We expected Belichick and the traditionally tight-lipped New England Patriots to be coy about Gronk's status, if only to play a game of cat and mouse with the opponent's game plan. Gronk answered one of the biggest questions for us in Week 1. He is going to play, and you drafted him in the third round to do so in fantasy—roughly, per FantasyPros.com ADP (31st overall).
Run him out there. Phew.
Don't expect this to be a five-catch, 80-yard, two-touchdown Gronk, though. You will be getting a fantasy tight end merely better than your alternatives for fantasy's season opener—say, one capable of three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.
In six career games against the Miami Dolphins, the Pats' Week 1 opponent, Gronk has averaged four catches for around 57 yards and half a touchdown, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Among the Pats' AFC East opponents, Gronk has been least productive against the Dolphins.
Here you have to figure Gronk won't be as spry as 100 percent in his return eight months removed from reconstructive knee surgery. He told Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald:
If there's five guys coming at me, and I'm on the sideline, I'm probably not going to take out all five of the guys. I'll go out of bounds, maybe there. Other than that, I'll be playing like I always play.
Still, fantasy owners care more about certainty going in than they do production coming out with Gronk. As long as he is healthy and able to be kept in fantasy starting lineups, the production will take care of itself.
Just don't go cutting that mediocre backup you drafted for him. Another injury is always just one bad twist of fate away.
Week 1 Injury Question Marks
With Gronk saying he will be active, Wes Welker is the most-owned fantasy regular in question for this weekend's openers. You have to play Welker if he is active. He practiced Monday but hasn't been cleared for contact, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. Head coach John Fox told Legwold:
He's still in the protocol. He's still exercising. Feel good about progress. ... But obviously, as I said all last week, he's a guy we'll be cautious with, and our main concern is his safety.
If Welker practices in full later this week and is cleared by doctors before the weekend, we should have few questions about starting him for Sunday night's game against Indianapolis.
[Editor's note: Since this analysis was published, Welker has been suspended 4 games for amphetamine use.]
Here are the rest of the most-owned players dealing with injury that might keep them from starting in fantasy:
- QB Cam Newton (ribs), Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera told The Associated Press' Steve Reed he expects Newton to start.
- TE Jordan Reed (thumb), Washington Redskins: Expected to play. Start him.
- RB Steven Jackson (hamstring), Atlanta Falcons: Expected to be probable. He's merely a flex play.
- RB Arian Foster (hamstring), Houston Texans: We need to see him probable on the injury report after a waste of a preseason.
- WR Sammy Watkins (rib), Buffalo Bills: He might play, but you shouldn't have to start him in the early part of the season.
- RB Bernard Pierce (concussion), Baltimore Ravens: He should play, but the Cincinnati Bengals might not be a matchup you want with a fringe flex option like Pierce.
- WR Kenny Stills (quad), New Orleans Saints: The matchup is enticing against the Falcons, but the injury keeps him just off the starting list right now.
- RB Christine Michael (hamstring), Seattle Seahawks: Sit (see below).
- WR Marvin Jones (foot), Cincinnati Bengals: Out.
- TE Tyler Eifert (back), Cincinnati Bengals: Not healthy enough to consider starting right now.
- WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), New York Giants: Out.
Moreno Starting for Dolphins Now?
It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Lamar Miller was going to be the Miami Dolphins' feature back with Knowshon Moreno (June knee surgery) working his way back as the passing-down back. Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald says not so fast.
Salguero reported the Dolphins need to scheme a package of plays for Miller to focus on to be productive. That suggests Moreno will get the bulk of the load initially this season, even if he doesn't start:
Even if Miller is the player introduced with the starters—which he might not be—it is clear Knowshon Moreno is Miami's lead running back. Miller, who was the starter and unchallenged all preseason, has lost his job as Miami's lead back. ...
... By the way, a package of plays suggests change of pace back. Which makes sense ...
Because Knowshon Moreno is the Dolphins lead back.
Neither Moreno nor Miller is more than a Week 1 flex play against a Patriots defense that should be improved against the run this season. The uncertainty about the split of their workload only enhances that status, or lack thereof.
Generally, as a rule, you start the players you drafted to start for you in Week 1 of fantasy. Let their early-season production determine whether they are matchup plays or not. If you need to break some ties, perhaps, here are the games we like to get loose and the ones we expect to be less fantasy friendly.
Games to Grab a Piece of
- San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (at least from the 49ers' perspective)
- New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
- Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles
- Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
Games to Be Wary of
- Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
- Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
- Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
- Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks (at least from the Packers' perspective)
Week 1 is a tough gauge because new coordinators, schematic tweaks and offseason additions render last season's data a bit moot. We need a few weeks of games to truly understand which defenses are vulnerable. FFToday.com tends to be our go-to website for fantasy-points-against data.
Here are the ones we expect to be the worst against the run and pass, starting this weekend.
Against the Run
- Dallas Cowboys
- Oakland Raiders
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Chicago Bears
- Green Bay Packers
Against the Pass
- Dallas Cowboys
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Minnesota Vikings
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Oakland Raiders
Thursday Night Start/Sit
Everyone loved Christine Michael coming into the preseason. They cannot like what they have with him right now.
Not only has Robert Turbin held on to his No. 2 role behind starter Marshawn Lynch, but Michael is dealing with a hamstring issue that will keep you from considering him in Week 1. Michael is nothing more than roster depth in the early going this season.
Michael is the only fantasy player in question for Thursday night's season opener, Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks. Even Percy Harvin is a go...for now.
Green Bay Packers
Sit: James Starks, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers, Brandon Bostick and Packers D/ST
Start: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, Steven Hauschka and Seahawks D/ST
Sit: Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Zach Miller
Week 1 Suspensions
The following players cannot be used in lineups due to suspension (return week in parenthesis):
- RB Ray Rice (Week 3), Baltimore Ravens: Pierce (concussion) should start in his place.
- WR Dwayne Bowe (Week 2), Kansas City Chiefs: Frankie Hammond is expected to start in his place, according to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher.
- K Matt Prater (Week 6), Denver Broncos: Brandon McManus is a solid fill-in in all fantasy leagues because of the potency of the offense.
- WR Josh Gordon (2015), Cleveland Browns: Hopefully this won't be the last time we mention this name in fantasy. Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins are Brian Hoyer's starters going into the season, according to The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot.
- WR Justin Blackmon (out indefinitely), Jacksonville Jaguars: He can apply for reinstatement after Nov. 1, but he might never play again.
- WR Jerome Simpson (Week 4), Minnesota Vikings: There shouldn't be many targets for him behind Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright anyway. Don't own Simpson in fantasy.
- WR Stedman Bailey (Week 6), St. Louis Rams: There was potential here, but the suspension and Sam Bradford's (knee) loss for the season killed it.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.