We all know Gronk is the top dog at his position heading into 2015. And I won't insult anyone's intelligence by recommending Jimmy Graham or Travis Kelce in this space. You know those guys, too.
What I will do is offer up five names that could give you a solid return on your investment in 2015. These guys are familiar, but that is okay. They still have value, and all are currently being taken in the high-teens or later according to expert rankings over at FantasyPros. So without further ado, let us consider some fallback options for your team should you miss out on acquiring Rob Gronkowski.
Kyle Rudolph - He is ranked at TE17 for now, and that could be a huge bargain. He is the best red zone threat the Vikings possess, as none of the receivers on this team are prolific in that area. If he stays healthy, he should have a career season. Teddy Bridgewater is the most competent quarterback to ever pilot the Minnesota Vikings offense in Rudolph's brief career. I wouldn't bank on elite-level yardage or catches for the big tight end, but double-digit touchdowns isn't crazy to project. He had nine touchdowns in his last 16-game season, which was back in 2012. So yes, the injury-risk is real. But you're also getting double-digit scoring upside in the double-digit rounds if you draft him.
Coby Fleener - I mean zero disrespect to Dwayne Allen with this recommendation. But the Colts use Allen more as a blocker and Fleener more as a pass-catcher, which limits Allen's upside in the fake game. Allen is more likely to score in the red zone, but it is consistent yardage (and catches, in a PPR setting) that will keep you competitive in your head-to-head formats each week. Allen did score seven touchdowns in his first nine games last year, but Fleener finished very strong with four scores over his last five games. Both have been productive in stretches, but Fleener has been more healthy and offers a greater potential return on your investment. This is due to a big discrepancy in current ADPs, as Allen is being drafted as the 13th tight end off the board. Fleener, on the other hand, is way down there as the 18th tight end. Fleener is the better value here and I don't think it is close.
Tyler Eifert - He is making a healthy return to Cincinnati, where he will be the starting tight end now that Jermaine Gresham is a free agent. He is currently ranked as the 19th tight end at FantasyPros, and that is great value for a guy with his pedigree and opportunity. The Bengals did draft Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah in the 2015 NFL Draft, but they currently project as backups in this offense. If Eifert can remain healthy, career-highs in every major category is likely. In the tight end landscape that we know today, I imagine that would look something like lower-end TE1 numbers. We shall see.
Ladarius Green - He is absolutely BURIED at TE28 and Antonio Gates isn't getting any younger. According to Kevin Acee at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Green has been given "enhanced preparation" for the 2015 season. Acee goes on to say that he expects more sets with both Green and Gates on the field at the same time, and that Green should double last year's statistics. That is good news for the hyper-efficient Green, who has averaged 16.5 yards per reception over his brief career. Sometimes these guys hit a year later than we all plan it, so make sure you take him earlier than your draft room just in case this year is THE year. I grow weary of player comparisons, but I will make one anyway: Green could be this year's Travis Kelce.
Dennis Pitta - TE30 is a cheap price to pay for the guy who should be one of Flacco's primary targets in 2015. The recurring hip injury is a completely obvious concern, but at Pitta's ADP you aren't paying much to find out if he can finally return to form. We know Pitta will offer starting-caliber production if he is healthy. Since health is the only missing piece, I think you have to take a flyer here. Pitta isn't cleared for full contact yet, but he is running around and making catches, and has participated in about half of the team's activities so far. Second-round rookie Maxx Williams is the best bet to be productive if Pitta can't go, but fake owners and Ravens fans should all root for a healthy Pitta. He is the best chance for a TE1 type of impact in Baltimore this year.
And that's all I have for now. Feel free to share your thoughts in the form below. Where you agree, where you disagree, and what your own backup plans are if you miss out on Gronk. Happy trails.