Written by: George Haraktsis, @Blitzalytics
When people ask you who the best tight end in fantasy football is, you usually give one of two answers— Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce. These two have set the standard at the position for years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Each commands a huge share of their team’s offense and has the track record and ability to finish as fantasy’s TE1. This begs the questions: Who is the better fantasy tight end? And why should you draft one ahead of the other?
The case for Gronk
Since joining the New England Patriots, Rob Gronkowski has been nothing short of spectacular on the football field. Over his eight-year career, Gronk has averaged 90.25 targets, 59 receptions, 897 yards, 15.58 YPR, and 9.5 touchdowns per year. In that same span, he has finished as the TE1 four times and TE2 twice. If we dig a little deeper and look at seasons in which Gronk has played at least 11 games, he’s averaged 103 targets, 68 receptions, over 1,000 yards, and 11.5 touchdowns.
These are unbelievable statistics for a TE but they do not tell the whole story, given Gronk’s injury history. So if we extrapolate Gronk’s per game totals across 16 games, we get an even more telling picture. With 117.53 targets, 77.16 receptions, 1,169 receiving yards and over 12 touchdowns a game, Gronkowski is nothing short of a completely dominant force based on his per game averages. He’s putting up WR1 numbers for god’s sake!
Still don’t believe me? Gronkowski’s 2017 PPR point total of 227.4 points would have placed him 10th among eligible wide receivers. By comparison, Cameron Brate finished as last season’s PPR TE10 with 143.1 points, which would have slotted him in as WR43 between Sterling Shepard and Danny Amendola. He’s that impactful.
Not only does he have the gaudy numbers, but he’s efficient and makes the people around him better as well. He has a career catch rate of 65.83% and ranked as Pro Football Focus’ most efficient TE in 2017. Gronk also makes Tom Brady, YES, TOM BRADY, better when he’s on the field. Just look at the picture below.
He couldn’t ask for a better foundation around him either. The Patriots still have Josh McDaniels, and more importantly, Bill Belichick, on the coaching staff, and reigning 2017 MVP Tom Brady is still under center. Gronk is one of Brady’s favorite targets and should continue to see passes coming his way. With the Patriots wide receiving corps being the thinnest it has been in years, Gronk could actually see even more targets coming his way in 2018.
The case against Gronk
The only case one can make against Gronk is his availability. To say that Gronkowski has been injury prone might be an understatement. His history dates back to his college days at Arizona, where he ruptured a disc in his back and had to miss his entire junior season. Since entering the NFL though, matters have been far worse. In a possible 128 regular season games, Gronkowski has played in only 102, missing a combined 26 games over that eight-year span.
Gronk’s injury report looks like a Greek epic poem. His injuries have included, but are not limited to, ACL/MCL tears, vertebrae fractures, forearm fractures, hernias, infections, and concussions. Of these ailments mentioned, he has sustained six injuries that have forced him to miss time, not including concussions. The fact that the man is still standing is a damn miracle within itself. If your hesitation with Gronk is injury, you have every right to be tentative. He averages over three missed games a year. He’s just not dependable.
The case for Kelce
Kelce has now managed two straight finishes as the TE1 in PPR formats. He averaged 15.7 fantasy points on the season and scored under 10 points in only 4 of 16 games. He was football’s most targeted tight end in 2017, had the second most yards at 1,038, and tied for second in touchdowns receptions at the position. There’s no denying that Kelce is not only elite, but consistent as well.
According to NFL.com, “Kelce was a top-10 finisher 10 times in 15 games. Kelce finished no worse than 13th in all but three games, and he failed to post top-20 totals just once”. He was no boom or bust guy, you could trust him every single week.
According to Number Fire, Kelce also has a huge grasp on the team’s targets and it’s only growing. “His target share has increased every season, from a solid 16.05% in 2014 all the way up to a huge 21.03% in 2017. Kelce is also coming off his best season as a red-zone weapon. Only two tight ends were targeted more times inside the 20 than Kelce, who saw a career-high 20 targets. He converted five of these into touchdowns.” Kelce is only getting better and more involved every single passing year on the Chiefs.
In complete contrast to Gronk, has Kelce missed just one game in the last four seasons (due to rest, not injury), and has managed to post more yards than the New England tight end in that time. In Kelce’s short time in this league, he has proven to be a durable, improving, impactful, and consistent tight end. He does not rely on boom or bust plays and has a style of play that translates well year after year in the NFL. He is poised to build upon his monstrous year in 2018.
The case against Kelce
Kansas City’s 2018 offense will not be one we are accustomed to seeing. Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy is now the head coach for the Chicago Bears and for the first time in his short career, Kelce will be catching passes from someone else not named Alex Smith. The rapport they built over the years was one of the best connections between a pass catcher and his quarterback that the NFL has seen.
With Mahomes now starting, Kelce’s connection and rapport is now questionable. We don’t know if Mahomes will be able to connect with Kelce like he did with Smith in his past. It could throw a serious wrench into Kelce’s efficiency and consistency.
Mahomes isn’t the only new face in the Chief’s starting line up, as the team signed former Ram’s wide receiver Sammy Watkins to a huge 3 year, $48,000,000 deal this offseason. What does this mean for Kelce?
Well, a team usually doesn’t sign a player to a huge deal like that and not plan to use him. Since there are only so many targets to go around, and probably even less now that a sophomore QB is starting, we should expect a dip in Kelce’s volume.
Even with all this uncertainty surrounding Kelce, he will still be able to maintain a high fantasy ceiling, but his once-high fantasy floor just got a bit lower.
When it comes down to it I could not fault you for taking either tight end. Each one is an elite player at their position and potential hall-of-famers. But if I had to choose one, I’d have to go with Rob Gronkowski. While his injury risk is most certainly higher, his ceiling is absolutely through the roof any time he plays. He is essentially a WR1 any time he steps on the field and is so efficient when he’s out there. With the Patriots WR corps being so decimated this year, it’s not crazy to think that Gronkowski could put up the best season of his entire career. Tom Brady will need to throw to someone and Gronk is easily his favorite target. With an uptick in volume inevitably coming his way and Gronk firmly in the prime of his career, he wins the matchup this time.