There’s a secret formula for converting an injured fantasy football stud into a top-flight option: one part draft day discount on said superstar – in this case New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski – and one part replacement-level players with appealing weekly matchups.
Combine, shake, and presto: you’ve scored more fantasy tight ends points than anyone in your league.
Gronkowski, who has helped redefine the value of tight ends in fantasy football since 2011, isn’t just facing a fourth forearm surgery, but possibly back surgery after doctors gave the big man an MRI to examine disc issues that had caused him pain during the 2012 season, according to a USA Today report.
The MRI was scheduled after Gronkowski reported “chronic” back pain in recent days, NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport reported, adding that the back disc in question is not the same one that Gronkowski had surgically repaired in college.
Gronkowski was expected to miss about two and a half months with the fourth arm surgery, and early reports from various trusted beat writers say back surgery wouldn’t push his recovery timeline any further into August. These post-surgery timelines are subject to change – we’ve seen it again and again – but even if Gronkowski misses a game or three in 2013, you should do anything but cross him off your fantasy draft day list of must-haves.
This is the guy, after all, who scored the second-most fantasy points among tight ends in 2012, just seven points behind Jimmy Graham. And lest you forget, Gronkowski did this in 11 games, amassing 790 yards on 55 receptions on a measly 77 targets, 54 fewer than Graham. No other top-10 fantasy tight end played fewer than 15 games last season.
Gronkowski’s efficiency is the stuff of geeky fantasy legend: he averaged .44 fantasy points every time Tom Brady threw the football in his direction last season. That per-opportunity is anything but flukey, as Gronkowski posted and average of .43 points per target in 2011, when he led all tight ends by a giant margin.
The lesson, short and sweet: Gronkowski doesn’t need to play an entire season to be a value based drafting god among men. That’s why you’re still going to draft him.
Gronkowski’s average draft position has plummeted over the past few weeks — a predictable reaction to a guy whose body seems to be in need of repair. Drafted at 3.04 on April 20, Gronkowski has sunk to 3.12, and news of his impending back and arm surgeries are sure to put football’s best tight end into the mid-fourth round, maybe lower.
Even if the worst comes to fruition, and the Patriots are forced to concede that Gronkowski will miss, say, all of September, he’s well worth the fourth-round investment. I’ve already spelled out what he can do with a mere 11 games, but the proliferation of useable fantasy tight ends means you’d be able to let Gronk ride your bench while playing — streaming, like we do with defenses — tight ends with matchups against defenses that bleed fantasy production to the position.
Forty-seven tight ends posted top-12 fantasy numbers at least once in 2012. Even more useful, 25 tight ends had top-12 days four or more times. There are valuable tight end options available every week, and if you can secure one or two of these players while Gronkowski sits, you’re still going to dominate your league’s season-long tight end scoring.
Thirty-four tight ends were among the top-12 weekly fantasy options at least once during Gronkowski’s four-game absence in 2012, from Week 12-16. Many of these options were owned in the vast majority of leagues — even guys like Tony Scheffler were tough to find on the waiver wire in many 12-team formats. Still, tight ends including Dustin Keller, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finely, Brandon Myers, Brandon Pettigrew, and Jacob Tamme were top-12 tight ends once — sometimes twice — while Gronkowski recovered from his arm injury. They were widely available to anyone looking for a substitute with a matchup against defenses that had proven generous to tight ends.
This requires a bit of a gambler’s mindset, and a straying away from the psychological comfort of plug-and-play options. It would be worth it though, as Gronkowski’s otherworldly fantasy football efficiency is reliable, and, dare I say, sustainable.
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