Rob Gronkowski to Tampa Bay: Is He Still an Elite Fantasy Football Option?

Rob Gronkowski is reuniting with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay. What can we expect from him in 2020?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are definitely doing their part to keep the NFL offseason intriguing.

Not only did they bring in Tom Brady to be their quarterback, but they also did enough to lure Rob Gronkowski out of retirement. The team sent a fourth-round pick to the New England Patriots for Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick, via Adam Schefter.

This gives Brady a third go-to weapon in Tampa Bay alongside Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

But after a year removed from football, what should we expect from Gronkowski in 2020?

Gronkowski's Decline

Before Gronkowski stepped off the NFL gridiron, he underwent a career low in 2018 in terms of per-target efficiency, based on numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.

(NEP basically rolls up boxscore content like down-and-distance and field position to indicate which players made actual on-field impacts; a 5-yard catch is a more impactful football play on 3rd-and-2 than a 15-yard catch is on 3rd-and-22, and NEP accounts for that.)

GronkowskiReceptionsTargetsReception NEP
per Target
(Qualified TEs)
201042590.962 (40)
2011901241.062 (38)
201255790.961 (42)
201339660.874 (41)
2014821310.864 (38)
2015721200.884 (40)
201625381.321 (39)
2017691051.031 (39)
201847720.857 (38)

So, that's a really big stretch of success, and then he hit a wall -- for him -- in per-target efficiency in 2018. Of course, he was still a top-seven tight end by this metric in 2018. I don't want to understate that even a little.

However, he will be two years removed from that efficiency and will be thrust into a new offense in 2020 -- ostensibly with limited preseason preparation.

Based on that alone, we can be concerned.

What did that efficiency actually translate to in fantasy football? Well, Gronkowski finished as the TE8 in half-PPR points per game in 2018 at 8.3. In total, 16 tight ends averaged a least 7.3 half-PPR points per game, meaning Gronkowski wasn't significantly more productive than a low-end TE1 or streaming option.

As for more traditional numbers, Gronkowski ranked fourth in yards per target (9.5) among qualified tight ends in 2018. That goes hand-in-hand with the good per-target numbers. He was also sixth in yards per game (52.5). But that was still just 52.5 yards per game, and he scored only three times in 13 games.

That's a far cry from his elite peak. Gronkowski averaged 70.4 yards per game prior to 2018, and if we look at just 2011 through 2017, he was at 77.1 yards per game, or roughly 25 more yards per game than he had in 2018.

Really, the question doesn't come down to whether or not Gronkowski can still be a top-10 per-target player. He probably can be even after being away from football. Opposing defenses have to focus on both Evans and Godwin outside.

The questions come more into how many games he can play (he hasn't played 16 games since his second year in the league) and how many snaps and targets he'll get with two stellar receivers on the team.

Projecting Gronkowski

Yardage upside is a legitimate concern for Gronkowski, especially with those high-volume receivers outside, and we could be looking at a touchdown-dependent player in 2020. So...basically like most tight ends aside from the elite tier.

Our editor-in-chief, JJ Zachariason, projects Gronkowski for 49.5 receptions, 650.6 yards, and 6.0 touchdowns. My first go with Gronkowski's stat line is similar: 50.8 catches, 676.2 yards, and 5.0 touchdowns.

Gronkowski can still have fantasy value in 2020, but it depends on his asking price. Expecting him to return to his old ways is a tough ask after time away and a decline in 2018 due to injuries. He also has stiff competition not only for targets but also red zone looks.

Anyone who considers Gronkowski completely washed is overstating his concerns, but anyone anticipating an obvious high-end TE1 season is probably overpaying.

The Buccaneers can be bet at +1200 to win the Super Bowl on Super Bowl odds, the fifth-best odds in the NFL.