With Rob Gronkowski out for the year, where should fantasy football owners turn?
By Michael Beller/Sports Illustrated
Rob Gronkowski’s fantasy season is done. The Patriots could get him back if they advance deep into the playoffs, but the fantasy world will move on without him until 2017. Everyone in the New England passing game will be affected by his absence, so let’s review them all, in descending order of importance.
Martellus Bennett steps up as the team’s No. 1 tight end. He can't do everything Gronk can, but the Patriots aren't going to scale back the playbook. Gronk mostly made Bennett fantasy irrelevant, but he does have three 100-yard games this season, all of which came when Gronk was out or limited by injury. Bennett is locked in as a TE1 the rest of the season, but he's not in the same class as Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham or, when healthy, Jordan Reed. He's part of the next tier.
Tom Brady's value takes a hit with Gronk on the shelf. Does it push him down far enough that his owners might consider going in another direction? Maybe if they own someone like Drew Brees or Matt Ryan, but Brady remains a rock-solid fantasy starter who can lead you to a title. His floor and ceiling are lower than they were before Gronk got hurt, but this is still Tom Brady we're talking about here. The only week you might think about benching him is Week 15, when the Patriots head to Denver.
Julian Edelman's role can't really increase. He could see an uptick in red-zone looks the rest of the way, but his value is unchanged. Expect a larger role for both Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan. Hogan cannibalized Mitchell's snap share when he returned from injury last week, but Mitchell is a more explosive downfield weapon. With Gronk out, the Patriots need all the help they can get down the field. That puts both of them on the WR3 radar.
If James White or Dion Lewis had the pass-catching back role to himself, that player would be in for a significant value bump. Given that they have to deal with one another, though, Gronk's absence isn't going to add to either of their bottom lines. It could add to the overall share of the pass-catching pie for the backfield as a whole, but it's impossible to know which will benefit more, especially if it only results in a couple more targets going to backs. White and Lewis owners should be too concerned with the other back in their midst to get excited about Gronk's targets being spread around the rest of the Patriots.
That covers the players on Gronkowski’s real-life team, but what about the fantasy owners who will have to do without him for the rest of the season? Where should they turn, given that most of them won’t be able to scoop up Bennett as a free agent?
Using the 50% ownership-rate threshold on Yahoo as our guide, C.J. Fiedorowicz is the best bet for fantasy owners who just lost Gronk. He’s available in 62% of leagues and has become a consistent weapon in the Houston offense. In fact, he has as many top-10 weeks this season, four, as Gronkowski. That might be slightly artful accounting, but it goes to show that Fiedorowicz has been more than just another guy this season. Since becoming the primary tight end for the Texans in Week 4, he has at least seven targets in five of eight games
The Rams’ Lance Kendricks has shown enough of a pulse all season to be a tight end of interest for former Gronk owners. The sixth-year player out of Wisconsin has 41 catches for 420 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season. He has 69 targets on the year, and, if you narrow your focus on the recent past, you’ll see a tight end whose role has become more important as the season has progressed. In the Rams last six games, Kendricks has 45 targets or 7.5 per game, which is on par with or better than the season-long totals for Kyle Rudolph, Delanie Walker and Jimmy Graham. In that stretch, Kendricks has 28 receptions for 258 yards and both of his touchdowns.
Those of you who are going to be more into the streaming game at tight end without Gronkowski should cast your gaze toward Vernon Davis for Week 13. Jordan Reed is out because of a shoulder injury, making Davis Washington’s starting tight end. The Redskins first turned to Davis when Reed missed a couple of games in mid-October, and the veteran caught eight passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in those two games. He has retained a role in the offense ever since, pulling down 13 grabs for 227 yards and another score the last four weeks, despite playing second fiddle to Reed. Davis is a great play this week and, if Reed ends up missing multiple weeks, would be a better long-term play than both Fiedorowicz and Kendricks.