Rob Gronkowski's Season-Ending Injury: What Now, Fantasy Owners?

With Gronk gone for the year, who should his owners pick up in fantasy football?

Say goodbye, fantasy football owners. Rob Gronkowski won’t be seeing a fake pigskin lineup for a long, long time.

The Patriots’ stud tight end has a torn ACL – the NFL’s dreaded season-ending injury.

The timing, for both the Patriots and fantasy football owners, couldn’t have been worse. New England’s attempting to secure a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, while fantasy owners – thousands of them – used Gronkowski in their first-round playoff matchups this week. I’m sure his two-catch, 32-yard stat line didn’t help many teams advance.

If, like the Patriots, you were fortunate on Sunday to secure a W, however, you’re now more than likely looking for a replacement. After all, who rosters two tight ends when their top one is Rob Gronkowski? Right? Right?

Let’s take a look at five replacements for the Gronkmeister, in order of waiver wire importance.

1. Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens

The obvious Gronk fill-in is Dennis Pitta, who played in his first game of the season yesterday for Baltimore, catching six passes for 48 yards and a key touchdown.

If you recall, Pitta was the guy who was supposed to assume the role of the departed Anquan Boldin this year in Baltimore. Part of the reason Joe Flacco has struggled this season is because, quite frankly, he has no number two pass-catcher. Pitta’s that guy.

The Ravens face Detroit in Week 15 – a team that ranked ninth against tight ends in terms of fantasy points against entering the week – and then the Patriots in Week 16. The Pats game should provide a lot of potential, as they’ve let tight ends go nuts on them at times this year (Tony Gonzalez in Week 4, Jordan Cameron yesterday).

In truth, Pitta’s one of the few tight ends in this league that could see enough targets to be matchup proof. If he’s still on your waiver wire – which he shouldn’t be if you read my 15 Transactions column last week – snag him ASAP.

2. Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans

I’ve pumped up Delanie Walker quite a bit here on numberFire over the last month or so, and though he hasn’t played (essentially) his last two games, he should be able to come back next week and be a top tight end producer in pretend football.

With Fitzpatrick under center after Jake Locker’s season-ending injury, Walker’s seen an average of nine targets per game. Fitzpatrick loves him. And so do I, as the Titans will face two of the worst teams against the tight end position in Week 15 and 16 in Arizona and Jacksonville.

Walker, too, ranks eighth among tight ends this season in Target Net Expected Points, which measures how many real points a receiver is adding for his team on all targets.

I’d still prefer Pitta over Walker, but considering Pitta will be a top priority for most teams entering Week 15, Walker is a nice sneaky add. He’s owned in fewer than 20 percent of leagues.

3. Garrett Graham, TE, Houston Texans

After not living up to his post-Owen Daniels injury hype, Garrett Graham has slowly become a low-end TE1 in fantasy. He has two touchdowns in his last four games, including 23 total receptions.

Graham will face Indianapolis next week – a team that’s defended tight ends well, but ranks in the bottom eight against the pass according to our metrics. Then, in Week 16, he’ll see Denver. The Broncos are always a good matchup for offensive personnel given offenses needing to play some catch up.

One thing to keep in mind with Graham is that Owen Daniels may return to action next week after missing the last eight weeks with an injury. He probably won’t be thrown into the offense at the get-go though, and even if he is, Graham still holds value – he scored in three of the six games Daniels played with him this season.

4. Zach Miller, TE, Seattle Seahawks

Zach Miller’s had an underrated season for Seattle, ranking 11th in Target NEP among all tight ends this year. Though he had just one catch in yesterday’s game against San Francisco, the 49ers rank second in the league against the tight end position, so it was almost expected that Miller wouldn’t do a whole lot.

He has just two touchdowns this year, sure, but his upcoming schedule against the Giants (24th against tight ends entering Week 14) and Arizona (145th against tight ends entering Week 14 – the worst) could make for a solid final two fantasy weeks. His ceiling isn't high, but he could provide a decent floor given his matchups.

5. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

Ertz caught zero passes in yesterday’s snow bowl, but I’m not sure we can take much away from a game that was played in six inches of wintery dust. Ertz saw just one target, but saw six in the previous game against the aforementioned, horrific Cardinals tight end defense.

He’s certainly not a player that has a high floor, but if you want an upside play, he could provide that with Week 15 and 16 games against Minnesota and Chicago. The Vikings just gave up a solid outing to Dennis Pitta, and have had trouble with effective tight ends (Jordan Reed, Jason Witten). Chicago often finds themselves having to plug that atrocious rush defense, and have allowed at least five tight end receptions in eight games this year, ranking 23rd against the position in fantasy.

Ertz is a lower-tiered tight end compared to the guys mentioned above, but in deeper leagues, could provide some assistance.

Honorable Mention: Jacob Tamme, TE, Denver Broncos

Don’t overlook Jacob Tamme this week on the waiver wire, either. After Wes Welker left the game with a concussion, Tamme stepped into his role and saw five targets, catching four for 47 yards. There’s a chance Welker misses this week due to it being a short week, and if he does, Tamme could benefit.