The NFL is a little less fun today.
Arguably the best tight end in NFL history — and easily the best Fantasy tight end of all time — Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement Sunday after nine seasons. He made the announcement on Instagram and called it "the biggest decision of my life so far."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick had glowing things to say about Gronkowski in a statement released by the team.
"It was a pleasure and a privilege to coach Rob Gronkowski the past nine years," Belichick said. "From his rookie year until his final season and through countless times in between, Rob was a major reason why we won games and championships. His elite combination of size, skill, intelligence, toughness and ability to perform in pressure situations set him apart.
"Rob will leave an indelible mark on the Patriots organization and the game as among the best, most complete players at his position to ever play."
There was speculation toward the end of last year that the soon-to-be 30-year-old Gronkowski would retire, as his production slowed down as the regular season came to a close. He had only 18 catches for 234 yards and two touchdowns in his final six games of the season, and he finished the year as the No. 10 PPR tight end with 47 catches for 682 yards and three touchdowns.
But he performed well in the playoffs, including the biggest catch in Super Bowl LIII, which helped the Patriots beat the Rams 13-3 in Atlanta. Gronkowski had a 29-yard reception in the fourth quarter to set up a go-ahead touchdown to break a 3-3 tie against the Rams, finishing the game the game with six catches for 87 yards. This was after six catches for 79 yards in the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs.
Unfortunately, the Super Bowl is the last time we'll see Gronkowski on the field as a player, and he leaves the NFL with some impressive stats, as well as being a four-time All-Pro and a three-time Super Bowl champion. He should be a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Gronkowski, who was a second-round pick for the Patriots in 2010 from Arizona, played in 115 regular-season games, and finished with 521 receptions for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns. He had 10 or more touchdown receptions in five seasons, which is the most by a tight end in NFL history.
In 2011, he set NFL single-season records for touchdowns (18) and receiving yards (1,327) by a tight end. And between 2010-12, he became the first tight end in NFL history with three straight 10-plus touchdown seasons.
He also is the only tight end in NFL history to post three seasons of 1,000 yards receiving and 10-plus touchdowns (2011, 2014, 2015). And his 12 postseason touchdowns are the most for any tight end and tied for second in NFL history among all players, behind only Jerry Rice (22).
He has plenty of other achievements and records on his resume. He also was the definition of fun — for the Patriots, NFL fans and anyone who played Fantasy Football. The Gronk Spike was something we all looked forward to on a weekly basis.
From 2012 through 2018, he was typically the No. 1 tight end drafted in most Fantasy leagues, and he dominated the position when healthy. He last played 16 games in 2011, missing time with various injuries, including surgeries on his back, forearm and knee.
But prior to his down season in 2018, he was the No. 1 PPR tight end in 2015, 2014 and 2011, as well as No. 2 in 2017. It was an amazing career, and he will be missed.
The tight end position should be in good shape for Fantasy Football, even with Gronkowski gone. Travis Kelce is now considered the best Fantasy tight end, and he has company at the top of most rank lists with Zach Ertz and George Kittle. The next tier of tight ends include Evan Engram, O.J. Howard, Eric Ebron and Hunter Henry. And there's a strong corps of rookie tight ends poised to enter the NFL this year, including T.J. Hockenson (Iowa), Noah Fant (Iowa), Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M) and Irv Smith (Alabama).
The Patriots will almost certainly be one team looking for a rookie tight end in the first round of the NFL Draft at pick No. 32 overall, especially given their depth chart at the position now. New England's tight ends are currently Matt LaCosse, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson and Ryan Izzo. That quartet has combined for 71 catches for 801 yards and three touchdowns in their career.
Seeing that, Tom Brady must be cringing.
Brady was already trending in the wrong direction as a Fantasy quarterback. Even with Gronkowski, he had a down season in 2018, finishing as the No. 11 quarterback with 4,355 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, as well as two rushing scores. He only had nine games with more than 20 Fantasy points, including just three in the final nine games of the season.
Brady, barring a drastic change in New England's receiving corps prior to the season, is only worth drafting with a late-round pick. His top options in the passing game are Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and James White, with White and Sony Michel leading the ground attack.
Edelman benefits with Gronkowski gone, and the Super Bowl LIII MVP is a solid No. 2 Fantasy receiver in all leagues. He finished 2018 as the No. 22 PPR receiver despite missing four games due to suspension. Edelman had 74 catches for 850 yards and six touchdowns, and he scored at least 12 PPR points in all but one game. Edelman is a potential third-round pick in PPR.
Dorsett, who had 32 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns in 2018, is worth a late-round pick in all formats. He had at least five targets in five games last season, and he scored at least 15 PPR points in three of them.
White was the No. 8 PPR running back last season with 94 carries for 425 yards and five touchdowns, along with 87 catches for 751 yards and seven touchdowns. It was the best year of his career in every category, and he should continue to be productive, especially in the passing game. He's a flex option in non-PPR leagues worth drafting in Round 6, but he's a fourth-round pick in PPR given the state of New England's receiving corps.
As for Michel, he might be the focal point of the Patriots' offense now. Michel had 209 carries for 931 yards and six touchdowns, along with seven catches for 50 yards in his rookie campaign.
He missed three games due to injury, but he had at least 17 PPR points in five games during the regular season, along with a dominating turn in the playoffs. In three postseason outings, Michel had 71 carries for 336 yards and six touchdowns, and he will be drafted in Round 3 in all leagues this year.
The Patriots will look different in 2019 with Gronkowski gone. And it will be weird not seeing him at the top of the tight end rank lists for Fantasy. He was a dominant force for the past nine years, and he will definitely be missed.