For the second time in three offseasons, star tight end Rob Gronkowski has opted for stress-free pool parties rather than grueling two-a-days under the summer sun.
While during Gronk’s time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had not resembled the height of his fantasy football production, the departure of Tom Brady‘s BFF opens the door for someone to step up. This is especially true over the first couple of months of the season as standout receiver Chris Godwin recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered late in the 2021 season.
Where will the vacated targets be directed, and is there any fantasy value to be found?
The most obvious place to look: Brate has played for the Buccaneers his entire eight-year career. He turns 31 in July, and no other option has a clearer path to replace Gronkowski than the Harvard alum.
A personal-best line of 57-660-8 over 15 contests came in 2016. Brate has one other fantasy-relevant season to his credit, going for 48 receptions, 591 yards, and a half-dozen TDs in ’17. During Brady’s two seasons in Tampa, Brate has logged only six total touchdowns on 58 grabs. In the five games Gronkowski missed last season, Brate was a ghost. He finished with no more than three catches and 29 yards in any of the outings, and the only score came in Week 10 on a 1-6-1 line.
Two noteworthy factors this time around: Antonio Brown is long gone, and the aforementioned Godwin recovery will create a need to send more passes toward Brate’s position. Even when Godwin is physically recovered, he will need time to get into game shape and trust the knee, thus likely starting off sluggish. AB played in three of the five contests without Gronk and was a major component in those outings, though the 2021 Buccaneers were quite easily bottled up when Brady was without three bona fide targets.
Gronkowski averaged 7.4 targets per game in 2021 and 4.8 the year prior. Taking arguably too conservative of an approach and averaging the two years shows 5.9 looks each contest going toward the position’s top weapon. Round it up to six and we’re at 102 total targets over 17 games. Using last year’s overall data, only six tight ends would have been thrown at more times. The 2020 average of 4.8 would extrapolate to TE16 for raw target volume, so there’s a 10-place swing on the lowest end of that range. Had Gronk played every game in 2021 and all of the other scenarios played out as they did, he would have finished TE3 in targets.
The point of that little exercise in extrapolation serves to show the range of “what could be” in a fair sense using past data, but anyone with even a hint of fantasy football experience recognizes there is not sure thing in this fickle game we play.
Working in Brate’s favor, aside for the system continuity and plus-blocking ability to keep the seasoned veteran on the field, Tampa offers no proven competition at the position.
The Bucs invested the first pick in Round 4 of April’s draft in the Washington product. He was the fifth tight end chosen and brings a Gronk-like skill set to the roster. At 6-foo-5, he boasts sure hands and shows an advanced understanding of the route tree.
Similar to Gronkowski, Otton is a traditional “Y” tight end who also can flex into the slot, but he will hold up as a blocker. There is one glaring distinction in his style of play vs. that of Gronkowski: Otton is not nearly as explosive with the ball in his hands. A younger Gronk was thoroughly dominant once he put his mitts on the rock, going through, around and over would-be tacklers.
With all of that established, rookie tight ends rarely make a difference. The position is nuanced, and there’s so much to know in relation to an easier role to pick up playing, say, running back.
Another rookie chosen two rounds after Otton, Kieft enters the fold as the presumed TE3 on the depth chart. Predominantly a blocker at Minnesota, he has two total receiving scores and just a dozen grabs to his name in four years for the Golden Gophers. There’s no immediate reason to expect a transformation as a rookie into an aerial threat, and it’s not yet a lock he’ll make the roster as a sixth-rounder.
At 29 years old with just three games played as a pro due to a stint in minor league baseball, McElroy currently sits as fourth on the depth chart and is the most expendable player at the position.
Fantasy football outlook
The pecking order for fantasy football relevance here should start with Brate and end with Otton, and the gap between is nothing to scoff at. The passing game will flow through wide receivers Mike Evans and Godwin, along with running back Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard serving as a checkdowns for TB12. Fournette is arguably the biggest threat to the tight end position’s target share in this offense as the trusted security blanket for Brady on underneath routes.
In best-case scenario, Brate has a career year at 31 and posts something in the neighborhood of 70-75 catches, 750-850 yards and seven to nine touchdowns. Those numbers are top-10 tight end stats. They also are borderline unrealistic.
A more reasonable outlook is closer to his career-best year in which Brate scored at a relatively high frequency in relation to his modest volume. The safer approach would be to treat Brate as a fringe starter in the mid- to upper-teens of positional placement. He has durability concerns at his age and will be third, at best, in targets over the course of the season.
Otton is only draftable in leagues of at least 14 teams and/or dynasty formats. Single-year drafters in traditional settings can mostly ignore the rook, barring a training camp that puts him at the helm of this ship.
The other two can go undrafted, and the Buccaneers could take a peek around the league for a trade or target someone off the wire. Names such as Eric Ebron, Kyle Rudolph and Jared Cook could get a sniff, but they really don’t offer anything Tampa doesn’t already have on its roster.
Tired of losing your league every season? Be sure to sign up for The Huddle today to gain an award-winning edge on the competition! We have 26 years of experience online building fantasy football champions.