Fantasy Reaction: Rob Gronkowski Retires from the NFL (Fantasy Football)

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On Tuesday afternoon, the future first ballot Hall-of-Famer, Rob Gronkowski, announced via his Instagram that he’d be retiring from the NFL after 11 years as a pro. Gronk’s 9,286 career receiving yards ranks 5th among all TEs in NFL history behind fellow greats, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, and Shannon Sharpe. While Gronk is certainly headed to Canton, he’s also headed to the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame. In his career, Gronk has finished as a top-12 fantasy TE in 9 of 11 years, and the only two seasons in which he didn’t finish as a TE1, he missed half the season to injury. Enjoy retirement, Gronk. You’ll be missed on our fantasy rosters.

But now that Gronk isn’t returning to Tampa Bay, we must turn our attention to the fantasy fallout for the Bucs offense. A year ago, Gronk missed five games due to injury, but in 12 starts, he averaged 7.4 targets per game, 4.6 receptions per game and 66.8 receiving yards per game as a focal point of the passing offense. Specifically, Gronk’s presence in the lineup helped Tom Brady achieve more ceiling performances in weeks where Gronk played.

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Yards/Game Yards/Att Passing TD
With Gronk 325.7 7.28 2.67
Without Gronk 281.6 7.05 2.6

While Brady’s BFF won’t be on the field any longer and this could in theory reduce Brady’s TD rate, he’s still likely to perform at a top-12 fantasy QB level simply based on talent, an elevated pass rate and deep pass attempts, which is a statistic Brady led all of the NFL in a year ago. He’s currently the QB7 in our rankings, but you could argue without Gronk available, Brady may lack the top-3 fantasy upside we saw a year ago.

Gronk’s role as the primary pass catching TE is likely to be filled by veteran Cameron Brate, who is signed with Tampa Bay until the 2024 season. Brate didn’t do much for fantasy last season when Gronk was out of the lineup, but that can largely be attributed to splitting time with O.J. Howard (who is now in Buffalo) and competing with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown for targets. With Brown off the team and Godwin set to miss a few games to start the season, Brate can absolutely be a streaming option for the first month of the season, and potentially longer.

Brate has never been a big yardage guy, but back in 2016 and 2017 with Jameis Winston, the Harvard grad hauled in 8 and 6 receiving TD while finishing as fantasy’s TE7 and TE9 in those two seasons. Top-12 TE numbers for Brate this year is not out of the question, especially if he can develop some rapport with Brady inside the red zone. It is worth noting that Brate’s 19 red zone targets a year ago as a rotational player actually tied Mike Evans per our Red Zone Report Tool. Because of this involvement around the goal line, we can expect some boom-or-bust production from the veteran TE.

As for Mike Evans and Russell Gage, their roles are only more solidified as necessary producers in a pass happy offense, especially early in the season as Godwin is eased back into the lineup after his ACL surgery. With Gronk no longer manning the intermediate area of the field, Gage has a chance to earn high percentage targets out of the slot, and Mike Evans is always a threat to post 10+ receiving TD. Last season, 7 of Evans’ 14 receiving TD came with Gronk off the field, and what’s more sneaky about this situation for Evans is that Chris Godwin actually led all Bucs last season in targets from inside the red zone. Look for Evans to post some big numbers not only across the entire season, but especially in the first month of the year sans Godwin and Gronkowski.

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