How High Is Rob Gronkowski’s Fantasy Football Ceiling in 2020?

Rob Gronkowski was arguably the best tight end over the past decade. Players like George Kittle and Travis Kelce have come close, but Gronk has done it longer and more consistently than anyone.

We thought we saw the end of Gronkowski following his disappointing 2018 campaign where he had 47 receptions for 682 yards and 3 touchdowns in 13 games.

But Tom Brady taking his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a swap of draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft was all it took to get Gronk out of retirement and back playing football.

Can Gronkowski reclaim the dominance we used to see from him over the past decade? He has been plagued by injuries in the past, now hasn't played in over a year, and is learning an entirely new offensive system.

Past Performances

To figure out Gronk's ceiling, we first have to take a look at what it was back when he played for the Patriots. The table below shows Gronk's games played, points-per-reception (PPR) fantasy points, and tight rank in fantasy for each year from 2014 to 2018.

Year Games Played Points TE Rank
2018 13 133.2 11
2017 14 225.5 2
2016 8 97.0 26
2015 15 255.6 1
2014 15 266.4 1

2016 was the only year Gronk played fewer than 10 games in a season during that stretch, which resulted in his worst fantasy finish as the TE26. Besides 2016, Gronk was a yearly top-two tight end up until his final season in 2018.

2018 was a rough season for Gronk. He got banged up early and never seemed to be able to get fully healthy. He saw only 5.53 targets per game. That is the lowest number of his career besides 2016 and his rookie season in 2010.

At his peak, Gronk was used to seeing eight-plus targets per game every season. That is going to be difficult to accomplish in an offense with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Bruce Arians' System

Head coach Bruce Arians has been known to not feature tight ends in his offense. O.J. Howard ruined seasons for many fantasy owners last year because he simply could not seem to get involved in the offense despite the immense talent.

However, it doesn't seem Arians has tried to avoid involving tight ends over his career so much as he knew that wasn't a position of strength on his prior teams.

In his time with the Arizona Cardinals, a tight end was never ranked higher than fifth in total targets on the team.

The best tight end on those teams was likely Jermaine Gresham. Those teams contained wide receivers like Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd. They also had pass-catching running backs like David Johnson and Andre Ellington, who saw more targets than tight ends on the team.

2019 was different for Arians' offense, though. While receivers Evans and Godwin led the team in targets, both Howard and Cameron Brate saw more targets than any running back on the team.

Arians seemed to recognize that running backs Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale weren't the best talents on the team and therefore shifted more targets to the tight end position for the first time in his career.

The table below shows the breakdown of targets to each position for each team in 2019 and is sorted by tight end target share

Team RB Tgts RB Tgt Share WR Tgts WR Tgt Share TE Tgts TE Tgt Share
BLT 49 12.3% 172 43.2% 177 44.5%
PHI 112 19.5% 244 42.5% 218 38.0%
OAK 107 22.7% 208 44.1% 157 33.3%
SF 76 17.6% 228 52.8% 128 29.6%
IND 89 18.9% 247 52.4% 135 28.7%
KC 103 19.4% 282 53.0% 147 27.6%
LA 55 9.6% 372 64.8% 147 25.6%
MIN 96 24.1% 201 50.5% 101 25.4%
TEN 59 14.2% 254 61.2% 102 24.6%
NYG 91 16.4% 332 59.7% 133 23.9%
DAL 88 15.7% 347 61.7% 127 22.6%
DEN 103 23.0% 247 55.1% 98 21.9%
DET 90 17.3% 320 61.4% 111 21.3%
SEA 77 16.2% 299 62.9% 99 20.8%
HST 77 15.3% 323 64.3% 102 20.3%
TB 106 18.4% 357 62.0% 113 19.6%
NO 140 27.6% 270 53.1% 98 19.3%
ATL 99 16.0% 402 65.0% 117 18.9%
CAR 144 25.0% 324 56.2% 109 18.9%
MIA 106 18.7% 354 62.4% 107 18.9%
CIN 84 14.8% 377 66.4% 107 18.8%
GB 118 22.9% 306 59.3% 92 17.8%
BUF 70 15.3% 310 67.5% 79 17.2%
LAC 169 30.8% 286 52.1% 94 17.1%
WAS 98 22.0% 276 62.0% 71 16.0%
PIT 105 22.8% 284 61.6% 72 15.6%
CLV 109 22.0% 318 64.2% 68 13.7%
JAX 121 22.4% 344 63.8% 74 13.7%
CHI 143 25.9% 343 62.0% 67 12.1%
NYJ 102 21.8% 312 66.8% 53 11.3%
ARZ 97 19.2% 352 69.8% 55 10.9%
NE 155 27.6% 356 63.3% 51 9.1%

The Buccaneers ranked 16th in tight end target share. That's ahead of the Atlanta Falcons with Austin Hooper and the New Orleans Saints with Jared Cook.

Both of those tight ends were good for fantasy last year, so the opportunity should be there for Gronkowski.

Capped Upside

We know the tight end position will get a piece of the offensive pie in Bruce Arians scheme, but is it large enough for Gronk to get anything close to the form we saw back in 2017?

In 2017, the Patriots targeted the tight end position the fifth-most times in the league. We know the Buccaneers are not going to get anything close to that.

Despite targeting wide receivers the fourth-most in raw targets last year, the Bucs only targeted receivers 62% of the time, which ranked 13th in the league. It is hard to imagine a team taking targets away from players like Evans and Godwin when wide receiver target share doesn't even rank in the league's top 10.

There also isn't much room to take targets away from the running back position, either, with the Bucs targeting running backs 18.4% of the time in 2019, ranking 20th in the league.

Another problem for Gronkowski could be the share of targets he sees just within the tight end position.

In 2017 with the Patriots, Gronk saw 74.6% of the team's tight end targets. In 2019, both Howard and Brate saw 46% of the team's tight end targets.

Arians has liked to utilize multiple tight ends even back to his days in Arizona. In his final season with the team, the leading tight end, Gresham, saw only 46.9% of the team's tight end targets.

It is going to be difficult for Gronkowski to see the tight end target share he is used to with both O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate on the team -- especially when it isn't very likely that there will be a large surplus of targets taken from the other skill positions.

Arians has discussed how he plans to utilize two tight ends on the field in 12 personnel more often in 2020. Per Sharp Football Stats, the Buccaneers ranked 10th in running plays out of 12 personnel in 2019.

They are already one of the heavier 12 personnel teams, so there probably won't be a major uptick in tight end usage compared to what we saw in 2019.

2020 Outlook

numberFire currently has Gronk projected for 72 targets, 45 receptions, 521 yards, and 5.58 touchdowns in 2020. That projection ranks 10th among tight ends heading into the season.

BestBall10 average draft position (ADP) in June shows Gronk going off the board in the 10th round as the 13th tight end drafted.

Gronkowski isn't a bad value at his current ADP, but his ceiling is much closer to what we saw from him in his final season with the Patriots in 2018. He's not likely to finish as a top-five tight end in 2020, but he is worth a late round flier if he falls later than the 10th round in fantasy drafts.