In fantasy football, a select few injury histories are to be ignored in favor of potential production—a rare rule personified by Rob Gronkowski.
On one hand, the 25-year-old tight end has missed 14 games over the course of the past two seasons, but he has also scored 42 touchdowns in 50 appearances. Few players rule over their fantasy position in a way the Arizona product does.
The numbers, for lack of a better word, are impressive:
The old fake-football adage says that owners want to either be the first one to grab a tight end, or the last. But these are strange times we live in indeed thanks to the elite production New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and Gronkowski provide on a week-to-week basis.
Of course, the wrinkle is Gronkowski's injury history, which has resulted in an average draft position of 3.04 as the second tight end off the board.
That's a major steal.
As SI.com's Michael Beller explains, the pseudo competition between Gronkowski and Graham is not even close when the former can stay on the field:
After all, he has outscored Jimmy Graham on a per-game basis over the last three seasons. Last season marked the high point for Graham and low point for Gronk from 2011 though 2013, and Graham outscored him by 1.7 points per game. By contrast, Gronkowski bested Graham by 3.1 points per game in 2012 and 2.8 in 2011. If we knew he were going to play 14 or 15 games this year, Gronkowski would likely be joining Graham in the first round of most drafts.
But yes, the big "what if" is health. The good news is that Gronkowski avoided the PUP list, which means the Patriots believe he will be ready to go within the first six games of the season. He says his goal all along has been getting ready for the start of the season, per USA Today's Lorenzo Reyes:
I was just focused on rehab the past few months after the surgery (in January). I've just been grinding really hard the past few months. Grinding really hard and listening to my trainers, and sometimes even rehabbing twice a day so I can be out here to where I am now ... making sure I'm ready to go when it comes down to it.
The following note from ESPN's Adam Schefter would explain why Gronkowski's ADP has swelled as of late:
If a Week 1 start is the goal, the only real question becomes whether or not his body can truly handle the NFL. We cannot say with certainty, but keep in mind that even 12 games out of Gronkowski is enough to likely land him as the top scorer at the position.
Fantasy football requires a leap of faith in a variety of ways. To get Gronkowski early in the third round, ideally with two backs or one back and a wideout already rostered, is enough to win a league outright if he stays healthy. And it's not really close.
What puts the worthwhile risk over the top is his ADP surroundings. Where he sits right now is the territory where every player has a red flag of some sort.
Doug Martin is being taken two slots higher coming off an injury. Zac Stacy is one higher but has usage questions. One below is Randall Cobb, who also comes off an injury. Two below is Andre Ellington, who has usage issues. Three below is Julius Thomas, another tight end but the third option on his offense at best.
It goes on and on. The point is making a calculated risk. Any one of those negatives could ruin the above names and right on down the list, as could Gronkowski's injury issues. But in terms of upside, compounded by a horrible fantasy position overall, none match what he brings to the table.
The man played in just seven games last year and still scored in the top 15 at the position. As long as owners did not gamble on a quarterback in the first two rounds, a hobbled Gronkowski who only plays in a few games is a hurdle owners can jump with smart drafting the rest of the way.
Every year there are players who, when handled properly, outright win leagues for owners. It isn't fun to gamble on them during a draft. There is no peace of mind with such a player. But smart risks are the backbone to league championships, and this year there is none better than Gronkowski.
Unless his ADP balloons up even more, Gronkowski should be a no-hesitation selection by owners regardless of format.