by Ray Kuhn
No. Not at all. Draft a tight end in the second round? That is insane. At least it used to be. Times are certainly changing in fantasy football, however. Strategies that were commonplace and suggested as the best practice even three years ago now must be re-examined.
The majority of running backs now operate in some sort of time share or committee and it is no longer prudent to open up your draft by taking two running backs. Dynamic quarterbacks such as Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers who not only pass for prolific numbers, but are also successful running the ball have now shot up draft boards. Receivers that look like NBA forwards have also risen into the first round of fantasy drafts. But now tight ends?
Before you start to disassemble and totally revamp your draft board, let’s pause and breath for a moment. I know once I did, I came back to earth and began to revaluate my stance on this. Rob Gronkowski (ADP of 17.39) and Jimmy Graham (19.98) are going no later than early third round and are both in the top 20 of ADP. Now before you start to think we have a full fledged revolution on our hands look at the ADP of the next highest tight end. Antonio Gates has his customary ADP of 47.59 and after that is Jason Witten at 67.30. (Data courtesy of www.mockdraftcentral.com)
At this point it seems that Gronkowski and Graham have altered the tight end market in multiple ways. Because of their revolutionary talents, they truly are wide receivers with added height and muscle. Not only have they increased their own value, but they have also devalued the remaining tight ends from a fantasy perspective. Gates in round four, at least based on the early data, is another isolated choice. That might be based more on track record than current performance but that is a topic for another article. Gates aside, the market is essentially saying there is a 40 pick difference between Gronkowski and Graham and the rest of the tight ends. Let’s take a look at why.
For starters, both developed into the number one receiving options for their teams last season and have perennial Pro-Bowl quarterbacks throwing them the ball. They are freakishly athletic and their statistics are noticeably better than their counterparts. Based on their size, tight ends are long considered top third down targets and possession receivers across the middle of the field. This is the category where Gronkowski and Graham do not have much separation with their competition. Last season, 6 tight ends ranked in the top 20 in receptions. However our duo was at the top two in their position coming in 3rd and 5th. So far this just supports the fact that Gronkowski and Graham are the best two tight ends in the league and the role of the tight end is evolving into more of a pass catching role.
With 1,327 and 1,310 yards respectively, Gronkowski and Graham ranked 6th and 7th in receiving yards among wide receivers with a full 385 yards more than the next highest ranked tight end – Jason Witten at 28th. Now we are closer to seeing why their ADP has been hard earned and is in fact logical. But before making the final judgment, you must review the touchdowns from last season. Only five players had double digit receiving touchdowns last season. Two were tight ends. Gronkowski led the league with 17 and Graham was tied for fourth with 11.
When Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are being given first round consideration and are no doubt second rounders, there is no reason why Gronkowski and Graham should not be given the same consideration based purely on statistics and talent. That is in fact what is happening. They are being drafted similarly to wide receivers so far this season.
From a depth perspective this can be analyzed in two ways. In a 12 team league there are 36 receivers starting each week (more if there is a flex position) and 12 tight ends. This makes it harder to find three receivers that are better than your competition and there is more depth available in the tight end pool. But conversely, after the top receivers, there really is not much difference between some of the other receivers other than a matter of preference. So if you draft the 20th best receiver or the 30th, how much of a difference really exists? Especially since those rankings are so subjective, you might personally prefer the 30th ranked receiver. However when it comes to tight ends, there is a sizeable difference between the Gronkowski and Graham as compared to even Gates as the number 3 tight end (at least based on ADP).
Fantasy football is all about gaining advantages on your opponent in every way possible. By drafting a tight end in the second round you will have a clear advantage over every opponent you face (except for the other owner with the same strategy). With the majority of owners following the same draft strategy and rankings lists, there are bargains and values to be had. This is one of those situations where a clear advantage can be had – as well as top 5 wide receiver value in the second round.
What do you think? I am not advocating taking any tight end early, just these two. Once Gronkowski and Graham are off the board, I would let another owner start a positional run and take advantage of the positional depth and start thinking about choosing a tight end in the 5th or 6th round. Will you be taking a tight end in the second round?
Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: