Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) catches a pass out of bounds while defended by Houston Texans inside linebacker Barrett Ruud (54) during the first half of the AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

An Honest Look Back: You Drafted a Tight End First in Fantasy Football?

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In a piece I did as part of my 2012 fantasy football season preview here at GMEN HQ, I looked at whether or not drafting one of the two most coveted fantasy tight ends, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, in the first round was a worthwhile endeavor.

The tight end position in the land of the fake footballers going into this season was looked upon as the year that drafting a tight end in the first round wouldn’t be seen as the dumbest draft move in the world of fantasy football, depending on which fantasy publication and mainstream fantasy football writers you followed.

Photo from Zimbio.com

The main reason why such a thought had any legitimacy whatsoever had mainly to do with the 2011 performances of Graham and Gronkowski. In my GMEN HQ piece I didn’t exactly bang the drum for taking either tight end in the first round but I didn’t really shy away from it either and even put out the suggestion of taking them both back-to-back if you had the 12th pick in a 12-team league snake draft. When looking at their 2012 Average Draft Position (ADP) calculated by MyFantasyLeague.com, Graham and Gronkowski were both being taken early in the second round of most 12-team, non-PPR re-draft leagues. Graham’s ADP was 19.78 and Gronkowski’s was 19.96 in such leagues, which would see them drafted in the second round of those fantasy drafts at 15th and 16th overall, respectively.

You would see why those two particular tight ends were being drafted so high if you were to take a look at Graham and Gronkowski’s stats in a standard non-PPR fantasy football leagues from 2011, where 1 point was awarded for every 10 receiving yards and receiving touchdowns were worth 6 points apiece, Gronkowski and Graham scored 240.9 and 195 points, respectively. The third highest fantasy scoring tight end was Aaron Hernandez with 135.5 points. In total, only 11 tight ends put up more than 100 points.

Photo from Zimbio.com Source: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America)

If you were to classify Gronkowski and Graham as wide receivers they would have each been in the top ten of fantasy scoring wide receivers in 2011, with Gronkowski finishing in second place behind Megatron and Graham being the sixth highest scoring wide receiver. Of course, Gronkowski and Graham weren’t wide receivers but the numbers show that if you had either one of them on your fantasy roster in 2011 you stood to have a sizable advantage in your league at the tight end position, especially considering that Graham was the 6th picked fantasy tight end and Gronkowski was the 9th. In 12-team standard 2011 fantasy football drafts Graham’s ADP was 83.54 (late 8th round) and Gronkowski’s ADP was 103.77 (mid-9th round); pretty good value for two of the highest pass-catching players in all of fantasy football in 2011.

When you look at the numbers posted by both players last year how could you have not been tempted to take either one of them early in your drafts this year? Graham had 1,310 yards receiving to go with 11 touchdowns, and Gronkowski ended up with 1,327 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns of his own. If those numbers weren’t enough then take a look at their 2011 target numbers: Graham – 149, Gronkowski – 124. There was very good reason to think they would both put up monster numbers in 2012 and that taking them in the first round, while a ballsy move, would pay off, as long as they repeated or bested their 2011 performances.

2011 TE fantasy points from NFLData.com

That’s where the root of the problem lies though; with any fantasy football position, really. You can never expect any fantasy player to duplicate their performances, especially if they were career year performances. You can only hope that a player you drafted in 2012 would put up similar or better numbers than what they posted in 2011. If we knew exactly what type of a season a player would have then what would be the point of drafting a fantasy football team? Just play in an auto draft league and be done with it.

Now that the 2012 NFL regular season has come and gone, and so too have our fantasy football leagues, it gives us a chance to look back to see just how “smart” or “dumb” taking a chance on Gronkowski or Graham in the first round was…

 

Here’s a look at their 2012 stats:

  • Graham – 982 yards and 9 touchdowns
  • Gronkowski – 790 yards and 11 touchdowns

Graham ended the 2012 season as the highest fantasy scoring tight end with 152.2 points and Gronkowski finished right behind him in second place with 143 points. Even though they finished first and second respectively, the gap between first place (Graham) and third place (Tony Gonzalez) , and second place (Gronkowski), and third place (Gonzalez) was a mere 11.2 and 2 points, respectively. That pales in comparison to last year when the difference between first (Gronkowski) and third (Hernandez), and second (Graham) and third (Hernandez) was 105.4 points and 59.5 points, respectively.

2012 TE fantast points from NFLDATA.com

Considering the fact that Gonzalez this year had a 96.60 ADP, taking either Graham or Gronkowski in the first place wasn’t a smart move in hindsight, as you could have just drafted Gonzalez in 7th or 8th round and gotten pretty much the same value. In fact, the difference in points between Graham and the 10th highest scoring fantasy tight end Brandon Myers, who went undrafted in pretty much every fantasy football draft in 2012, was 47.6 points. Remember, last season Gronkowski scored 105.4 points more than the THIRD highest scoring fantasy tight end. How many more points did Gronkowski score than the 10th fantasy tight end Dustin Keller last season? 131.4!

So, what was it that made the darlings of the fantasy football tight end landscape harken back to the days in which the tight end position in fantasy football was a crapshoot, as 2012 turned out to be? With Graham, you can look to his 15 drops and say that had an impact but he was still able to catch 85 passes. The wrist injury he dealt with all season long probably had something to do with his “down” year. As for Gronkowski, injury was the clear culprit, having missed five regular season games with a broken forearm. Just think about that for a second. Gronkowski missed five games in the regular season but he was still able to finish as the second highest scoring tight end in fantasy!

