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Fantasy Football Eulogy - Looking Back at Rob Gronkowski's Career

Robert Paxton Gronkowski
Tight End, New England Patriots
4/23/2010 - 3/24/2019

Rob Gronkowski a.k.a. “Gronk” was born and raised in Amherst, New York. For some fantasy football owners, they believe he grew up in Tucson, Arizona and did not really live until he was drafted with the 42nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft by the New England Patriots.

Coming out of the University of Arizona, Gronkowski was the second tight end the Patriots choose in this draft with the hopes of cornering the dual-tight end market with Gronkowski and fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez. This was successful for a few seasons until off-field issues won out and Rob Gronkowski took over the full command at the position for the already dominant Patriots offense. In his ensuing career, he had some down seasons, like in 2013 when he tore his ACL and was unable to play. But he also had some elite seasons in which he not only helped get the team to Super Bowls but, more importantly, led fantasy teams to championships. Which is much greater in the grand scheme of things?

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The Start of a Legend

In his rookie season of 2010, Rob Gronkowski caught 10 touchdowns and had 546 yards on only 42 receptions, showing what was to come in the future. Although he didn't make the Pro Bowl that season, he was still a top fantasy performer. He finished as the TE5 - a finish which, until 2018, would be his lowest finish in a non-injury shortened year his entire career.

With his future looking bright, Gronkowski came into the 2011 season as the best young tight end in the game. He rose to the occasion finishing as the number one fantasy tight end. 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns is a monster season for a wide receiver, let alone a tight end. He matched numbers put up by the likes of Antonio Brown and Megatron himself, Calvin Johnson. To have these numbers be attributed to a tight end shows the absurdity of it in hindsight. This not only got him to the number one fantasy position but also got him his first of four All-Pro teams and five Pro Bowl selections.


Sustaining Greatness

After his first two seasons in which he finished fifth and first respectively in the fantasy rankings, what more could we expect from Gronkowski? Sadly, there would never be another season where he played in all 16 games. But this does not mean he was a non-factor.

In 2012, despite only playing in 11 games, Gronkowski still finished as the number two tight end, having amassed 11 touchdowns in those 11 games which led to hopes of a healthy return to form. This return would be delayed due to a leg injury and, unfortunately, would need to wait until 2014.

Over the next four seasons, Gronkowski finished as the number one fantasy tight end three more times, only missing out in 2016 when he again had injury issues and missed eight games. In each of these three TE1 seasons, Gronkowski broke the 1,000-yard threshold, giving him a career total of four. This total matches Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez but in half the number of total seasons. If his body didn't continually betray him, who knows how dominant Gronk would have been in his prime.


The Final Curtain

Coming off yet another number one season in 2017, things looked good for Gronkowski heading into 2018.

While the end of the season came with a Super Bowl win, the path to get there was a bumpy one for Gronkowski. With only 47 receptions for 682 yards and three touchdowns, it was clear the career full of beatings had taken their toll. Retirement had been bantered about for a few seasons now and it looked as though the writing was on the wall.

Diminishing stats and productivity, another Super Bowl ring and a future career in wrestling and movies in sight meant it was time for Gronk to hang them up. Finishing outside the top 10 for the first time ever in a season where he played in double-digit games showed that maybe, just maybe, the game was passing him by. No one wants to hold on too long and end their career on a bad note. Johnny Unitas on the Chargers, Joe Montana on the Chiefs and even Jerry Rice on the Raiders. These are not the finishes we, as fans, want to see for the greats of the game. Bowing out now, with his head still high was the way to go.

Five Pro Bowl selections, four All-Pro teams and three Super Bowl titles are part of his great legacy, yet with all the injuries he sustained it is still strange to imagine. What more could have been?


The Post-Gronk Era

Moving on for Rob Gronkowski will be easier than it will be for his former team. He has never spent a penny of his money, he is a good-looking soon to be 30-year old, he is beloved by nearly all and he will have a ton of commercial and media offers. He will be just fine without football.

The Patriots, on the other hand, will need to find a suitable replacement before the season. If they feel Jacob Hollister is this player, he needs to get working with Tom Brady now. If not? This year’s crop of tight ends is the best incoming class since the class of 2010 which included Gronkowski himself as well as Aaron Hernandez, Ed Dickson and Jimmy Graham.

The top two players in Iowa teammates Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson will likely be taken before the 32nd pick of the draft. But Irv Smith Jr., a 6’4 240-pound tight end from Alabama is likely to be there. With the connection between Bill Belichick and Nick Saban being what it is, this quite possibly could (and should) be their pick.

Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio sees Smith as the tight end most likely to succeed in the passing game from all the players in the draft. He is not the best at any one area, but he is great at all areas, including blocking which was an often-overlooked part of Gronkowski due to his production in the passing game.

Irv Smith Jr. could come in and take over where Gronkowski left off in the offense. At the present time there is a severe lack of weapons in New England and bringing in Smith would go a long way to solving a lot of this. His rookie season could be on par with the rookie season of Gronkowski with even more receptions and more yards even if not reaching the same 10 touchdowns.

Whether New England chooses this route or another, it will be interesting to see what happens in 2019. Is Irv Smith Jr. going to hear his name called? Is Jacob Hollister going to get his shot in the offense? Or maybe, just maybe, Martellus Bennett follows Jason Witten out of retirement to join his brother on the Patriots. Either way, the Patriots offense will never be the same again, and neither will fantasy football drafts.

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