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How to Replace Gronk

Gronkowski and Otton

How to Replace Gronk

Is Cade Otton the answer?

By: Nate Christian (@NateNFL)

Rob Gronkowski is retired (for now), leaving a gap at tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This leaves Cameron Brate ($6,800,000) and Cade Otton ($1,123,486) as the current tight ends at the top of the depth chart. Whoever is catching passes from Tom Brady ($15,000,000) will certainly be a valuable fantasy asset, especially considering the question marks around the health of Chris Godwin ($20,000,000), Tampa Bay’s WR2, who is coming off an ACL injury.

Does Otton have a chance to start at tight end for the Buccaneers at some point this year? Is there a realistic chance that he’ll produce fantasy relevant numbers for your team this year and moving forward? While there’s always the chance that Tampa Bay brings in another veteran presence to compete for the position, the fact that Otton was their fourth-round pick means they envision him having the opportunity to make an impact for their offense.

College Stats

Otton was a 4-year starter at the University of Washington and during that time produced decent stats for the Huskies, including 18 receptions/258 receiving yards/3 TD stat line in 2020 over four games during a COVID-shortened season. In 2021, Otton’s season ended earlier than expected after suffering an ankle injury that would eventually keep him out of testing at the NFL Combine and his Pro Day. During his college career, Otton was not a hug down-the-field threat, but he was quite the chain mover at times. During his impressive 2020 season, he had two games with 7+ receptions, 100+ yards, and at least one touchdown. In these games, he showed that he could be funneled volume and produce big numbers as a chain mover for an offense. He did have a 31.8% dominator rating (represents a player’s “market share” or his percentage of his team’s receiving production), which for TEs in college is an elite number (92nd percentile).

Now moving into the NFL what could his role be? More of the same as he catches passes from one of the best ever?

NFL Outlook

After being selected in the fourth round, Otton hasn’t been able to join his new team on the field yet. He was held out of rookie minicamp as the team wanted to play it safe with his ankle. According to reports, he is expected to participate in mandatory training camp and should be able to start vying for a higher position on the depth chart then.

Otton is a natural route-runner who has a good feel for finding space and playing out his role in passing plays. He has safe hands and is a reliable option in the middle of the field. He also has enough speed to challenge linebackers up the seam and pick up a couple yards after the catch. At 6’ 5” and 247 pounds, Otton has a good frame and should be able to hold his own when running routes and while blocking as an in-line tight end. The Buccaneers could look for him to add on another 10 pounds or so to really anchor down, but that weight gain isn’t a necessity for him to succeed.

Competition

As we discussed earlier, Otton’s biggest competition currently is Cameron Brate. Brate is a NFL veteran with 8 years of playing experience, all with the Buccaneers. Over his career he has averaged about 32 receptions, 335 receiving yards, and four touchdowns a season with two Top-12 finishes in fantasy (2016 & 2017). While Brate may not be a flashy name, he is a solid veteran who will be able to step into a starting role and produce when called upon. He isn’t going to finish as a top-3 option at his position, but he’ll make it difficult for Otton to get on the field to start the season.

There’s also the chance that Tampa Bay brings in a veteran presence for training camp, and give them a chance to compete for the starting job. Some names that stand out to me, who are still unsigned:

  • Eric Ebron: The former Pittsburgh Steeler was not re-signed this off-season and at the age of 29, teams may still want to see what he has left in the tank. Unfortunately known for his drops, Ebron still is an athletic tight end and would bring a different style of play to the current depth chart in Tampa Bay. Ebron is also only one year removed from a TE13 finish in Dynasty Owner for the 2020 season.
  • Kyle Rudolph & Jimmy Graham: Rudolph had enjoyed a successful career with the Vikings, but has since struggled to stay on the field as his stint with the New York Giants was cut short this offseason. Meanwhile, Jimmy Graham may be ready to retire, but could seek out another year if given the chance to play with a legend like Brady. Both players have always been great red-zone threats and could still fulfill a small role for a team’s offense in obvious passing downs.
  • Jared Cook: Coming off a one-year deal with the Chargers, Cook at the age of 35 just played 644 snaps in 2021, the most for him since 2018 when he was with the Raiders. He seems to be a player that has aged well and could play another couple years in the NFL in a limited capacity for teams that just need a veteran presence. The situation in Tampa would fit well for Cook, who finished as the TE18 in Dynasty Owner last year with 132.4 Dynasty Owner fantasy points and a solid stat line of 48 receptions/564 receiving yards/4 TDs.

All of these veterans are metaphorically over the hill, and while I wouldn’t be surprised for one of them to sign with Tampa, I wouldn’t consider any of them locks to see over 50% of snaps for the team. Otton and Brate will still have the best shot to see the majority of snaps at the position and we’ll have to keep an eye on how training camp progresses for the rookie. Whether it’s this year or next, Otton seems to have the clearest path to fantasy relevance for a team that is now without a firm option at the position. If you’re looking for a solid stash at the tight end position, Otton is available in the Free Agent Auction in 32% of Dynasty Owner leagues right now or available in a trade for a 2023 3rd round rookie draft pick.

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