Draft Strategy

Can Rob Gronkowski Be Trusted To Remain Healthy In 2017?

Rob Gronkowski Fantasy 2017

Since entering the NFL in 2010, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been, well, nearly unstoppable when he is on the field. The only thing that has been able to derail the 28-year-old is himself, more so, his growing laundry list of injuries. However, his injury concerns began during his collegiate days at Arizona. Since his senior year in college in 2009, Gronkowski has reported nine different surgeries.

[the_ad id=”63198″]Here is a list of his procedures:

  1. 2009: Back surgery (1)
  2. 2012: Ankle surgery (1)
  3. 2012: Arm (1)
  4. 2012: Arm (2)
  5. 2013: Back (2)
  6. 2013: Arm (3)
  7. 2013: Arm (4)
  8. 2013: Knee (1)
  9. 2016: Back (3)

To sum it up, he underwent four surgeries on his forearm, three back surgeries, an ankle surgery, and a knee surgery — all in an eight-year span. What stands out the most, however, are his multiple back surgeries, which brings up the burning question:

Can Fantasy Football owners trust Gronkowski to remain healthy in 2017?

To start, do the Patriots even believe he can remain healthy this year? I’m not too sure. Nearly eight weeks removed from making a brief appearance at Wrestlemania 33 in which Gronkowski appeared in the ring during a battle royal, the Patriots and their star tight end agreed to terms on a restructured contract. He received an incentive based deal for the 2017 season that could make him the highest paid player at his position if he remains healthy and produces up to his standard. Gronkowski’s new deal will give him an opportunity to enhance his 2017 salary from $5.25 million to $10.75 million on a three-tiered incentive based pay scale.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Tier one — Gronkowski can earn another $5.5 million if he is on the field for 90 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, catches 80 passes, gains 1,200 yards receiving, scores 14 touchdowns or if he is named First-Team All-Pro.
  • Tier two — he can earn another $3 million if he is on the field for 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, catches 70 passes, gains 1,000 yards receiving or scores 12 touchdowns.
  • Tier three — he can earn another $1 million if he is on the field for 70 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, catches 60 passes, gains 800 yards receiving or scores ten touchdowns.

GronkIf the Patriots actually thought that Gronkowski could keep his health intact for a full 16-game slate, wouldn’t they have just made him the highest-paid tight end in football rather than forward him an incentive-based deal? In my opinion, the answer is yes, because his career production garners it. Moreover, not only did New England elect to go that route with Gronkowski’s restructured deal, but they also acquired Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts for a fourth round pick in the wake of Martellus Bennett’s departure to the Green Bay Packers via free agency. Therefore, if the organization appears to have question marks about Gronkowski’s health, shouldn’t his fantasy owners? Again, the answer is simply yes.

Gronkowski hasn’t played in a full 16 game season since 2011, a feat he only accomplished twice in his career — the other time was in 2010, his rookie year. However, I’d like to focus on the two times he played in less than ten games in a single season. The first occurrence was in 2013. He appeared in seven games and produced a 39-592-4 stat line while averaging 15.2 YPC. That was the year he was sidelined for the first six games stemming from multiple forearm surgeries in the offseason and then missed the final three games of the year, plus the postseason due to a torn ACL.

In 2014, Gronkowski bounced back in a big way, compiling the second-best statistical season of his career. Playing in 15 games, he caught 82 targets for 1,124 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns while posting three games with at least 100 yards receiving and a 13.7 YPC average.

Where am I going with this? Well, if you’re a believer in trends as I am, you’ll ask yourself: Since the only other time Gronkowski didn’t appear in 10 contests was last season, can he repeat his bounce back success from 2014 despite aging three years and undergoing his third back surgery? An optimist would say yes, but a realist would proceed with extreme caution.

Fantasy Take:

[the_ad id=”66786″]At his current 2.09 ADP in 12-team standard scoring formats, Gronkowski is slated to be taken late in the second round of fantasy drafts — his lowest ADP since entering the before mentioned 2014 campaign (3.06) in which he had that outstanding bounce back year. Also, keep in mind that his current ADP is nearly a full round lower than it was heading into last season — he was a borderline late first/ early second round pick in 2016 in most leagues.

If Gronkowski, who averages 180.38 fantasy points in seasons (four) in which he appears in at least 15 games, remains healthy, the odds are in his favor to once again lead all tight ends in fantasy scoring in 2017. Last season, Travis Kelce led all tight ends in fantasy scoring with 138 points, 42 points less than Gronkowski’s average. With that much of a gap, plus, at his late-second round ADP, the reward appears to outweigh the risk in drafting him that high, if at all.

Even with all of New England’s weapons that include Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, James White and the recently acquired Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and Allen, I wouldn’t be worried about Gronkowski’s target share depleting. Remember, Tom Brady is still under center, and Edelman has been a mainstay contributor to the offense since 2013. Plus, the Patriots always spread the ball around to a plethora of receivers and employ a running back out of the backfield in passing situations.

Throughout his career, Gronkowski has never finished a campaign worse than fifth in total targets on the team, even in his injury-shortened seasons. And, in years that he played in at least 15 games, he’s finished first twice (2014-2015), second once (2011) and fourth once (as a rookie in 2010).

Gronkowski’s Target Breakdown by Year and Team Ranking

Year Games Played Targets Team Ranking
2010 16 59 4th
2011 16 124 2nd
2012 11 79 3rd
2013 7 67 3rd
2014 15 130 1st
2015 15 120 1st
2016 8 38 5th

Can we fully trust Gronkowski to remain healthy in 2017? Unless someone is a psychic, the answer is no. However, if he is available at his current ADP or later, he is a difficult player to pass up. The numbers prove it. He plays on a team and in a system that utilizes his strengths to the max, has arguably the G.O.A.T. of signal callers throwing him the ball, and perhaps most importantly, he’s the type of player who has the will to prove the naysayers wrong. I would take the risk and select Gronkowski in upcoming fantasy drafts, but with a catch. Be sure to handcuff him with Allen, who currently holds a 14.03 ADP and will likely be available at the back-end of a draft.

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