Anyone else having déjà vu? Rob Gronkowski has retired from the NFL, again. With the 11-season veteran calling it quits, the fantasy football landscape becomes a bit more solidified.
Gronkowski was always non-committal to returning to Tampa Bay in 2022, so his retirement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. His value across all formats already had this possibility baked into it. For example, Gronkowski’s Average Draft Position (ADP) across multiple platforms was TE16. That seems a bit low for last season’s overall TE7 in PPR formats (Gronkowski was TE3 in points per game). Had we known Gronkowski was definitely coming back, his ADP would surely be higher. In fact, I would’ve had him as a surefire top-ten pick at the position.
Gronkowski’s potential retirement was also factored into his teammates’ ADPs. With him officially out of the picture, expect most of his teammates to see their values rightfully rise. Those values will reflect possibilities of new outcomes for each player. Let’s see just what impact Gronkowski’s official retirement (for now) has on fantasy football, starting with his fellow tight ends.
Fantasy Impact on Cameron Brate, Cade Otton
The Buccaneers have held onto Cameron Brate since 2014. The veteran tight end mostly operated as the team’s TE2 behind tight ends like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski. With Gronkowski out of the way, Brate is the best bet to start at tight end. The Bucs ran 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) 22% of the time, which was tied for the 14th-highest rate in football per Sharp Football. Tampa Bay also targeted their tight ends 23.5% of the time, which was the ninth-highest rate per FantasyPros. So whoever steps into Gronkowski’s role could get a massive workload in the passing game. Here’s the catch: Brate obviously isn’t a Gronkowski clone. While Brate was top-ten in red zone targets among tight ends last season, we shouldn’t expect Brate to instantly fill in Gronkowski’s shoes. The same can be said for the pair of rookie tight ends Tampa Bay drafted. They took Cade Otton in round four and Ko Kieft in round six. Rookie tight ends rarely make an impact, but now, Otton has a chance to see noticeable playing time. There’s a slim chance Otton overtakes Brate, though the possibility is more plausible now with Gronkowski out the door. Brate is a fine TE2 for your team and Otton is a fine late-round flier as your TE3 if you choose to take one. I prefer Brate at his price to that of Mike Gesicki, Noah Fant, Irv Smith and Albert Okwuegbunam, to name a few.
Fantasy Impact on Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage
Tampa Bay is a great offense to dip into for fantasy. No team passed the ball more often last season than the Bucs did. While we should expect some natural regression, Tampa Bay should still be a pass-first team. And who can blame them? They have quarterback Tom Brady throwing to a loaded group of pass-catchers. I’ll have more on Brady’s fantasy stock in a second, so let’s look at the team’s wide receivers.
I was already fairly high on Mike Evans because there was a fair chance Gronkowski could retire. Now that it’s official, we don’t need to worry about Evans losing targets to Rob Gronkowski. Check out the difference in production with Evans and Gronkowski playing together versus when Gronkowski didn’t play.
So Gronkowski’s absence only boosted Evans’ stock by roughly three points each game. However, as my mini-Twitter thread shows, Chris Godwin played in those five Gronk-less games. We have yet to see Brady play with just Evans. With Godwin likely slated to miss a few games recovering from his Week 15 ACL injury, the door is wide open for Evans to get absolutely fed to start the season. Keep in mind that Evans finished as WR9 in 2021 and WR11 in 2020 in PPR formats. Evans’ ADP is WR11, though I like him over Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown – both of whom have higher ADPs than Evans. Evans could easily see 9+ targets a game, though he has yet to reach that with Brady. The reasons: high-volume passing and less competition for targets.
Russell Gage is a good player, but he’s not Evans. Still, Gronkowski’s retirement opens up more potential targets for Gage and for Godwin when he returns. Both should rightfully see their ADPs rise as well. But none of them have the upside Evans does. He and Brate are prime candidates to take over Gronkowski’s workload based on size and play style. As for what to expect, Gronkowski averaged 7.4 targets per game compared to Evans’ 7.1 average. Even two more targets per game would have made Evans a top-12 wide receiver in targets. Evans may lose some work once Godwin returns. Until then, Evans will be a WR1 on a Brady-led offense that has been one of the best passing offenses in football. Dare I say Evans has an increased chance to be the highest-scoring wide receiver in fantasy, especially in best ball leagues.
Fantasy Impact on Tom Brady
Last year’s QB3 has an ADP of QB9, though that is sure to dip. It makes sense since the Bucs lost Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown. Again, Gage is a fine player who should be a viable WR2 until Godwin returns. But no one is expecting Gage to replicate Brown’s whopping 23.1% target rate per snap. Without his favorite teammate, Gronk, it’s reasonable to expect Brady to regress more than he was already projected. The re-emergence of running back Leonard Fournette and the departures of Gronkowski and Brown are likely to have a hand in that. Despite those factors, we should still expect Brady to be among the top passers in football. Brady led the league in pass attempts in 2021 and was second in 2020. The high volume alone keeps him as a surefire QB1 in fantasy. His upside is just a bit more capped without Gronkowski. Still, Brady should be one of the first seven quarterbacks taken. As of now, I slightly prefer him to Joe Burrow and Dak Prescott.