Gronkowski has spent the last five months rehabbing from his forearm internal fixation surgery, and the last four months rehabbing from his back surgery.
During that time, he was sidelined for the first six games of the NFL season.
Since early September, Patriot fans and fantasy football owners that drafted Gronkowski have been patiently waiting (some less than others) for his triumphant return to the gridiron.
At last, Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, reported to NFL Media's Albert Breer on Friday that Rob was medically cleared to play in Week 7.
Despite being medically cleared to play, Gronkowski was still listed as questionable for Sunday’s game on Friday, as seen on the Patriots' official site.
It’s worth noting, however, that the Patriots have a history of using their injury report to mislead opponents about the health of their active-roster players, so fantasy owners should be confident Gronkowski will make his season debut on Sunday—especially considering he made the trip to New York with the team, as reported by NFL.com's Dan Hanzus.
Nevertheless, even though he is certain to be active in Week 7, the amount of snaps he will play on Sunday remains to be seen.
It is customary to gradually increase a player’s game-speed workload as a final stage of this sort of rehabilitation, so Gronkowski will likely be sharing snaps with Michael Hoomanawanui throughout the game.
Nonetheless, even if Gronkowski is in for only half the snaps on Sunday, he will still likely finish the week as a top-five tight end due to three simple reasons.
First, the New York Jets defense has given up the 16th-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season, according to ESPN fantasy football statistics, and Brady will need to target the two-time Pro Bowl tight end a lot due to the absence of Danny Amendola.
Second, Gronkowski has had the highest amount of fantasy points per route ran of all tight ends for the past three seasons, according to the metrics of ProFootballFocus (subscription required). Even though Jimmy Graham finished with more overall fantasy points than Gronkowski in the 2012 season, his fantasy points per route ran (.29 points) was significantly fewer than Gronkowski’s (.44 points) average.
Simply put, Gronkowski scores appreciably more fantasy points per passing route than all other tight ends.
Finally, Gronkowski has averaged just over one touchdown per game he has played for the past two seasons. No other active tight end has averaged one touchdown per game in the previous two seasons, also according to ProFootballFocus metrics.
Considering Gronkowski’s consistent elite fantasy production of the past three years (when he was active), and the favorable matchup against the Jets, he is a must-start TE1 or flex player in virtually all fantasy football leagues in Week 7.