Aaron Hernandez: Why Patriots TE Is a Fantasy Football Must-Start

Alex HallCorrespondent IIIOctober 14, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Tight end Aaron Hernandez #81 of the New England Patriots celebrates a 12 yard touchdown in the third quarter against the New York Giants during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have been just fine offensively without Aaron Hernandez, but that doesn't mean his fantasy owners have.

The No. 2 tight end may have the shadow of Rob Gronkowski, but that didn't stop him from being a solid fantasy option at his position last year. Hernandez could also turn out to be a great option this week against the Seattle Seahawks, pending his health.

Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald confirmed that the Patriots No. 81 did fly with the team to Seattle, marking the first away game he has attended since his ankle injury occurred.

He did miss the team's last practice and is listed as questionable heading into the late-afternoon bout with the Seahawks. He's a risky play considering the fact he doesn't play until 4:25 p.m. ET, but Hernandez has the upside to stay worthy of a starting fantasy roster spot.

The Seahawks are stingy, owning the No. 3 and 4 unit in terms of run and pass defense respectively. Those numbers aren't encouraging for owners at first glance. The fact is however, if the Patriots are forced to passing plays 15 yards and under, the two tight ends could have quite the productive day.

While Gronk has received the ESPN The Magazine covers and local Dunkin Donuts adds, Hernandez proved to be a reception machine last season. He posted just one game with fewer than four catches and six with seven or more.

Hernandez has been known to corral in some deep passes, but he's just as, if not more, effective in the short- and mid-range passing attack. If Seattle takes away the deep ball from Tom Brady, Hernandez fantasy owners should start to smile.

The most ideal matchup for Hernandez would be to be lined up against Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant. The veteran corner is talented, but he's also just 5'11" compared to Hernandez's 6'1" frame.

The Patriots tight end has given opposing defenders fits with his jumping ability and height advantage and could benefit greatly if Seattle mistakenly puts Trufant on No. 81.

In fantasy, outside of the elite names like Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Gronkowski, it's difficult to guess what the other tight ends will do. Even Jason Witten has struggled in 2012, and he was once considered the safest option at his position. Tony Gonzalez was all but forgotten about heading into this fantasy season, and now he's a guaranteed TD almost every Sunday.

Brady trusts Hernandez due to his performance last season; he showed that in Week 1 this year. Hernandez caught six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the Pats' blowout win over Tennessee. The future Hall of Fame quarterback will be glad to have his No. 2 tight end back if he suits up today, and so should his fantasy owners.