After four Super Bowls, five Pro Bowls, and more 100-yard games than any other tight end in the history of the league, Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement via Instagram on Tuesday. Gronk’s absence leaves a void in the Buccaneer's offense at tight end, around the red zone, and in the middle of the field. Here I'll break down some of the biggest beneficiaries of his departure from a fantasy perspective.
Otton was selected by the Bucs in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He (6'5/247) played four seasons at Washington, totaling 1,026 yards and nine touchdowns. He earned a 14 percent yardage share as a senior, which is an underwhelming metric for a player declaring after four years. Though Otton isn’t a blocking specialist, his willingness to take on defenders undoubtedly propelled him to the top of the fourth round. He doesn’t project to hold much fantasy value as a rookie unless Brate goes down. He is now worth a stash in most dynasty leagues.
A veteran of eight seasons, Brate flashed some of the potential drafters will hope to capture in 2022 when Gronk missed time last year. Brate only dipped below a 55 percent snap share once.
He ran a route on the majority of Brady’s dropbacks, though Brate didn’t convert that role into many targets. His calling card was touchdown potential. Brate was second on the team in red zone and end zone targets from Week 4 to Week 10. Gronk played six snaps in this stretch. On the year, Brate finished top-10 in red zone targets with 20 looks.
On the other hand, Brate was one of the worst tight ends in the league in yards per route run, even with Gronk sidelined. The biggest (and maybe the only) reason to target Brate in drafts is his touchdown potential. A yardage explosion doesn’t look like in Brate’s ninth year, though he is an obvious threat to find the end zone as many as ten times.
The Bucs will likely add another tight end off the street. The bigger names still out there include Jimmy Graham, Jared Cook, and Eric Ebron. All three have proven capable of earning targets at some point in the past three years. None of them have done much when targeted though. If either joins, they would be a legitimate threat to Brate’s starting role.
Evans’ role as measured by overall routes and targets should be mostly unaffected by the loss of Gronk. The GOAT tight end saw the bulk of his targets on short and intermediate throws between the numbers. Evans, on the other hand, gets plenty of looks on the boundaries and pushes defenders downfield. He could take on some of Gronk’s red zone work. He averaged just under one red zone look per game during his time in Tampa Bay and was frequently targeted on throws into the end zone. Those skills do overlap with Evans’ game, putting the lengthy receiver in line for some extra touchdown opportunities. With Evans already scoring 27 times during the two regular seasons with Brady as a Buc, the connection is glaringly obvious.
Chris Godwin was also targeted often in the red zone—the Bucs have a lot of red zone targets to dole out—which puts him in a position to receive a similar boost to Evans. However, Godwin’s health will be a more significant factor in his fantasy output than Gronk’s absence. He is still recovering from a late-season ACL tear that may force him to miss games early in the season.
In each of the past two seasons, the Bucs have run 12 personnel (two tight ends, two receivers, and a running back) on at least 20 percent of their plays. They also ran 13 personnel at or slightly above the league-average rate in 2020 and 2021. This meant that they almost never gave Antonio Brown, who still appeared to be an incredible third wide receiver, more than an 80 percent snap share. He crossed that threshold just once in 18 career games with the Bucs. If the Bucs forgo adding a free agent or sign someone who will serve primarily as a backup to Brate, they could finish the 2022 season as one of the highest teams in three-receiver sets. Once Godwin is healthy, Gage should play Brown’s role. His experience operating both in the slot and out wide will make the transition fairly easy. Without a second tight end to lean on, the WR3 role could become increasingly important in the offense.
Brady can weather just about any storm, and a trio of Evans, Godwin, plus Gage is still impressive. However, his numbers have historically taken a dip with Gronk out of the lineup. That was no different last year.
Courtesy of RotoViz
That split and his career splits without Gronk are typically in the context of a midseason injury. Having all of training camp to prep for post-Gronk life changes the calculus. This won't send Brady’s stock plummeting, nor should it, but it's worth noting when taking him at ADP.