Yesterday we talked about the strategy associated with approaching the risk of both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. With Hernandez specifically, we said that if the competitors in your league are staying away you may have a great risk/reward type of gamble around the ninth round of your draft.
That is, if there is a decent chance he'll play. But, what if you know he'll be out for an extended period? How does that change the landscape in New England?
EDIT: Breaking news, Brainiacs - Hernandez has been released by the Patriots. So, the information below may be of increased interest to you now. Who replaces Hernandez in an already depleted Pats offense??
For one, it amps up the 'reward' part of the equation for Gronk. He is a monster to begin with, but if Hernandez is missing there is just a massive void to fill.
But, let's look deeper. Hernandez tends to line up wide more often than a standard tight end. Who is there on the roster that can be a big body either at tight end or split out wide? Well, not much to write home about... but there are a few interesting names.
Michael Jenkins is on the roster right now and while he has had a career of failing to live up to expectations, he is experienced and he is big. He's listed at 6'4" and 214 pounds. While not as thick as Hernandez he is a little taller and could fill a similar role as a split end. It's not perfect, but if I were in a very deep league I would take a look. His ceiling is about 55 receptions for 700 yards and five touchdowns. He is likely to get about two thirds of those numbers, so buyer beware. That said, he's never played with a quarterback like Tom Brady before so it is within the realm of possibility that he bangs against those ceiling numbers and threatens to go past them. Maybe he overcomes his career of under-performing and finally starts to put it all together.
Let's have a look at some of the other tight ends, because there are seven (7!) of them on the current roster... including a couple of familiar names. Well, familiar names if you have been a serious fantasy player for a few years. (And I do mean serious.)
You may remember Michael Hoomanawanui (wow, I actually spelled that without looking) from his brief flashes of brilliance in St. Louis. He had a pre-season game in 2010 as a rookie where he caught four passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Big and fast for his size, Hoomanawanui has good hands and a nose for the endzone. He has a year in the New England offense under his belt and seems to be healthy. Health issues have derailed him early in his career, so he could be primed to make some noise in his fourth year. It's a serious longshot, but if Hernandez is out maybe they give Hoomanawanui a shot.
Okay, one more name to note: Daniel Fells. He's about as big as Hoomanawanui but not nearly the athlete, plus at the age of 30 we pretty much know what to expect from Fells. He doesn't have the upside of Hoomanawanui, but he also doesn't have the downside. In a full-time role, Fells would likely go for about 35 receptions for 350 yards and maybe three touchdowns. Maybe the Tom Brady factor improves those numbers a bit, but Fells isn't going to excite anyone. Nevertheless, if Hernandez and Gronk are both out you could see Fells getting snaps and producing a solid yet unimpressive line. If that is the case and you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, he'd get you a few points. A predictable three-ish points with a chance at a TD is better than risking a zero.
From a fantasy perspective, we do hope we see a lot Hernandez and Gronkowski this year. But, if we don't you could see Jenkins get some additional looks on the outside and one of Hoomanawanui or Fells seeing decent playing time at tight end. They are longshot upside plays for deep leagues, but good names to know.