5 NFL Players Ready to Take Gronk's Crown as NFL's Best Fantasy Tight End
The fantasy fortunes of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski have taken quite a beating since his historic 2011 season.
Last year, a broken forearm cost the fourth-year pro five games. Gronkowski was still able to finish as a top-five fantasy option, thanks in large part to his scoring double-digit touchdowns for the third straight season.
Now, on the heels of a fourth surgery on that arm, ESPN reports that Gronkowski is set to go under the knife yet again, this time due to his balky back.
Gronkowski's availability for training camp, and even the early part of the regular season, is now very much in doubt. The odds of "Gronk" re-claiming his throne as fantasy's top tight end in 2013 now appear slim.
If not Gronk, then who?
Here are the leading candidates, from the runaway favorite to a dark-horse contender.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
If you asked five fantasy "experts" who the leading candidate to be fantasy football's top tight end is in 2013, odds are very good that all five would pick 2012's top player at the position.
That would be Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints.
One year after putting up fantastic numbers that were overshadowed only by Gronkowski, Gronk's injury opened the door for Graham to claim the throne in 2012.
The fourth-year pro did just that, racking up 85 catches for 982 yards and nine scores.
Those numbers were actually a considerable drop-off from 2011, but playing in the high-octane Saints offense they're probably closer to Graham's fantasy floor than his ceiling.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots
If Rob Gronkowski misses any significant time in 2013, then the leading candidate to unseat Graham may well be Gronkowski's teammate in New England.
Of course, that depends on whether Aaron Hernandez can stay on the field himself.
Granted, he finished the fantasy equivalent of seven miles behind Gronkowski and Graham in 2011, but that doesn't change the fact that Hernandez was fantasy football's third-ranked tight end two years ago.
Last year, an ankle injury cost Hernandez significant time, and he finished the year with a relatively modest 51 catches for 483 yards and five touchdowns.
However, if Gronk misses time, Hernandez's targets and opportunities for fantasy production would all but certainly skyrocket.
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
Usually once an NFL player hits 35 years of age, it's ride off into the sunset time unless that player is a quarterback or a kicker.
Apparently, Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons is a kicker/quarter/end.
Not only did the 37-year-old have a solid 16th season in 2012, but "Gonzo's" 93 receptions, 930 yards, and nine scores were his best numbers for a season since joining the Falcons in 2009.
That production was enough to merit Gonzalez a second-place fantasy finish a season ago, trailing Graham by only a handful of fantasy points.
It's asking a lot to expect a 17th season in 2013 that's just as good (or even better), but given that many regard Gonzalez as the best tight end to ever play the game, I wouldn't put it past him either.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
On one hand, it may seem strange to predict that Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers might be fantasy football's top tight end in 2013.
After all, from Week 12 forward last year, with Colin Kaepernick under center for the 49ers, Davis didn't record 30 receiving yards in any single game or catch a touchdown pass.
However, there are a couple of reasons to believe that things could be much different in 2013 for Davis and his fantasy owners.
For starters, Davis' production picked up big time in the playoffs. In three postseason games the eighth-year veteran reeled in 12 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown.
Also, the Achilles injury suffered by wide receiver Michael Crabtree means that San Francisco's other receivers are going to have to step up their games, and Davis is much more capable than Anquan Boldin of stretching defenses.
Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams
Among the contenders to claim the title of fantasy football's top tight end in 2013, Jared Cook of the St. Louis Rams is admittedly a long shot.
However, if there's a "dark-horse" candidate to make the leap into the elite ranks of fantasy options at the position, then Cook is the guy.
The 26-year-old joined the St. Louis Rams in free agency, where he will be reunited with head coach Jeff Fisher after four up-and-down years with the Tennessee Titans.
Granted, Cook has never caught 50 passes in a season, topped 800 receiving yards or reeled in more than four scoring passes.
With that said though, Cook is cut in the "new mold" of athletic pass-catchers at tight end, and his 15.5 yards a catch in 2011 was tops among all tight ends with more than 40 receptions.
Also, even with the addition of Tavon Austin in the 2013 NFL draft the receiving corps in St. Louis is unsettled at best, which sets the stage for a big jump in targets for Cook in 2013.