantasy projections with a projected 4.63 standard fantasy points per game. Hooper -- who does have a brutal matchup this week against the Kansas City Chiefs -- is available in 96.2% of ESPN fantasy leagues.

A.J. Derby, Denver Broncos

The trade of A.J. Derby from the Patriots to the Denver Broncos was initially seen as one that intrigued from a deep dynasty perspective. As soon as he set foot in Dove Valley, however, he took over as the team’s primary receiving tight end, picking up six receptions for 65 receiving yards on seven targets over the last two games. The passing game in Denver certainly isn’t robust in and of itself, but there is opportunity to be had, especially with two inexperienced quarterbacks who like to rely on the short-area pass to thrive.

On his eight targets so far this year, Derby has created 0.89 Reception NEP per target, a solid rate in spite of the small sample size. His points per snap ranks 36th among qualifying tight ends this year since reaching the Broncos, and he’s been in on just over 50.0% of Denver’s snaps.

Our rest-of-season fantasy projections place Derby as the 23rd-best tight end with a projected 4.18 standard-league fantasy points per game. He’s still available in 99.7% of ESPN leagues.

Will Tye, New York Giants

The New York Giants have enjoyed spreading around the ball this year, which has really dulled each of their pass-catchers’ fantasy fortunes outside of Odell Beckham. Despite serving as the team’s first-string tight end, Will Tye has earned just 2.90 fantasy points per game this year. That said, he hasn’t had a game with fewer than two receptions and has averaged 3.25 receptions for 25 yards on 5.50 targets per game over the last month.

Tye is being heavily used as a short-area possession receiver but not in the red zone: he has averaged 8.4 yards per reception. Tye is a higher-floored warm body to plug into fantasy lineups, but he has a fairly low ceiling.

Our algorithms project Tye as the 28th-best tight end for fantasy purposes for the remainder of the season, projecting him to put up 3.64 points per game. He’s available in 95.8% of ESPN leagues.

Dion Sims, Miami Dolphins

Over the past two Miami Dolphins games, tight end Dion Sims has been an every-down player. The burgeoning Dolphins’ passing attack is clearly working well, as Sims has caught seven passes for 73 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. He is mostly a secondary option in a run-heavy offense, but with improvement in quarterback Ryan Tannehill comes improvement elsewhere to boot. Sims was a fourth-round NFL Draft selection in 2013, and his solid dynasty prospect status is perhaps returning.

Sims is being used as a short-area receiver for the most part: his 0.06 fantasy points per snap ranks 51st among qualifying tight ends, but that belies his 21st-ranked Reception NEP per target. Two back-to-back games of four targets may be nothing more than coincidence for Sims, but it’s better than we’ve seen yet.

Our models project Sims as the 34th-best fantasy tight end over the remainder of the season, good for 2.97 fantasy points per game. He has a lower floor, due to the uncertainty of the Miami passing attack, but a decent ceiling. Sims is available in 99.7% of ESPN leagues.

Ryan Griffin, Houston Texans

How unsexy can we go? Ryan Griffin of the Houston Texans is a monstrous 6’6”, 260 pounds, but he isn’t the athletic marvel that many fantasy-successful tight ends have been, running a 4.87 40-yard dash at his 2013 Pro Day. Still, he’s been an intriguing red zone option for the Texans over the last four years, and Griffin has worked well as a complementary in-line tight end.

Despite his limited playing time, Griffin’s 25th-best 0.10 fantasy points per snap is better than Dwayne Allen, Zach Ertz, and Jason Witten. Where we see his impact lag is in his paltry 3.17 points per game; he just doesn’t play enough to have much impact.

Our models project Griffin for 1.85 fantasy points per game the rest of the year, 45th-best in the league. He's worth monitoring due to starter C.J. Fiedorowicz's dings and scrapes that have accumulated over the past few weeks. If Griffin starts, his efficiency is intriguing. He’s available in 99.5% of ESPN leagues.

Ben Koyack, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Ben Koyack is also not much more than a bench stash for a team in deep or tight end-premium leagues, but he’s an intriguing one. I wrote up Koyack this offseason as one of the tight ends who could have a career trajectory similar to Jordan Reed's because of his similar physical and athletic qualities. He’s now getting a chance to play, due to Julius Thomas's injuries and the coaching staff’s growing faith in him.

Koyack has earned 0.07 fantasy points per snap this season -- a rate just above Tye’s and just below Derby’s -- on just 134 snaps. He’s been targeted 11 times, catching 10 of those targets for 99 yards receiving. The reason you want Koyack is not to start him in Week 13 but to stash him in case Thomas remains hurt or the slumping Jaguars decide to give their younger players more opportunities to win playing time for 2017.

Our algorithms project him as just the 50th-best fantasy tight end the rest of the way, with 1.49 points per game. Combining his and Thomas’s rest-of-season projection would put him at 4.95 points per game the rest of the way -- about equal to rookie sensation Hunter Henry. The only difference? Koyack is available in 100.0% of ESPN leagues.