Who is the numero uno tight end for next season? This almost seems like an insanely silly question seeing as how Rob Gronkowski is a friggin unstoppable force. His numbers from last season were ridiculous. He broke records every time he stepped on the field and wasn’t lucky in doing so. He’s fast, strong, tall, has great hands and has the double B’s Brady and Belichick behind him. Let’s just bask a little in the Gronkness here (sans his douchieness which is well documented). His 17 touchdowns broke Antonio Gate’s record of 13 by, well, you can subtract. His 1,327 yards broke Kellen Winslow’s record of 1,290 receiving yards. His 27 touchdowns in his first two seasons beats Mike Ditka’s record of 17 by a whole bunch. And I’m sure there are some others out there. So his season was one of the best seasons by any player ever really. How often has a player broken both the total yardage and total touchdown records for their position? I’m still looking to see if it has happened. So with this kind of dominance why even question his #1 Tight End status in the draft rankings? Well, because Jimmy Graham still lives and breathes.
If it wasn’t for Gronkowski’s record breaking year it would have been Grahamkowski’s record breaking year. Graham finished the season with 99 receptions (9 more than Gronk), 1,310 receiving yards (17 less than Gronk), and 11 touchdowns (quite a few less than ol’ Gronky). So really, the only difference in fantasy production was the extreme TD production of The Gronkster. Will he be able to keep that kind of production up? Well, I’m no Mayan but the odds are somewhat tough. But I’m not just counting on his 18 TDs (one rushing that was pretty passy) dropping into a normal range because solely on regression, but maybe a little. Let’s take a look at some numbers.
Rob Gronkowski vs. Jimbo Graham
Total Targets: 124/149: Graham outdistanced Gronk in targets here fairly easily. Gronk of course was more productive with his targets but this is still a good sign, especially when you look at the next stat.
Percent of Targets: 12.8%/25.3%: Graham saw a quarter of all of Drew Brees’ targets last season while Gronk saw half of that number. I like when my player dominates his quarterback’s mind when looking downfield.
Red Zone Targets: 24/28: Inside the 10: 7/13: Inside The 5: 2/6: It seems the closer to the end zone the more often Tom Brady goes to Aaron Hernandez who had a league high 17 targets inside the 10, while in New Orleans Drew Brees begins to zero in on Graham.
TD Ratio to Receptions/Targets: 1 to 5, 1 to 7 : 1 to 9, 1 to 13.5: This is obvious but should be pointed out. Gronkowski got into the end zone once every five receptions while Graham, once every nine. Will these number change? Maybe, maybe not, but if they do I don’t see them changing in Gronk’s favor.
Now I can massage these numbers to show how Graham could even the score this season based solely on regression to the mean but I’m no mathmagician and Gronk may not have a mean, but I do know two things and their names are Brandon Lloyd and Josh McDaniels. I’m not going to spit in your eye and tell you you’re at a spa by touting Brandon Lloyd as the second coming of the 2007 Randy Moss, but I am going to tell you that Lloyd has a similar skill set as Moss and there’s no reason McDainiels won’t want to utilize those skills in a similar way to his last two seasons with Lloyd and his seasons with Moss. Moss and Lloyd are both great deep threats and can make bad ball/circus catches in tight coverage. Moss just took it to an insane/Hall of Fame level when he wanted to.
Last season Wes Welker had 17.9% of the Patriots’ targets, Deion Branch 9.3%, Gronk 12.8%, and Aaron Hernandez 11.7%. When you insert Brandon Lloyd into this mix, besides scaring the bejeezus out of defensive coordinators, you’ll most likely see Lloyd’s percentage rise above Branch’s. He won’t get close to Moss’ 27.5% of 2007 but if he even gets up t0 around 12-15% he’ll start dipping into Gronky Tonk’s targets.
In 2007 Randy Moss led the league with 33 Red Zone targets while Wes Welker had 26 in Josh McDaniel’s system. Lloyd won’t get that number but last season Welker had 22, Deion Branch 15, Gronk 24 and Hernandez 25. Once again, Lloyd will become a big part of that never ending math equation.
I’m trying to be as conservative as I can be with Lloyd’s impact on the offense and Gronkowski. There could be a much larger impact. Josh McDaniels has returned to where he helped put together possibly the best offense of all time. He was Tom Brady’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator and then resurrected Brandon Lloyd’s career in Denver. Lloyd shouldn’t have many growing pains having been under McDaniels the last two seasons and now has a better quarterback throwing him the ball. Lloyd took less money to go to New England because he is so connected to McDaniels. There is just no reason to think Lloyd will be tossed to the bottom of the receiving totem pole.
So what about Jimmy Graham? What do we know about him? His coach is gone and his QB is unhappy. Ok, yeah, there’s that. Will that make Brees not want to throw him the ball over and over again? This is Drew Brees we are talking about. The guy just broke the record for most yards passing. Also, the Saints lost Robert Meachem and gained nobody. Meachem’s loss doesn’t do all that much to help Graham but it’s better than gaining a player the caliber of Brandon Lloyd. Marques Colston and Darren Sproles are Graham’s major competition for targets, but they were last year as well.
All this sound and fury may signify nothing much but I think it for one thing makes Gronkowski a poor first round pick as some people are wanting, but even puts into question drafting him ahead of Graham. If they switched teams right now I’d be saying the same thing but the opposite. Well, something like that. Graham is safely going to get his chances as long as he’s healthy. Gronk is going to get chances and in a high powered offense but from week to week I could see him going up and down à la pre-Bibi Jones twitpic rather than Graham’s steady as she goes 7-12 targets and 1-2 red zone targets. I still haven’t decided who I will rank where but if I can get Graham even a little later than Gronk I’m going for it.