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Gronkowski, Graham Reaching New Heights For The TE Position

Once upon a time the tight end position was something most owners targeted toward the later rounds of their fantasy football drafts. While some owners pursued Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez in the early rounds, many other owners preferred to wait and land someone like Chris Cooley several rounds later and still receive a high level of fantasy production.

Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are out to change all that.

These two young, supremely gifted tight ends are setting the NFL - and fantasy football - on fire this season. Both are putting up the type of seasons typically seen by superstar wide receivers, not top-level tight ends. Given their youth and respective talent, both could become sure-fire fantasy studs who are drafted far earlier than tight ends have ever been selected before.

And if you have one of them this season, your quest for a fantasy title is in great hands.

Gronkowski is averaging 20.1 points per game in the National Fantasy Football Championship after the first 13 weeks of the season while Graham is delivering a healthy 18.9 per game. By means of comparison, only one wide receiver (Wes Welker) is averaging more points per game than Gronkowski and only two (Welker and Calvin Johnson) are averaging more than Graham.

Let's take it even further. Only two running backs (Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy) have a higher point per game average than Gronkowski. Only three (Foster, McCoy and Ray Rice) are currently averaging more than Graham.

Johnson, Foster, McCoy and Rice were all first-round picks in the NFFC this season and are the foundation pieces for many teams still aiming for their league titles. Gronkowski and Graham are providing similar production at a position typically not known for delivering something so significant.

Gates and Gonzalez set the standard for how elite fantasy tight ends have been judged in recent seasons. But as great as both of them have been (Gonzalez is a sure-fire Hall of Famer and Gates could be as well), neither delivered at the level Gronkowski and Graham have produced so far this season.

Gates' best season came in 2005 when he caught 89 passes for 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns. That produced 259.1 points in point-per reception leagues. Gonzalez's best season came in 2004 when he posted 102-1,258-7 for 269.8 points.

How does that compare to what this season's dynamic duo are delivering? Gronkowski already has 242 points in the NFFC while Graham has 227.6. By season's end, both should have easily surpassed the best fantasy seasons put up by the two tight ends everyone would acknowledge have been this generation's best at the position.

Gonzalez's 102 receptions in 2004 is the all-time record for tight ends in a season. Graham leads the NFC with 75 and is on pace to challenge that mark. He is also on pace to finish with with 1,395 receiving yards. That would best the current record for tight ends, held by Kellen Winslow Sr. (1,290 in 1980).

While Gronkowski's fantasy output has been superior, Graham has been slightly more consistent. Gronkowski has been held under eight fantasy points in two games this season while Graham has dipped below that level just once. Gronkowski has feasted more in terms of touchdowns (he has 13 to Graham's nine) while Graham has been the more reliable option for receptions (he has 75 to Gronkowski's 65) and yardage (he has 1,046 to Gronkowski's 928).

There's no reason to think either player will suffer a decline in production anytime soon considering both are working with two of the game's elite quarterbacks in Tom Brady (Gronkowski) and Drew Brees (Graham). In fact, both players appear to be gearing up for a big fantasy finish.

Graham has caught at least five passes and delivered at least 75 yards receiving in each of his last four games with the Saints pursuing San Francisco for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoff race. Meanwhile in New England, Gronkowski has scored in five consecutive games and has caught two TDs in three of the last four to help the Patriots stay on course for the possible No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

Which tight end carries more value may ultimately be splitting hairs considering both are delivering high-end WR1-type production this season. In fact, given the volatility of the wide receiver position this season, you could make a strong case that Gronkowski and Graham are the most valuable receiving options in all of fantasy, even ahead of Welker and Megatron.

Welker, for example, was held to a two-reception game in Week 11 while Johnson has failed to top 15 points in any of his last four games and hasn't reached 100 yards receiving since Week 8. Both are obviously still standout WR1 options but when it comes to high-end consistency, neither have been as good as Gronkowski or Graham of late.

When you begin to list the fantasy studs who are likely going to be major impact players the rest of the season, the names Rodgers, Foster, McCoy and Rice come quickly to mind. But be sure to include the names Gronkowski and Graham too. Not only have both become fantasy superstars but they will likely play prominent roles in championship runs from here on out as the season winds to a close.

TK's Hot Picks

Here are five sleeper picks for Week 14:

QB: Carson Palmer (Oak.) - The Raiders are scuffling but Palmer has been putting up solid fantasy numbers, topping 270 yards in three of the past four games. This week, he faces Green Bay's 31st-ranked pass defense. He'll throw it plenty trying to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and the volume makes him a fine sleeper pick.

RB: C.J. Spiller (Buf.) - He's putting up fine numbers since replacing Fred Jackson and this week faces a San Diego defense that hasn't looked good for nearly two months. Spiller will get plenty of touches and deliver quality RB2 production.

WR: Nate Burleson (Det.) - Burleson has quietly regained WR3 stature in PPR leagues with 25 receptions in his last four games. Minnesota's pass defense has major issues on the back end and the Lions should throw it a lot as usual, making Burleson a fine sleeper WR.

