Rob Gronkowski has been in street clothes throughout training camp, recovering from back surgery for a herniated disc on June 18th. The Patriots are tight-lipped on Gronkowski’s status, but Patriots beat writer with the Boston Globe, Ben Volin, speculates that the most likely scenario is that Gronkowski has to start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List (PUP).
By rule, if Gronkowski is on the PUP, he will be ineligible to return until after the sixth game. Volin bases this on Gronkowski’s recovery from his previous surgery for a herniated disc in college. In his book, Growing Up Gronk, Gronkowski talked about how for the first six weeks, he could not move other than to lay on the couch. I will note, though, that Gronkowski was out and about promoting his book this time around, in a little more than three weeks post-surgery, getting asked about Hernandez here on July 11th and here on July 17th. Thus, we know he wasn’t immobilized for as long.
Still, back injuries are serious matters, and we don’t know what physical shape he will be in during August; even if he can appear for television interviews doesn’t mean he can do workouts necessary to get ready for action. We also know, from the book, that his father won’t be too happy if Rob Gronkowski is rushed back and the injury is not fully healed.
“Once you have back surgery, you have to lay off,” said his father, Gordy Gronkowski. “You need to stay still for three weeks. You can walk, but never bend. You can’t turn. You get out of bed a certain way.”
Gronk’s oldest brother, Gordie, also suffered a herniated disk while playing baseball at Jacksonville University. But the strength coaches there put him back in the weight room too soon, and his back problems persisted for several more years.
“This idiot put him on weights right away,” said the father, Gordy. “You don’t strengthen a disk. It’s not a muscle. You got to let the damn thing heal totally and then work on core strength. Stretch the hamstrings. This guy had him doing stupid things that didn’t help.”
Whether the PUP is most likely, or activating him right before the start of season in hopes that he can contribute in the first month, one thing is for sure: you probably aren’t going to hear about it from the Patriots until late in the process. That means, for most of you playing fantasy football, that there will be uncertainty on Gronkowski’s status at draft time? How do you value him if you are drafting. Well, as with a lot of things in fantasy football, it depends on your level of risk taking.
Here are some numbers. Rob Gronkowski has averaged 11.6 fantasy points per game in his first three years when he plays. The average Top 3 drafted tight end in the last five years averaged 7.9 points per game; the average TE#4 to TE #6 averaged 7.8. So lots of individual fluctuation, but a fairly flat result. Meanwhile, tight ends drafted between TE#16 to TE#20–the exact kind of player you would want to pair with Gronkowski in case he is unavailable early–averaged 6.1 points. Plenty of tight ends emerged from this group, including Gronkowski as a rookie, to provide excellent production.
I would base taking Gronkowski on whether I thought he could produce near what he has done in the last three years, when he returns. His production is so much better than most tight ends that you can get by waiting for the return. The bigger issue is use of a roster spot. Taking another tight end late in the draft means one less flyer on a receiver or running back who could hit big. If you are set at those positions, then Gronkowski is worth the risk. My target would be Dwayne Allen, a tight end with the Colts, who is likely available near the end of drafts and presents the kind of upside out of that range that I look for in the draft.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]