You can make Gronkowski the poster child for injury risk at tight end, but the truth is everyone is suspect at this position. See, the NFL requires these freakishly big and fast athletes to split secondaries like wide receivers and block the big studs in the trenches alongside the well-paid offensive tackles.
Tight end is a close second to running back in terms of players who put their bodies on the line every week for the good of the team. Ask Gronk. He looked like a bionic man in training camp with an arm brace covering his multiple surgeries from 2013 and his knee brace covering his latest repair.
Age-Related Injury Risks
Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Heath Miller, Owen Daniels
Jason Witten an injury risk? How in the world can we label a player who hasn't missed a game due to injury in his 11-year career an injury risk? Simple. He is 32, and he is due. Father Time is undefeated.
The injury risks of these other guys have all become apparent over the years, too, and their advanced ages make them more susceptible to injury and more likely to need more time to recover. All of these guys are going to need to take snaps off, if not entire games, this season. Downgrade them for those reasons on your draft boards.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
He is the No. 1 injury concern in fantasy football, and the title is well earned over the years. He has been an annual risk since his collegiate days. We have to be resigned to the fact that once—no, if—he gets into game action this summer he is extremely likely to injure something on his big body. He plays with a reckless disregard for his own safety, and it shows on his medical sheets.
We are shocked Jake Davidow's mathematical algorithm at SportsInjuryPredictor.com has Gronk as only the third-most-likely tight end to be injured in 2014. He is only eight months removed from a major knee reconstruction and is being brought along slowly in training camp.
The fact that the back surgery he had last year was to relieve symptoms of a similar injury that laid him out in college is a red flag. Any time a player has plates and screws in his body, it increases risk of injury as well—especially in a body part like the forearm that is used by tight ends for blocking and swatting off 300-pound defenders. ACL injuries very rarely reoccur; however, his ACL tear happened right at the end of 2013, which means he is in the early part of the 6-9 month recovery window that most athletes need to rehab before getting back on the field.
Precisely. His chances are far higher than third-most likely to be injured again at this position.
Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos
This is one we needed Davidow to warn us on. We loved what we got from Thomas so much as a breakout performer last season, we might have overlooked the fact that he wasn't 100 percent the entire year. First, there was a reason he didn't do a thing until his third season; second, he struggled with an ankle issue that limited him to 14 games.
Thomas is Davidow's No. 1 most likely tight end to be injured by his mathematical model. Davidow told Bleacher Report this week:
Thomas is very inexperienced with only three seasons of football in his life to his name. [He was a basketball player at Portland State]. Our studies have shown over and over again inexperience is a major signal for future injury. Two, ankle injuries are very difficult to overcome, especially of the severity that Thomas suffered in 2011. Three, he missed two games in 2013 to aggravating the same ankle he hurt in 2011.
Don't let Thomas' huge 2013 numbers cloud the risk involved with picking him second to Graham. He is just as risky as Gronk—even more so if you refer to Davidow's math.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
If the Vikings' shaky quarterback situation isn't enough to scare you off Kyle Rudolph in the middle rounds, his injury woes should. Rudolph was limited to eight games last year due to a foot fracture. You don't need to be a doctor to know how bad foot issues are for football players, especially ones standing 6'6" and 260 pounds.
There is no bone in your body that bears more weight than those in your foot. Rudolph's fractured foot is bearing more weight than most. Davidow reported to B/R this week that the first year returning from a broken bone in the foot has a high mathematical correlation with re-injury.
The quarterback and injury are the reasons we merely rank Rudolph as a backup (No. 13) in standard leagues.