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Football by the Numbers: Bet on Gronk

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

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Gronk,top offensive player in fantasy and reality? (USAT)

Gronk,top offensive player in fantasy and reality? (USAT)

With drafts now mostly in the books, here’s my take on the late-breaking camp news that has some owners worried and others lurking for opportunity.

We start with the best non-QB offensive player in reality and, when healthy, fantasy in Rob Gronkowski, who says it’s all systems go for Week 1 off last winter’s ACL surgery. Of course, the Grim Reaper, Bill Belichick, quickly killed all that good buzz by saying that nothing is certain. But Gronk let the cat out of the bag. Even if he’s on the field for 10-20 plays, he’s a top five TE because those plays will be ones that matter (red zone). And I expect an actual play count about double that. Even at a second-round price that few actually had to pay, Gronkowski adds win probability for fantasy owners unlike any other similarly-valued asset. So far at least, the people who bet on Gronk are looking pretty smart.

I’m reluctant to say anything about Josh Gordon because that could change in one moment if he and his lawyers do file an injunction. That’s what lawyers I talked to last month expected and that’s how I reported and was willing to bet in the middle-late rounds. But they all expected one to be filed by now. As of Wednesday morning, nothing. But also no comment at all from his lawyers and continued reporting that a decision is “imminent,” whatever that means. At this point, I’d hold him pending more definitive news. If he doesn’t file or loses the request for an injunction, the cost of say a seventh to 10th round pick is pretty ho-hum because, though we’re loathe to admit it, the expected value above replacement (waiver wire) for those picks is very minimal. So the chance of Gordon beating the suspension (and then clearly being a difference maker) was always at least equal to the value of those picks and probably still is. Think this way and you’ll win.

Sticking in Cleveland, Terrance West is looking like one of those busts in rounds seven to 10 already. Ben Tate is cemented as the Browns’ three-down back. West is just another handcuff, most of which are available each week on the waiver wire.

Maybe I’m being stubborn, but I am still on Bishop Sankey, who admittedly has not played up to his measurables in the small sample of summer carries. Even if Sankey was a modest prospect when it comes to combine attributes, like say Devonta Freeman, his environment is ripe because starter Shonn Greene is a sub-mediocrity with zero chance of being a part of the next good Titans team, if there ever is one. I would not even waste a roster spot on Greene right now but that’s me. Sankey I would still happily draft in the sixth round.

Wes Welker has not had a good couple of weeks. First a concussion put the start of his season in doubt and then a PED suspension ended it until Week 6 (the Broncos have a Week 4 bye). That means a heretofore cheap receiver will benefit from Peyton Manning’s darts until then. As much as I want to press the Cody Latimer button, Andre Caldwell is ahead of the precocious rookie on the depth chart and has already shown that he can eat with Peyton feeding him. Latimer should be ready to pop about time for the fantasy playoffs.

I don’t think Arian Foster not playing in the preseason is a big deal. Many backs have pretty much been healthy summer scratches of late. But we don’t know if Foster is really healthy off his hamstring and back woes, the latter of which was viewed by him as possibly career ending. He’s being overdrafted. Alfred Blue is his backup but the former LSU Tiger is too tall for me at 6-foot-2. Jonathan Grimes has much better measurables and checks more boxes. He’s the back I’d hedge Foster with even though he’s third string.

It looks like the Steelers will not suspend LeGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell, but I suspect Pittsburgh front office people and coach Mike Tomlin are non-too-pleased with the jeopardy the older (27) Blount placed 22-year-old Bell in. Bell is his own man but the older player is supposed to know better and take more responsibility, that’s just how it is. Tomlin recently said that Bell will have a big role for the team, meaning 20-to-25 touches per week, after hedging all summer and even saying that the backs were 1 and 1A and introducing Blount at a game as a co-starter. So it appears that it’s Blount whose stock has fallen.

Lamar Miller is the starting running back in Miami. Knowshon Moreno is officially the backup. I like whichever one who is significantly cheaper, which is probably Moreno. But I would not for one second think of cutting Miller if I owned him; he’s too talented. Miller, like most explosive backs, needs volume to pop one or two big runs. Otherwise, you may end up with some 11-carry, 26-yard days that may have been 16-80 if he only kept getting fed.

Brandin Cooks is the most expensive third-string rookie receiver ever. I don’t get betting on any secondary Saints receiver because Drew Brees is never going to target any of them with predictable consistency. And Cooks, I fear, will show just enough every week to keep him rostered but never enough to ever feel good about starting him.

Stevan Ridley is alive and well in New England as the only back on the Patriots roster who is suited for short-yardage and goal-line duty and capable of toting the rock 20 times in a game. I think he’s a value. Quick, who’s younger: Ridley or Andre Ellington? Well, I did give that one away. Yeah, random fumbles could deep six him, though.

Ladarius Green’s role is still frustratingly up in the air. I can’t believe that the Chargers wouldn’t just run a lot of 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends). That stops defenses from putting eight men in the box to stop the run and also, with a receiver as capable as Green, creates mismatches in the passing game. Green backers have to hope that the Chargers were just holding fire in the preseason with Green’s limited action with the first-team with Gates. His snap count in Week 1 is something we all must note.

Another tight end with great summer buzz is also a backup, officially. Travis Kelce is No. 2 behind Anthony Fasano, frustrating for those who wagered that Kelce would be the team’s No. 1 receiver, period. Kelce is a baby Gronk and someone I’ve viewed as a good pick anywhere I’ve seen him go. I’m more confident in Kelce’s role at this moment than I am in Green’s only because I’ve already seen Mike McCoy mismanage Green’s snap count in favor of arguably the worst receiver in football last year, Vincent Brown. But both tight ends are must holds until further notice.

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