If you were to take a look at Gronkowski’s 2012 game log from Rotoworld you would see that he really only had two poor games: a Week 3 outing versus the Ravens in which he caught only 2 catches for 21 yards and a Week 5 performance against the Broncos that saw him catch 4 balls for 35 yards. In every other game he played in Gronkowski either scored a touchdown or had at least 60 yards receiving; in all but three of those he accomplished both. That means that out of the 11 games he played in Gronkowski went for 60+yards and a touchdown and in three of those games he had multiple touchdowns.

It would have been interesting to see what Gronkowski’s totals would have been like if he were able to have stayed healthy all season long but he didn’t and that’s something you can’t account for when preparing for a fantasy draft. You draft your team and hope for the best. With Gronkowski, injuries took away his best. Still though, was taking Graham or Gronkowski a completely dumb move when you compare it to the other players taken before them?

Here’s what a 12-team standard scoring non-PPR re-draft fantasy football first round draft would have looked like based on the MyFantasyLeague 12-team, non-PPR re-draft ADPs:

Data from MyFantasyLeague.com

  • 1. Arian Foster
  • 2. Aaron Rodgers
  • 3. Ray Rice
  • 4. LeSean McCoy
  • 5. Tom Brady
  • 6. Drew Brees
  • 7. Calvin Johnson
  • 8. Chris Johnson
  • 9. Darren McFadden
  • 10. Matthew Stafford
  • 11. Cam Newton
  • 12. Matt Forte

I mentioned earlier that Graham and Gronkowski were taken on average at 15th and 16th overall, behind the twelve names in the above first round, as well as Maurice Jones-Drew and DeMarco Murray.

Here’s how those 16 players ended up points wise overall, taking into consideration D/ST, in 2012, with position rank in parenthesis:

  • 1. Arian Foster – 14 (3)
  • 2. Aaron Rodgers – 2 (2)
  • 3. Ray Rice – 26 (6)
  • 4. LeSean McCoy – 88 (21)
  • 5. Tom Brady – 3 (3)
  • 6. Drew Brees – 1 (1)
  • 7. Calvin Johnson – 27 (1)
  • 8. Chris Johnson – 53 (13)
  • 9. Darren McFadden – 148 (28)
  • 10. Matthew Stafford – 12 (11)
  • 11. Cam Newton – 4 (4)
  • 12. Matt Forte – 50 (12)
  • 13. Maurice Jones-Drew – 248 (50)
  • 14. DeMarco Murray – 144 (27)
  • 15. Jimmy Graham – 77 (1)
  • 16. Rob Gronkowski 99 (2)

Yes, Graham and Gronkowski didn’t come anywhere near their high ADP but was taking somebody like Aaron Rodgers second overall that big of a difference maker? When you look at the above top 16 ADP you see that the QBs taken gave their owners what they drafted, with the exception of Stafford, who was the 12th highest fantasy scorer in 2012 but was drafted as the 10th. That’s to be expected though as quarterbacks generally put up the highest fantasy points. Andy Dalton was the 12th highest scoring fantasy QB with 250.8 points. That total would have him ranked as the 15th highest scoring fantasy player overall. He was the 18th QB off the board in most leagues; not even start-worthy in 1-QB leagues. The one thing this goes to show you is that you want to get your quarterbacks early in 2-QB leagues but late in 1-QB leagues.

The only non-QB who came close to fulfilling his top draft status was Foster, who was the consensus number 1 overall draft pick but he only scored the 14th most points in fantasy football. And when you compare his numbers to the 12th highest scoring fantasy running back, Matt Forte, he scored 5.21 points more/game.

Let’s get back on track though and finish this thing off by looking at the top twelve fantasy tight end scorers for 2012 with ADP in brackets:

  • 1. Jimmy Graham – 152.2 points (19.78)
  • 2. Rob Gronkowski – 143 points (19.96)
  • 3. Tony Gonzalez – 141 (96.60)
  • 4. Heath Miller – 131.6 (172.31)
  • 5. Jason Witten – 121.9 (87.01)
  • 6. Greg Olsen – 114.3 (135.90)
  • 7. Dennis Pitta – 108.9 (-)
  • 8. Owen Daniels – 107.6 (136.83)
  • 9. Kyle Rudolph – 105.3 (153.61)
  • 10. Brandon Myers – 104.6 (-)
  • 11. Jermaine Gresham – 101.7 (119.15)
  • 12. Antonio Gates – 95.8 (52.69)

While the difference in points/per game between Graham and Gates was only 3.53 points, the stability of having a guy like Graham or Gronkowski on your roster was much better than streaming a TE each week if you didn’t own somebody like Graham, Gronkowski, Gonzalez, Miller or Witten. At least if you didn’t draft a QB early in a 1-QB league you could have picked up somebody like Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco or Carson Palmer in your league’s free agency pool and gone with a quarterback by committee approach all year long.

However, though, the question I sought out to answer at the beginning of this post was whether or not drafting Gronkowski or Graham in the first round was a dumb or smart decision. In 2011 Gronkowski and Graham would have both been in the top-6 in terms of wide receiver fantasy points. In 2012 Graham would have ranked 17th and Gronkowski 19th. Nowhere near the value they provided in 2011 but still pretty good. But pretty good’s not good enough in fantasy football and when you look at the stats, the answer to my question of whether or not drafting Graham or Gronkowski in the first round of fantasy football drafts in 2012 was dumb… At least this year… In 2013 fantasy drafts I’ll be tempted to ask the same question again though and maybe when looking back at the 2013 season in 2014 the answer will be smart. Either way, I’ll be the test dummy willing to find out.

For more Fantasy Football brilliance check out the new site: www.2qbornot2qb.com

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