Raybon: The Fantasy Football Impact of Rob Gronkowski’s Retirement

Raybon: The Fantasy Football Impact of Rob Gronkowski’s Retirement article feature image

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (11)

  • Rob Gronkowski has retired after nine seasons in the NFL.
  • Chris Raybon breaks down how his retirement affects the fantasy value of QB Tom Brady, WR Julian Edelman, RBs James White & Sony Michel and more.

It’s time to bid Rob Gronkowski farewell.

Two things…

1) We all know why Gronk really retired when he did:

Gronk needed an uncharacteristic 3 TDs in 13 games in 2018 to end his career on exactly 0.69 per game.

And we all wondered why his usage was down.

— Chris Raybon (@ChrisRaybon) March 25, 2019

2) Gronk retiring provides one more reason not to watch the NFL, which by my conservative calculations leaves fantasy football responsible for roughly 99.9% of the league’s fans on Sundays — and 1000% of its fans on Thursdays. (Don’t debate me on either of these things. They are fact.).

Since Gronk entered the league in 2010, he’s had an outsized impact on the Patriots offense:

  • Points per game: 30.7 with Gronk | 26.8 without Gronk
  • Points per drive: 2.61 with Gronk | 2.11 without Gronk

While scoring fewer points is obviously bad for all involved in fantasy, Gronk also leaves behind a 16% target share and 24% air-yard share from last year, so although the offense might take a step back, Gronk’s departure could be a net gain for the receivers still on the Pats roster and maybe even the running game.

Let’s break down how Gronk’s retirement affects each of the fantasy-relevant Patriots.

Note: All average draft position (ADP) data is from DRAFT bestball (half-PPR) leagues and Fantasy Football Calculator as of Mar. 25.

QB Tom Brady

ADP: QB20/133.4 overall (DRAFT) | QB12/102.5 overall (FF Calc)

Brady was not a particularly good fantasy quarterback in 2018. He finished as the QB11 overall but was tied for QB14 on a per-game basis — a far cry from his QB4 overall and QB7 per-game finish in 2017.

Based on his splits with and without Gronk, Brady is likely to continue trending downward.

  • Brady with Gronk: 24.0 of 36.5 (65.9%) | 289.1 yards | 2.18 TD | 0.48 INT
  • Brady without Gronk: 22.8 of 38.3 (59.5%) | 260.0 yards | 1.75 TD | 0.64 INT

Absent suspension-driven rage, a reinstated Josh Gordon and receiving threats better than wideouts Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris and Bruce Ellington and tight ends Matt LaCosse, Jacob Hollister and Stephen Anderson, the soon-to-be 42-year-old Brady should be treated as no better than the middling QB2 he’s being valued as on DRAFT.

DRAFT HIM AS: A QB2 rather than a QB1 (and please, please, please DO NOT draft him if Josh Allen is still available)

WR Julian Edelman

ADP: WR18/46.3 overall (DRAFT) | WR16/40.6 overall (FF Calc PPR) | WR24/58.3 overall (FF Calc non-PPR)

Edelman showed no ill effects from ACL surgery in his age-32 season, finishing as the WR12 in PPR points per game (17.3), WR14 in half-PPR (14.2) and WR15 in standard (11.1).

Given his splits with and without Gronk since becaming a full-time player in 2013, Edelman looks to be undervalued heading into 2019.

  • Edelman with Gronk: 8.8 targets | 6.0 receptions | 65.2 yards | 0.43 TD | 9.5 Non-PPR | 12.6 Half-PPR | 15.6 PPR
  • Edelman without Gronk: 11.4 targets | 7.3 receptions | 80.6 yards | 0.30 TD | 10.2 Non-PPR | 13.8 Half-PPR | 17.5 PPR

Edelman sees a slight dip in efficiency without Gronk — presumably because of the added focus defenses can devote to him — but he more than makes up for it with sheer volume.

While Edelman is not as sexy of a pick as guys like Stefon Diggs or T.Y. Hilton, he’s likely to have similar production while being a lot more consistent: Edelman posted six-plus catches or a touchdown in 11 of 12 games during the regular season and 14 of 15 if you include the postseason.

