Rob Gronkowski Return: Fantasy Impact of Patriots TE's 2013 Debut

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVOctober 8, 2013

Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) prepares to catch the ball while being defended by Houston Texans line backer Barrett Ruud (54) during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium.  Gronkowski re-injured his arm on the play and did not return to the game.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The potential return of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski couldn't have come at a better time for his team and for many of his fantasy owners. 

After sitting through the first five games of the season, Gronkowski is likely to be cleared this week to play against the Saints according to USA Today's Tom Pelissero. The Pats still have yet to announce when his 2013 debut will come. 

This offense has sorely needed Gronkowski since the beginning of the season. The tight ends featured in Gronk's place have been Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Milligan, who have combined for five catches and 39 yards on the year. 

Gronkowski's offensive impact? Yeah, it's a bit different. He finished second among ESPN fantasy tight ends last year, despite missing all of five games. 

Plus, he caught 29 red-zone touchdowns from 2010-12—more than any player in that span.

The gaping holes at the receiver slot make the absence of the star pass-catcher even more felt. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's top options for much of the year have been Julian Edelman and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. 

Brady has done relatively well without his favorite target (the Pats are 4-1, after all), but touchdowns have been a major issue. He's only thrown seven on the season through five games, which are very un-Brady-like numbers. 

Even if Gronk's health takes some time to return to 100 percent, his return will have a major impact on his team's offense. With his unique size and skill set, he'll be able to catch big-time passes just by being out there. 

Dec 30, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) scores a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Sputtering offensively in a 13-6 loss to Cincinnati last weekend, the Pats posted their worst offensive performance of the Brady era and ended his 52-game touchdown streak. Brady will be looking for anything and everything to spark his passing offense, which ranks 21st in the league.

Even when Gronk isn't open, he finds a way to catch touchdowns. That's a receiver trait the Pats have noticeably missed all season long. 

Considering most fantasy GMs drafted Gronk high as a supposed every-week starter, his return will certainly come at a huge time for owners who are struggling through the dog days of the season. A consistently dominant tight end is highly valued but hard to find.

Assuming Gronkowski is cleared physically, he should be a force for his team and in the fantasy football landscape.

Thousands of fantasy football diehards will be given double-digit performances from their tight end on a platter for pretty much every week he plays. By now, you should expect nothing less from Gronk.