How Rob Gronkowski's Return Will Affect Fantasy Value of Patriots Receivers

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystOctober 2, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 30: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

It's not exactly a huge surprise that the New England Patriots are 4-0. After all, the Pats are the four-time defending AFC East champions, and they were considered one of the AFC's leading Super Bowl contenders.

What is remarkable, however, is that New England has accomplished that feat without its two biggest weapons in the passing game on the field.

One of those weapons is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has yet to play in 2013 after several offseason surgeries on his arm and back.

Gronkowski's return to action will no doubt be a shot in the arm for his fantasy owners. However, will it be a kick in the butt for fantasy owners of the team's other receivers?

Before we start putting carts before horses, it's worth noting that we still don't have a definitive return date for Gronkowski. 

The Patriots being vague about injuries. That's a stunner.

After being listed as "limited" in practice last week, many pundits theorized that Gronkowski would return in Week 4. Gronkowski not only didn't play, but the fourth-year pro didn't even make the trip to Atlanta.

That led to speculation that there was a disconnect between the Patriots and Gronkowski's camp, with the former believing that "Gronk" was ready to go while the latter didn't want to rush things and suffer a repeat of last year, when Gronkowski returned from a fractured forearm only to re-break it.

Gronkowski shot that speculation down according to Field Yates of ESPN, stating that he and the team were very much on the same page while being predictably vague about when he might return:

We were on the same page from the very get-go. And [we're] still on the same page and it's going good. I'm progressing every week, I'm feeling better every week, getting stronger every week and better conditioning every week. Just still sticking to the motto 'day by day.'

At the end of the day, we don't know whether Gronkowski will be on the field this week when the Patriots face the Cincinnati Bengals. We probably won't know until Sunday morning.

With that said, for the sake of argument let's say Gronkowski makes his 2013 debut against Cincinnati.

For starters, as soon as Gronkowski gets back on the field, you can stick the proverbial fork in whatever fantasy value players such as tight end Zach Sudfeld and wideouts Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson may have had. It was minimal at best to begin with, and fewer targets will only serve to make that trio even less desirable than they already were.

That leaves three wide receivers: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins.

Amendola's fantasy owners have been in much the same boat as Gronkowski's. Since a big game in Week 1, the talented but oft-injured Amendola has been sidelined with a groin injury.

However, much like Gronkowski, Amendola has returned to practice in a limited fashion. The fifth-year pro told ESPN's Mike Reiss that he's hopeful he'll be back on the field soon, possibly this week against the Bengals:

So far so good this week. I feel good. I felt good today. I’ll know more tomorrow and we’ll go from there. ... Every day is getting better. [I'm] working hard and just trying to get back out there as quickly as possible.

Does Bill Belichick give these guys cue cards or what?

Of all the Patriots' receivers, it's Amendola's fantasy owners who have the least to fear from Gronkowski's return. Amendola was brought to town to replace Wes Welker. So long as Amendola can stay on the field, he should still be capable of the top-20 fantasy production he was pegged for entering 2013.

Edelman's fantasy owners won't be so fortunate, but in all honesty it's Amendola they should fear, not Gronkowski. If Gronkowski is on the field but Amendola isn't, then Edelman simply assumes Amendola's role in the passing game and all is right with the (fantasy) universe.

However, with Amendola healthy, Edelman's value takes a huge hit. Tom Brady and the Patriots staff trust Edelman, and Amendola's durability issues make it wise to keep Edelman on fantasy rosters, but a player who is a solid weekly starter in PPR leagues right now would become a so-so fantasy WR4.

Unfortunately, that's likely about the best owners of Kenbrell Thompkins can hope for as well, and that's really too bad.

After starring in training camp and the preseason, Thompkins' rookie season got off to something of a rocky start.

However, over the past two games Thompkins has re-emerged, reeling in nine passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns.

With the "big guns" back in the fold, it's hard to imagine Thompkins being targeted as heavily. That's especially true in the red zone, an area of the field where Gronkowski is quite possibly the NFL's most dominant pass-catcher.

That leaves Brandon Lloyd's 2012 production as Thompkins' likely fantasy ceiling. For the record, Lloyd, who caught 74 passes for 911 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, was 41st among fantasy receivers in points per game in point-per-reception leagues.

Mind you, this is all speculative. Not only does Gronkowski have to get back on the field, but he has to stay there, something that's been an issue recently.

If he does, it's going to be a big boost to the New England offense.

In fantasy football, however, the return of Rob Gronkowski will leave as many owners frowning as it does all smiles.

It's all about perspective.