TE: Kellen Winslow (TB) - It would help the Bucs if Josh Freeman returns but even with Josh Johnson at QB, this is a favorable matchup against a Jacksonville defense that is struggling to defend tight ends. Winslow is looking good as a low-end TE starter this week.

D: Seattle - The Rams may be without starting QB Sam Bradford and backup A.J. Feeley. The Seahawks' D will feast Monday Night in a game that could be over at halftime.

Tom Kessenich is the Manager of High Stakes Fantasy Games for STATS LLC. Find out more about the NFFC at nffc.stats.com or email Tom at tkessenich@stats.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomKessenich.

Comments

By: jtr5708
On: 12/8/2011 8:54:00 AM
I've been telling my tale of woe all over Rotowire so I apologize if any of you have heard it before. I drafted both Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowksi this year. Yes, despite how great that sounds this is still a sad story. After a few weeks it was apparent that I had the two best TEs in the league. And in this particular league there was no Flex position so I was not able to start both. One of them would definitely have to be on the bench each week.

I tried like hell to trade either one. I sent out offers, posted messages on the boards, etc. I was willing to trade for a solid starting RB or WR. I was not driving too hard of a bargain, either. I was just looking for fair. Unfortunately in this league it was filled with owners who basically overlooked how dynamic these two guys are and just lumped them into the "dime a dozen" TE category. So long story short, the trade deadline passed and I have them both for the long haul.

It's not the worst thing because yes, I have two elite TEs. But it seems like every week the one I leave on the bench is the one who blows up. And yes, I had Graham in this week while Gronk had 3 TDs on my bench. What do you think? Should I play matchups or do you think I should stick with one guy? If so, which one?
 
By: Tom Kessenich
On: 12/8/2011 9:00:00 AM
That's a tough one. I'd probably go with Gronkowski slightly based only on the fact he's scoring more TDs. But no matter who you start, that position should be solidified every week. Sucks that nobody wants to trade for a superstar player but I've seen a lot of that in recent years with people becoming less and less inclined to make trades. Everybody's so afraid of being ripped off or is far too high on certain players that they either flat-out refuse to make trades or have unrealistic demands. Several weeks back in my top league, for example, I offered Mike Williams (TB) for Green-Ellis. Guy shot me down and countered with BJGE for Jones-Drew. Needless to say I was a little taken aback by that offer and politely declined. :)
 
By: Tom Kessenich
On: 12/8/2011 9:01:00 AM
I should add that based on how Tampa Mike has played of late and how little Law Firm has done I'm very happy the guy turned me down. :) I really needed RB help at the time but I don't any longer so it's all worked out for the best.
 
By: jtr5708
On: 12/8/2011 9:48:00 AM
Yeah, I am with you on the trade mentality. It will probably take the casual fantasy owner until next year to catch up on how Gronk and Graham have changed things so drastically.

I had these guys available for trade since around week 3 and continued to make it clear they were available all the way up until the trade deadline. I sent out offers all the time and they were turned down. And even though it would not be ridiculous to ask for Adrian Peterson or Wes Welker, I didn't simply because I knew that other owner would be offended (I drafted Megatron so that's why I didn't use him as an example). I was asking for guys like Mendenhall and Jennings just to try to get a deal done. I even gave other owners their choice of either Graham or Gronk because I would be happy with either and I didn't want the tough task of having to choose between them. The closest I came was trading Gronk for Ryan Mathews but the owner backed out.

You are also right that these two TEs are going to change the entire mentality of the position. Right now the casual owner still sees them as TEs and severely undervalues them. I would contend that these two guys are MORE valuable than their points indicate because they are doing it in a position where most people are happy with 5-8 pt per week.

I will not hesitate to draft either one of them in the late first, early second round next season.
 
By: Tom Kessenich
On: 12/8/2011 9:59:00 AM
It's going to be very interesting to see where these two go next year in drafts. If they put up stud WR1 numbers shouldn't they go where those WRs tend to go (i.e. late first/early second)? Seems to me that they should. I can't see either Graham or Gronkowski lasting past the second round. There's no reason to think either guy will lose their vital role in the respective offenses. My top league keeps one new player for each season and right now Graham is my guy. I never thought a day would come that I'd want to keep a TE but he's insanely talented, obviously in a great situation and barring a major injury I don't see any reason to expect nothing short of greatness for him the next few years at least. Same with Gronkowski.
 
By: jtr5708
On: 12/8/2011 10:02:00 AM
What do you see happening with Hernandez? Coming into this season some thought he might have a slight edge on Gronkowski as the TE to own in NE.
 
By: Tom Kessenich
On: 12/8/2011 10:20:00 AM
I think he'll still be a valuable guy. Keep in mind Hernandez is also Top 10 in TE scoring. I'd be happy to run with him as my TE1 next season if he couldn't land one of the studs.
 
