Back surgery is a scary thing and difficult to recover from for most, but Rob Gronkowski is a 6’6” 265 pound 24 year old with little in the way of pain receptors.
Gronk has now been taken off the physically unable to perform list so he can be on the active roster to start the season and not have to wait until Week 6 to play. This in itself is good news for those who got him in early drafts, but on Sunday he practiced in full pads and even though he was going half speed that is a good sign.
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All we know for sure is that they believe he’ll be ready to go before Week 6, but with him practicing this week the chances of him playing by Week 3 seem fairly good. So just for old time’s sake let’s take a look at what he has accomplished in his short career.
Gronkowski and Adrian Peterson have played in the exact same number of games over the last three years, 43, and have the exact number of touchdowns, 39.
His 39 touchdowns in his first three seasons are the third most ever for a WR/TE all time with some scrubs named Randy Moss and Jerry Rice ahead of him with 44 and 43 respectively.
And of course if you look solely at tight ends in their first three seasons it isn’t even a contest. Antonio Gates, the premium tight end of our generation and Jimmy Graham, the only contemporary competition to Gronk, started their first three years with 25 touchdowns compared to Gronk’s 39.
Even if you look just at receiving yards, he also edges out Graham with the most ever for a tight end in their first three seasons with 2,663 to 2,648. And if he hadn’t have been injured he would have had even more of a statistical edge on his competition. But he did and his insane pace has been slowed. I won’t extrapolate his stats, but you can only imagine how crazy they would be.
But will he have a chance to keep up anything close to this pace? At the very best he’ll only miss two games this season and you know what he can do in 14 games after he finished as the second best fantasy tight end last year in just 11 games. Then add in the fact that his ex-teammate and fellow top tier tight end Aaron Hernandez is in prison and his ceiling gets even higher with the extra opportunities.
But at worst his back issue, which is a reoccurrence from his college days, could linger and/or be reinjured and plague him for the rest of his career. This season he is as risky a fantasy player as they come, but he’s also put three hall of fame statistical seasons together and blows the competition out of the water every week. He can win you fantasy matchups week in and week out. There’s no way to predict his health this season, but this latest news is good enough to raise him a bit in your ranks.
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Tuel Time Canceled?
E.J. Manuel practiced on Sunday participating in individual drills rather than team drills, but coach Doug Marrone sounded optimistic saying, “He’s ahead of schedule” and it looks like if he can continue practicing he could start Sunday. The Bills would much rather not have undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel start against the Patriots and will give Manuel as much leeway as possible to play.
Mile High Ball
The running back for the Denver Broncos has a good amount of fantasy upside, but we aren't sure who that person will be. Ronnie Hillman is penciled in at the top of the depth chart, but John Fox has done this before with “veterans.” To start the season we have to take the offensive coordinator at his word that this will be a committee, but offensive coordinator 1b Peyton Manning has been talking Montee Ball up as someone who will play a major role this season. Ball seems the best suited for goal line work, which is where much of the Denver running back’s value will come from.
Pittsburgh Pecking Order
Johnathan Dwyer was released on Saturday after briefly getting the starting nod in preseason. In retrospect beat writer Gerry Dulac blamed it on his lack of dedication, which showed in him showing up overweight to camp. So that leaves Isaac Redman, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling available while Le’Veon Bell recovers from his foot injury.
The dismissal of Dwyer also seems to point to a quicker return for Bell than first thought, which coincides with him no longer needing his walking boot. Much like Gronkowski’s return, all of this is guesswork, but it very much looks as though Bell has avoided a Lisfranc injury and could be back on the field in approximately six weeks.
But that does leave six weeks of football to be played without him and at the moment Isaac Redman looks fairly secure in the early down work with Stephens-Howling and Jones sharing in passing down duty and Redman relief. Redman’s ability is limited and Bell’s imminent return makes him a low ceiling flex play.
Depth Chart Slants
112th pick Tyler Wilson was released by the Oakland Raiders and has the distinction of being the highest drafted player to be let go this season. . . . St. Louis Rams’ new running back Benny Cunningham made the 53-man roster. He showed well for himself in preseason and outplayed Zac Stacy. Keep your eye on him. . . . Broncos’ second year tight end Julius Thomas sits atop the depth chart and could easily hold that position all season. . . . The Texans new #3 running back is UDFA Cierre Wood. His preseason play and the usage and injury history of Arian Foster and Ben Tate make him attractive in dynasty and deep redraft leagues. . . . Lions slot receiver Ryan Broyles looks to be behind Patrick Edwards on the depth chart due to his balky knee, but his ability runs circles around Edwards and as long as his knee continues to improve it shouldn’t be long until he’s in on all three receiver sets.
DeAndre Hopkins has yet to pass his concussion test and will need to in time to practice fully this week to play against San Diego. . . . Blaine Gabbert expects to play against Kansas City, but will have a short turnaround after his cast comes off Wednesday. . . . LaMichael James has a MCL sprain, but it may be a moot point with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco reporting he could be a healthy scratch now that Kendall Hunter is fully recovered from his Achilles surgery. . . . Tight End Heath Miller has been taken off the PUP list so should return before Week 6. His upside is pretty low coming off injury and never having been much of a fantasy factor until last season. . . . Champ Bailey is out of his walking boot, but still looks iffy for Thursday’s opener against the Ravens.