It’s almost unfathomable to think about drafting another Tight End ahead of Gronk.

With a historic year of scoring (17 touchdowns receiving plus one rushing) on top of 90 catches for 1327 yards, Rob Gronkowski (along with Jimmy Graham) has reinvigorated the Tight End position with the decline of Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, previous giants at the position.  Gronk’s 1327 and 17 receiving touchdowns at TE were both NFL single-season records, and there’s nothing to suggest there will be any significant regression.

A lot of prognosticators are worried about Aaron Hernandez stealing some of the thunder, but New England had more 2 TE sets by a wide margin than any other team in the NFL.  The TE position is the focal point of the passing attack in the Patriots offense, and will remain the emphasis even if (more likely when) Wes Welker settles his contract dispute.  Aaron Hernandez is just as important in the Patriots offense as Gronkowski, but Gronk’s makeup and the sheer matchup nightmares he causes will keep him just as active in every week’s game plan in 2012.

Even though he’s coming off of an unprecedented year, of all the teams you’d like to see this kind of breakout, it’s the Patriots with Tom Brady.  Let’s look at a few consecutive season stats:

Player A

Breakout Year: 112 Receptions  1175 Yards  8 TDs

Following Year: 111 Receptions  1165 Yards  3 TDs

              Difference: -1 Reception     -10 Yards    -5 TDs

 

Player B

Breakout Year: 83 Receptions  944 Yards  4 TDs

Following Year: 101 Receptions 1199 Yards 5 TDs

                Difference: +18 Receptions  +255 Yards  +1 TD

 

Player C

Breakout Year: 98 Receptions  1493 Yards  23 TDs

Following Year: 69 Receptions  1008 Yards  11 TDs

             Difference: -27 Receptions -485 Yards -12 TDs

 

Those three years were the three biggest “breakout” seasons for Patriots receivers in which they returned with the Patriots for the following year.  Player A is Wes Welker from 2007-2008, Player B Troy Brown from 2000-2001 and Player C is Randy Moss from 2007-2008.  Obviously Moss had a pretty big drop, but he still churned out a top-10 fantasy WR season in 2008.

The Patriots are a team that isn’t going to merely forget how good a player was the previous season.  Gronk has had two years as a prominent playmaker to get in sync with the Pats offense and should have another huge season in store.  Even if he regresses a tad, he should still be fantasy’s #1 TE.

I like Jimmy Graham a lot, and do think he will be the solid #2 TE when it’s all said and done, but with Drew Brees a minor question mark with his contract and Graham’s limited experience on the football field in general (he only played one year in college and wasn’t an every-down player in 2010), there’s a bigger chance of a large drop-off than Gronk.  If you’re going to pick your TE in the late first-round or early second round and have any lingering concerns, Gronk is your man.