DRAFT HIM AS: Low-end WR1 in PPR and half-PPR, mid-range WR2 in standard

RB James White

ADP: RB26/55.1 overall (DRAFT) | RB27/57.2 overall (FF Calc PPR) | RB27/58.1 overall (FF Calc non-PPR)

Like Edelman, White sees a volume uptick when big No. 87 isn’t on the field. Here are White’s numbers with and without Gronk since 2015:

  • White with Gronk: 5.5 targets | 4.0 receptions | 34.3 yards | 0.30 TD | 7.4 non-PPR | 9.4 half-PPR | 11.4 PPR
  • White without Gronk: 6.6 targets | 4.9 receptions | 45.1 yards | 0.43 TD | 9.0 non-PPR | 11.5 half-PPR | 13.9 PPR

As a committee back coached by the grand wizard of DGAF about your fantasy team, White isn’t a comfortable early-round fantasy pick — but he should be.

White finished as the RB10 in both PPR (17.3) and half-PPR points per game (14.6) last year, and he even turned in a solid RB16 finish in standard leagues (11.9).

And if Sony Michel happens to go down, there’s a chance you’re getting a top-five fantasy back, because White went absolutely off when Michel was out last year:

  • White with Michel: 10.5 touches | 71.0 total yards | 0.61 total TD | 10.8 non-PPR | 13.4 half-PPR | 16.0 PPR (13 games)
  • White without Michel: 15.0 touches | 84.3 total yards | 1.33 total TD | 16.4 non-PPR | 19.8 half-PPR | 23.1 PPR (3 games)

With Gronk no longer able to serve as the red-zone weapon he had previously been, White last year more than doubled his career highs in carries inside the 10 (14; previous high 6) and targets inside the 20 (22; previous high 10).

White is being treated as a borderline RB2 when he’s more like a borderline RB1.

DRAFT HIM AS: A borderline RB1 in PPR and half-PPR, mid-range RB2 in standard

RB Sony Michel

ADP: RB13/27.1 overall (DRAFT) | RB15/31.1 overall (FF Calc PPR) | RB16/32.3 overall (FF Calc non-PPR)

Since drafting Gronk in 2010, the Patriots have tended toward a slightly more run-heavy approach when he’s not in the lineup:

  • Patriots with Gronk: 28.3 carries | 116.6 yards | 4.12 YPC | 1.16 TD
  • Patriots without Gronk: 29.6 carries | 120.9 yards | 4.08 YPC | 0.97 TD

Yes, the Pats haven’t been quite as prolific at scoring touchdowns sans Gronk, but Michel is gonna get fed.

The 2018 first-round pick out of Georgia received a team-leading 2.15 opportunities inside the 10-yard line during the regular season, and that figure rises to 2.25 if you include the postseason.

Michel is properly valued at the position on DRAFT. I’d definitely take him over someone like Leonard Fournette at this point.

But you could also make the case that Michel belongs closer to the end of the Nick Chubb tier in the mid-to-late second round than the beginning of a new tier of running backs in the mid third.

Michel could have a season similar to LeGarrette Blount’s 299-carry, 1,161-yard, 18-touchdown campaign in 2016 — with higher yards-per-carry efficiency than Blount’s 3.9.

DRAFT HIM AS: High-end RB2 at the end of Round 2 rather than the middle of Round 3

The Others

It didn’t help the Pats last year that Chris Hogan was more washed than a Gronk Tide Pod, but if the 2018 season has anything to teach us, it’s that the Patriots will feed their best and most trusted players on a consistent basis rather than spread the ball around to a bunch of nobodies . Therefore, I don’t think Gronk hanging up the cleats changes the outlook much for the supplementary receivers and tight ends.

If Gordon is able to earn reinstatement, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will likely be more willing to pass the ball, but short of that or another marquee pass-catching addition, we’re probably in line for an even heavier dose of Edelman, White and Michel than we saw in 2018.

Chris Raybon is a Senior Editor at the Action Network and a co-host of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+. He has watched every snap of every NFL game since 2010 — even the kneel downs. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisRaybon and read about how he quit his accounting job and got paid to watch sports.

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