Fantasy Football Fades: Skipping Rob Gronkowski (and five others) this year

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/24017/" data-ylk="slk:Rob Gronkowski">Rob Gronkowski</a> can’t help you when he’s in street clothes (AP)
Rob Gronkowski can’t help you when he’s in street clothes (AP)

Is Rob Gronkowski injury prone or accident prone? If you want to spend a day swimming in Twitter debate, use this as your opening line.

While I respectfully nod to the pundits on the pro side of the Gronkowski debate, I doubt he’ll be on any of my rosters this year. That’s not to say that you can’t beat me with Gronk; no one denies his absurd upside when on the field. He might go down as the best tight end of all time. But when I see 24 games missed over five years, and the litany of health problems and surgeries he’s dealt with, I know this isn’t my type of pick.

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I’m all for embracing upside and volatility at some point in a fantasy draft — at some point, it makes sense to draft with your hair on fire. But the second round (or early third round) is when you need to move on Gronk, and that’s too rich for my blood. I want floor-sturdy players in that pocket, players who offer less downside.

Some of the pro-Gronks will note that it’s not that difficult to pick up a useful tight end on most waiver wires, so you might not be totally screwed if and when Gronkowski falls into an injury. I’ll concede that point, but replacing Gronkowski also comes with another cost — the cost of a roster spot.

While you’re putting your star on the bench and picking up a replacement player, you’re not getting an additional stab at a useful or high-upside player elsewhere. Obviously you have to season this to your league specs; some leagues offer extensive bench space and some leagues have those pesky DL spots (I view them as more trouble than they’re worth, but do what you like). But in the modest-bench style of league that I generally play in, I don’t want to play with one less spot. I want a fluid, flexible approach with that waiver wire.

I’m certainly not a doctor — heck, I never watched ER — but I wonder if some of Gronk’s injury history is a residual of the Shaq Syndrome — his being so much bigger and stronger than his defenders. It’s not uncommon for a basketball giant to take on extra, unwhistled contact because of the subconscious recognition of the differentials. Centers (like Shaquille O’Neal) routinely deal with it on the hardwood. Cam Newton deals with it in the pocket. And Gronkowski surely deals with it downfield; no one’s in a hurry to feel sorry for the giant.

If and when Gronkowski shows up on the injury report, fantasy owners have a new problem. The Patriots are probably the worst NFL team when it comes to injury disclosures. New England also plays a prime-heavy schedule, with only nine early-Sunday starts on the schedule. It’s not a major factor when considering Gronkowski’s slot, but it’s certainly an annoyance.

Before we put a wrap on this, here are five other name players i’m unlikely to draft. Keep in mind it’s still just June, the game is all about value, and I reserve my right to change my mind at any time.

Marshawn Lynch, Raiders: Fading Lynch isn’t a fun thing to do, but the more fun a pick is at the fantasy table, the more likely it’s a minus-EV pick. Everyone knows Lynch didn’t play at all last year, but let’s not understate how messy his 2015 season with Seattle was (3.8 YPC — while Thomas Rawls was at 5.6 — and no receiving juice). The Raiders have a talented line, sure, but they also have a host of playmakers that command the ball, and decent RB depth behind Lynch. In my early drafts, Lynch is being drafted like he’s a low-risk player, almost a sure thing, and I can’t get behind that. In the meantime, I’ve been gobbling up DeAndre Washington and even some Jalen Richard in the later rounds.

Jordy Nelson, Packers: This one hurts, because Nelson is one of my favorite players. He definitely has a mind-meld going with Aaron Rodgers, especially around the goal line. But Nelson’s big-play stride was missing in his comeback season — his YPC dropped by 2.5 yards — and the Packers have plenty of alternatives if they want to make this more of a balanced offense. Nelson enters his age-32 season, and while that doesn’t mean he’s ready for the rocking chair, I’d rather be proactive than reactive when it comes to a player at this stage of his career.

Julio Jones, Falcons: While only one of his six seasons has been ruined by extensive injury, Jones nonetheless has just one full year since joining the NFL. And for all the dominance Jones shows between the 20s, where are the touchdowns? He’s scored a modest 40 times in 79 games — a decent rate for a good receiver, but a slightly-disappointing rate for someone on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Matt Ryan’s MVP last year was born from spreading the ball around at the goal line; a league-record 13 players had at least one touchdown grab, and no one had more than six. Jones costs a mid-first round pick, and I doubt I’ll write that ticket.

— Eddie Lacy, Seahawks: Is his desire still there? Is he more talented than the other primary backs on this roster? Can Seattle run block for anyone? Lacy is still getting drafted in a pocket where he needs to be good, and that’s too expensive for me.

— Jordan Reed, Washington: Basically the NFC’s version of Gronk, a touchdown-gobbling machine who can’t stay on the field. Reed’s injury history would be extensive if we focused on everything neck-down, but most frightening is his long-running concussion history, which dates back to his time at Florida.

Reed has played in just 46 of a possible 64 games since turning pro. Yes, anyone who steps on a football field is at risk of injury, but at least on the extreme margins, I’m not going to ignore a physical history that runs this many pages.

I’m sure I probably just faded your favorite player, so go for my knees in the comments. Even better, share some of your big-name fades. We’re not looking for Dorial Green-Beckham and Markus Wheaton here. Give us news you can use.

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