By: Nate Leer
There are basically two sides to the who-is-number-1 debate for the 2016 fantasy football draft season: Antonio Brown or whichever RB you like best. In virtually any PPR format, Brown is the consensus number 1 pick based on his huge production in recent years. Alternatively, in standard formats, some people like Brown while others argue for one of the top RBs. I, however, have a different opinion. Based on position scarcity – a theory which many people dismiss but I subscribe to and employ successfully in fantasy football and baseball – and the beast-level production of one Rob Gronkowski, I would make the big New England TE the first pick in any virtually any draft format.
Here are my 5 reasons why I take Gronk ASAP in any draft, even #1:
- Production: This one is obvious. We all know how good Gronk is. Barring significant time missed with injury, he is a virtual lock for double-digit TDs and well over 1,000 YDS.
- RB Mediocrity: All of the RBs in fantasy football drafts this year are flawed. Of course some of the top picks will be studs but they are pretty much just as likely to be duds. In recent years, RBs taken in the top-10 have been as likely to under-produce significantly as they are to bring adequate value for their draft slot. This year there is even less certainty among the top RBs – Todd Gurley is unproven and could be a victim of a horrible offense, David Johnson is also unproven and could have competition for carries and Adrian Peterson is on the other end of the age spectrum with an offense that just took a serious hit when Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the year.
- WR Parity: Unlike Rbs, there are excellent WRs available who are very likely to produce top-pick type value. However, there is also a lot of depth at the position. There are literally 20 WRs available that could realistically produce stats not far behind presumed number 1 pick Antonio Brown. There are young, up-and-coming WRs (Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Amari Cooper, etc.) as well as bounce-back candidates coming off of injuries (Jordy Nelson, Kelvin Benjamin, Keenan Allen, etc.) who are capable of producing big seasons from a much lower draft slot.
- TE (Lack Of) Depth: No position has as much drop-off from 1-10 as TE. Gronk’s elite production over the years puts him well ahead of Jordan Reed’s one-year emergence or Gregg Olsen’s steady but limited production. After that big 3, I like Travis Kelce but he needs to do a lot more to be considered on the same level as Reed or Olsen. Guys like Delanie Walker, Gary Barnidge and Tyler Eiffert produced last year but it is hard to believe any can replicate that production this year. After them it is an entire crap shoot of projection and speculation – can Julius Thomas bounce-back, is Coby Fleener in a better situation, can Zach Ertz emerge under a new coaching staff? You get the point.
- Martellus Bennett: This point has shifted a bit as Bennett has jumped up draft boards. However, if you get Gronk, Bennett provides one of the best TE handcuffs ever – you just have to invest a little early in him. On the plus side, he could produce well enough once Brady is back to be a legit bye-week fill-in at a flex spot. Plus, if anything bad would happen to Gronk, Bennett would jump up to immediately be a top-3 TE. Also, the late Pats bye (week 9) means I can wait to pick up a fill-in until some undrafted players emerge and we start to find out which Ds are good or bad.
Now that I have laid out the reasons, let me put it all together by breaking down a draft strategy for a 10 team draft. I did a quick mock draft on ESPN to demonstrate how a draft can unfold through 10 rounds after taking Gronk #1 overall. Part of my general strategy this year is to take WR talent early, load up on high-upside RBs in the middle rounds, then grab 2 or even 3 late round QBs.
Here’s how that strategy worked out:
In the mock draft I did, Dez Bryant fell to me at the end of the 2nd round and I took Sammy Watkins to start the 3rd round. I am not convinced that Dez’s production will fall off that much with Romo out and I love Watkins’s upside. Other WRs available included Alshon Jeffrey and Demaryius Thomas, guys I like but who have issues around them that may or may not slow their production. Mike Evans and Brandon Marshall went right before my pick. I wanted one of them but will gladly take Dez over either. By going back-to-back with upside guys, I am betting that one of them will have a very big year and the other will be solid.
In the 4th & 5th rounds I picked another upside (and I think sleeper at this spot) WR in Kelvin Benjamin and my 1st RB, DeMarco Murray (unfortunately Derrick Henry did not make it back to me). I think DeMarco looks good and the Titans should run enough to give him good upside.
Rounds 6-8 I loaded up on RBs – Ameer Abdullah, Chris Ivory and Matt Jones. All are starters and could produce. Or suck. At this point it is all about quantity of RBs. I also got Tom Brady in the 9th which was a little early to take a QB but Tom is set to be the highest scoring player from week 5 on.
In the 10th round I couldn’t wait anymore to take my TE handcuff in Martellus Bryant then got another starting RB in round 11 with Justin Forsett. I got QB Tyrod Taylor in the 12th round, couldn’t resist RB Tevin Coleman’s talent in the 13th round and took QB Andy Dalton in the 14th round but almost got Jamies Winston.
Note that I would not be taking a K in rounds 15 or 16 and may not take a D depending on how far away the regular season was at draft time. Read about the No-Kicker strategy here.) If the format had allowed it, I would have taken a WR in round 15, either Tyler Boyd or Tajae Sharpe who were both available. With the last pick I got the Vikes D which has a lot of upside but thoughts hard about the Eagles D which has a soft opening schedule.
Here’s how my roster broke down:
QB – T Taylor, T Brady, A Dalton (likely to get cut)
RB – D Murray, C Ivory, A Abdullah, M Jones, J Forsett, T Coleman
WR – D Bryant, S Watkins, K Benjamin (flex starter), [Tajae Sharpe instead of a K]
TE – Gronk!, M Bennett
D – Min
I like this team, but I am biased! Let me know what you think in the comments below.