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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Beware of starting Rob Gronkowski

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Rejoice, fantasy legions. Rejoice! For Rob Gronkowski no longer has an injury designation. He is set to return this week to face the Saints. Hallelujah!

Ah, but leave it to the heathen Madman to pour cold water on the zealotry of the Church of Gronk.

That’s right, our agnostic approach to fantasy evaluations has us hesitant to use Gronk this week, for a few reasons.

First, and this is a running theme beyond just Gronk, we don’t like starting players coming off long layoffs due to injury — Gronk hasn’t played since a Week 3 ribs injury.

But it goes beyond that. His Buccaneers are facing a Saints defense that has yet to allow a touchdown to a tight end this season, nor have they given up more than 62 receiving yards to the position in a given week.

But Gronk isn’t like most tight ends, you say? He is different.

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Rob Gronkowski
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We like to use math in our calculations. That includes probability and averages. And most players don’t score touchdowns nearly at the rate per reception that Gronk does. Not even most tight ends.

His red-zone targets (8) ranks 61st. But his red-zone TDs (4) rank tied for ninth.

The math doesn’t stop there. It is barely started. To wit: Tight ends tend to have higher TD rates than those at other positions. Yet Gronk is an outlier. His four TDs are on just 16 receptions. Only one other tight end is in that vicinity, the Colts’ Mo Alie-Cox, with four on just 13 catches. The difference: Gronk’s amassed his in just three games, it took Alie-Cox seven.

In PPR formats, 24 of Gronk’s 58.4 fantasy points have come on TDs, or 41.1 percent. And he has done it on just 16 receptions — one TD for every four catches.

To put that in perspective, all tight ends across the NFL have scored 90 combined TDs on 1,050 catches, or one TD every 11.7 catches. So Gronk is nearly three times the probable expectations.

Those 90 total tight ends TDs constitute 540 points of a combined 2,792.1 PPR points, or 19 percent. So Gronk is more than doubling expectations on that front.

These are not trends that normally survive over the course of an entire season, so some significant regression in efficiency is expected, and overdue. We expect that regression to start Sunday versus the Saints.

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