Whether it’s week one or week seven we’ll all be excitedly talking about When Brady got his Gronk back…
Yes, that’s right, we’re hearkening back to another time here… if you want to go way back, we’re referencing a Whoopi Goldberg film that had something to do with a woman finding her ‘groove'; or, if you flip back the calendar 12 months or so we’re looking at a fantasy football offseason where Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were both well regarded at their position and ready to take fantasy drafts by storm.
Things have changed plenty since then. Whoopi spends her time hanging out with Matt Hasselbeck‘s sister-in-law and Gronkowski is recovering from a pair of offseason surgeries. However, just as Stella rediscovered her elusive groove, Brady and Gronkowski should be able to get things working on the field again this season. Gronk’s health is still in question, but even if he starts the season on the PUP list he maintains significant late-season TE utility.
The position is deep enough this year that you could draft Gronk and weather the storm with any number of names until he emerges on the field. That’s not necessarily what this piece is about though – we’ll address Gronkowski’s rest of season value when his injury situation clarifies, too. For now, lets look at what we know: Wes Welker is gone, as is Brandon Lloyd, but the Patriots are hoping that offseason addition Danny Amendola and young guns Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce (and Kenbrell Thompkins?) can replace their production. Perhaps they can. The Patriots have also lost Aaron Hernandez, however. Knowing that he won’t step on the field this season (or likely ever again for the Patriots) it’s worth taking a look at how the New England offense has fared without him.
Over the past two seasons (Hernandez didn’t see an overwhelming number of snaps as a rookie in 2010) he has been hurt and missed/played less than 20 snaps in 10 games. Life for both Brady and Gronkowski went on during those contests. In fact, for Gronkowski, surprisingly little changed.
Rob Gronkowski in games without Aaron Hernandez
In the ten Hernandez-less games Gronkowski was on the field for more than 96% of New England’s offensive snaps. Most would assume that without his fellow TE on the field his workload was increased, however, the opposite was true. Number 87 saw 0.44 fewer targets and 0.6 fewer catches in those contests. He also averaged 3.7 fewer yards per game and .03 fewer TDs. The moral of the story? We’re talking decimals; in large part, Gronkowski has been the same fantasy producer in 2011 and 2012 with or without his now imprisoned peer on the field.
Tom Brady in games without Aaron Hernandez
For Brady, things played out similarly. Over the past two seasons the now 36 year old QB has passed for an impressive average per game line of 25-314-2.28-0.63. Without Hernandez in the lineup the numbers look like 24-300-2.33-0.56. Again, totally negligible.
Assuming that Amendola and company are certain to replace the production the Patriots have received from the WR position is a mistake, however from this cursory look at the numbers we can glean that the loss of Hernandez won’t have a huge impact on Brady’s fantasy production. Brady’s worst fantasy output in his past five complete seasons was a 4400 yard 28 score effort in 2009 that came in his first year back after missing all of the ’07 campaign. Those numbers were good enough to be inside the 2012 QB top 12, and yet many analysts are writing Brady off for 2013. There is something to be said for consistency – outside of his first season as a starter Brady has never finished outside of the fantasy top 10 at his position. If the draft works out the right way I’ll be happy to take the unknown discount on Brady, particularly in light of the pleasant results gleaned in our comparison of Hernandez-less contests over the past two years.
It should be noted that in 2009, though his stats were affected somewhat by the fact that he was returning from a season-long injury, Brady was the 8th best fantasy QB. Over the past three seasons, since Gronkowski’s arrival, he’s finished as the 1st, 3rd and 3rd ranked player at the position.