By: taborp
On: 12/8/2011 12:47:00 PM
I'm looking at keeping Gronk next year as well, which feels crazy. However, I'll be watching what NE does in the draft and free agency. I fear a shift in the offensive game plan if NE adds a top tier WR option (i.e. not Ocho).
 
By: Tom Kessenich
On: 12/8/2011 1:07:00 PM
I think the Patriots need to upgrade the WR position but it's hard for me to envision a scenario where either TE drops off dramatically. Both present such huge matchup advantages and Brady is superb at spotting them and taking advantage of them. I think that will remain a big part of their passing attack. Where I'd be a little concerned about Gronk next season is with TDs. He's putting up insane numbers there and TDs are typically a very volatile stat. I wouldn't be surprised to see him put up similar reception/yardage numbers next season with fewer TDs.
 
By: matthewthill7
On: 12/8/2011 2:04:00 PM
The thing that amazes me is how wide-ass open Gronkowski always is. He never has a defender within two yards of him. So teams are saying that they are more worried about Branch and Ochocinco?

Graham is usually well-covered - or at least marked - but he's so fast and massive that it seldom matters. He catches everything Brees throws at him, anyway.

Gun to my head, Gronkowski will probably be the better option in 2012, if for no other reason than I think he's a better bet to score TDs.
 
By: MaineSkin
On: 12/9/2011 3:27:00 AM
Add Fred Davis to this weeks starting lineup and Rex would be officially a starter this week in any league. The Redskins scheme is unbelievable and every week I watch throws get missed as the OL, after all the injuries, are back to giving Rex the time to pick apart Ds. If Manning demands a trade after Ind signs Luck, do not even think twice that Big Mike, who loves veteran QBs and Snyder, who loves franchise changing names, will offer Ind the world in picks to his rights.
 
By: lvtdude
On: 12/9/2011 9:23:00 AM
I have a loaded team, and I am going to keep Graham. I have to let one of these guys go to do it...

Ryan Matthews or Andre Johnson

I'll be keeping...

Michael Vick or Josh Freeman (must keep a QB, unfortunately)
Adrian Peterson
Calvin Johnson
Jimmy Graham
Matthews or Johnson

I think Matthews has to go, but Andre Johnson's constant injury woes are bugging me.
 
By: jtr5708
On: 12/9/2011 10:31:00 AM
Lvtdude, that is a tough call... I'd like to throw in my two cents if you don't mind. They are both injury risks. Mathews is younger and SD should remain a competent offensive team for the foreseeable future. But then again AJ is only 30 and def still has a few good years left in him.

If it were me, I'd likely go with AJ only bc you already have AP and it is much easier to fill in with an RB or two in the draft. And the current trend towards passing does not seem to be slowing down at all. This year was a great example of that as well as how difficult the WR position is to fill. And imagine if you can roster Megatron and AJ? If they both stay healthy your team could be unstoppable.

Either way, it looks like you have a good foundation in place.
 
By: jnowak2799
On: 12/9/2011 12:06:00 PM
Changing the game, thinking outside the box, I have noticed a lot of experts like to hold off on drafting a QB early in drafts, this really isn't thinking outside the box but what I think is common logic. If you followed a lot of the experts theory of holding off until later in the draft to pick a QB the only real pay-offs this year were if you landed Eli Manning, Matt Stafford, or Cam Newton. If you drafted Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, or Sam Bradford etc... thinking you got a steal in the 7th or 8th round you failed miserably.

I like to compare fantasy football to poker a lot, both games are pretty similar, it's about outsmarting your opponent. In Texas Hold-Em you get two whole cards you start out with, in fantasy football your first two picks are like your whole cards, In Hold-em the best you can do is pocket Aces, in fantasy football the closest you can come to pocket aces in next years draft is if you draft a Stud QB (Rodgers-Brees-Newton) and a stud Tight End in the 2nd round (Jimmy Graham or Gronkowski). Start my fantasy team out with the combo of Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham and I am fully confident that I should be able to outplay my opponents the rest of the draft, the same way a great poker player outplays his opponents after the flop even though he might be holding inferior cards, the advantage you have in fantasy football is that after the first two rounds you can almost guarantee you are holding pocket aces, in poker you might have to bluff with Rashard Mendenhall(10 of clubs) and Vincent Jackson(jack of clubs), I like my chances going all in with Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham against any other two whole cards. Then pick Roy Helu in the 3rd round, Victor Cruz or A.J. Green in the 4th round, I wish it was that easy, but I believe if you can start out your fantasy drafts next year similar to this theory you are on your way to a championship in 2012.
 
By: lvtdude
On: 12/13/2011 9:15:00 PM
jtr5708- thanks for the input. By the way, I neglected to mention that I have Larry Fitzgerald. I have considered Andre Johnson a better option up until recently, but Fitz is 2 years younger and he's played in only 1 less game, despite having 1 less season in the NFL. He has 13 more career TD's. Their receptions and yardage are very close. Is Fitz a better keeper? The numbers say he is...
 

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