After coming out of retirement and reuniting with his long-time quarterback down in Tampa Bay, expectations were potentially high for Rob Gronkowski in fantasy football. Those who banked on him producing the numbers he did back in his prime have been let down to this point.
But following numerous injuries to the Buccaneers’ pass-catching corps, including O.J. Howard, what does Gronkowski’s rest-of-the-season outlook look like in fantasy football? We’ll examine that and also what his value could be for his upcoming Thursday Night Football showdown with the Chicago Bears.
Rob Gronkowski has struggled through the first four games of the season
Despite playing in at least 69% of offensive snaps in each of the first four games of the season (including at least 86% in the last two), Gronkowski has little to show in the box score. He has only nine receptions for 88 yards on 14 targets, which boils downs to an average of 2.25 receptions, 22 yards, on 3.5 targets per game thus far. He hasn’t even seen the most targets amongst Buccaneers’ tight ends as Howard has 19 so far this season.
Just to put it into perspective, Gronkowski’s 14 targets are 28th amongst all tight ends and puts him on pace to have 36 receptions for 352 yards and zero touchdowns on 56 targets for the season. That would give him career lows across the board in targets, yards, touchdowns, and yards-per-reception. The only stat that wouldn’t be a career-low would be receptions (25, 2016), but the only time he hit below that number is in a season where he only played eight games. It’s a tough pill to swallow for those hoping to see Gronkowski return to his glory days after a year off from football and being reunited with Brady.
It’s also not a situation where the Buccaneers simply haven’t passed enough to produce fantasy-relevant numbers for skill players. Brady is fifth in passing attempts (38.75 per game), ninth in passing yards (280.5 per game), and tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (2.75 on average per game).
This is very much a pass-heavy offense, and despite that, Gronkowski hasn’t even put up numbers that warrant being on a fantasy roster outside of deeper leagues. His 3.3 fantasy points per game in half point-per-reception (PPR) is 38th best amongst tight ends, which would make him a high-end TE4 in 12-team leagues.
As mentioned before, Howard has more targets (19), receptions (11), yards (146), and touchdowns (two) than Gronkowski despite being cast off following “Gronk” joining the Buccaneers. Unfortunately, Howard suffered a season-ending Achilles injury this past weekend and will now look for someone to fill the void in his place. On top of that, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Scotty Miller, Justin Watson, Leonard Fournette, and LeSean McCoy all have injuries of their own. What does that mean for Gronk going forward in light of everything? Let’s look further.
What is Rob Gronkowski’s rest-of-season outlook in fantasy football?
The Buccaneers are not suddenly expected to revert to a more run-heavy offense in light of all of the injuries they’re dealing with thus far. So it’s going to have to be a “next man up” approach, with Gronkowski being front and center as someone who could step up.
Tampa has still been able to put up points with at least 28 scored over the last three games, including a 38-point outing which saw Brady throw for over 350 yards and five touchdowns this past weekend against the Los Angeles Chargers. So even though he is 43 years old, Brady is still able to put up good numbers in the passing game.
Despite a revolving door of skill players coming in and leaving with injuries so far, Brady has been able to find someone to make plays. No one has a better history of success with Brady than Gronk, and it’s bound to show up at some point with the extra pass-catching responsibilities that are about to fall upon his shoulders. One thing working in favor of him is the fact that he has been able to play in every game so far after being forced to retire due to injury and missing three games in 2018.
The tight end position has been extremely volatile and hard to trust this season as we have seen some stud players disappoint while others have unexpectedly broken out.
Currently, Robert Tonyan (first), Dalton Schultz (eighth), and Jimmy Graham (11th) are all top-12 tight ends in fantasy in half-PPR leagues, which is unexpected, to say the least. So it’s by no means a stretch to say that given Gronkowski’s new opportunity to be the clear-cut top receiving tight end for the Buccaneers (Cameron Brate only has one catch on two targets this season), he has not only the talent but the opportunity to be a top-12 tight end moving forward.
Howard was the 16th highest-scoring tight end through the first four games of the season despite losing some targets to Gronk. While Brate is expected to receive more than half a target per game going forward, Gronkowski will be the biggest beneficiary. He also has shown that even as a less explosive version of himself (he finished 11th amongst tight ends in 2018 despite missing three games), he can be a weekly starter in fantasy football.
Gronkowski has seen 10 targets over the last two games after only seeing four combined in the first two. His workload will only continue to increase, and he’s definitely worth a waiver stash for not only the remainder of the season but especially in this week’s Thursday Night Football showdown.
What can Rob Gronkowski do for fantasy owners in Week 5?
The Buccaneers take on the Bears on Thursday Night Football, and it’s only one of the more highly anticipated games so far with two 3-1 teams facing off. Tampa Bay comes into this week with a three-game winning streak while the Bears suffered their first loss this past weekend. Both teams have two of the best scoring defenses with the Bears (seventh, 20.3 points allowed per game) and Buccaneers (10th, 23 points allowed per game).
In regards to fantasy though, the Bears are a middle-of-the-pack team in points allowed to opposing tight ends. Over the last three weeks, the Bears have given up the 16th most points per game on average to opposing tight ends. Overall, they have given up three touchdowns to opposing tight ends. They have allowed for two different tight ends to have at least five receptions and 50 yards as well.
As mentioned before, the Buccaneers are dealing with an unlucky amount of injuries as Godwin, Watson, and McCoy have been ruled out while Evans, Miller, and Fournette are questionable for Week 5. Given that the Buccaneers find themselves with scarce options heading into their matchup with the Bears, they may have no choice but to force-feed someone like Gronkowski with as many targets as he can handle.
In a week where Tonyan and T.J. Hockenson are on bye and Jonnu Smith’s status is still in question, fantasy owners are going to need to search for someone to plug in at the tight end position. While it may not be by design, Gronkowski could absolutely find himself having a top-12 week if not perhaps an even better showing.
So if there was ever a week to scoop him up off of waivers to be a plug-and-play, this would be the one to do it. Even if some of the previously mentioned players do indeed suit up, it’s clear they won’t be at 100% on a short week. Gronkowski finds himself as one of the rare examples of a healthy (relatively speaking) playmaker for the Buccaneers. He’s got a shot to absolutely be fantasy relevant moving forward and that may start this week.
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Doug Moore is a fantasy football writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @DMooreNFL.