HOW A Gronkowski NJURY IMPACTS THE Patriots FRANCHISE
Last year was a an example of what happens when the Patriots don't have Gronkowski becuase the team also lost Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and Shane Vereen and had a casting call of free agents and rookies in the receiving corps. These changes hurt the New England passing game because the receivers were not as familar with the offense.
Tom Brady lacked the same rapport with his receivers when it came to changing plays at the line of scrimmage or communicating hot routes. The issues with the passing game also meant that opposing defenses had an easier time reaching the pocket. Losing Grokowski also meant losing a significant matchup advantage that Brady could move around the formation to beat defenses in the pre-snap phase of the game.
In this sense, Gronkowski is like a wild card in a poker game. If Gronkowski's return from an ACL tear is a failure or he suffers another injury that keeps him on the shelf, New England won't have the opportunity to dictate matchups with as much ease as it does when the big tight end is dominating the middle of the field.
However, New England still managed to reach the AFC title game despite its reliance on inexperienced receivers in the offense. The Patriots receivers should be better, thanks to a year to learn the system, but the productivity of the passing offense will lose some of its big-play efficiency and red zone prowess. The Patriots will also lose one of the better run blockers at the position.
RB Shane Vereen - Another reason that the Patriots lost its ability to make as many favorable changes at the line of scrimmage was the loss of Shane Vereen for several weeks due to a wrist injury. Even when Vereen returned, the cast he had to wear impeded his ability to catch fade routes -- a specialty of the young back. A healthy Vereen can be used in the back field and split as a receiver or wing back. Expect both Gronkowski and Vereen to be moved around, but if the tight end misses time then Vereen will be the sole recipient of some of these special play changes.
WR Danny Amendola - Amendola's work in the slot will be relied upon more than ever if Gronkowski misses time. Although an injury risk, the potential for quality fantasy production when healthy is high.
WR Julian Edelman - The former quarterback caught more than 100 passes last year and it will be a virtual lock for him to repeat if Gronkowski gets hurt.
QB Tom Brady - Contrary to popular belief among some analysts, Brady is not in decline. His receivers were young and inexperienced and his offensive line allowed pressure into the pocket faster than nearly every team in the league. Look for the more experienced receiving corps to make life easier for the Brady this season -- with or without Gronkowski.
Brady's stats may remain in decline relative to his peak seasons of production, but he is still capable of fantasy production within the top 3-5 at his position with his surrounding talent. The problem is that Gronkowski is the only proven big-play superstar in this offense and he spells the difference between Brady having a low-end QB/high-end QB2 year and a season in the top 3-5.
With Gronkowski, Brady is a low-end QB1 with elite upside. Without Gronkowski, it will be a tough sell to get QB1 value from Brady. However, if you wait a couple of weeks after the injury the stats might be on your side. If you have a quality QB2 with low-end QB1 upside that you drafted after Brady then you likely have a player with similar value to Brady sans Gronowski. MIght as well pair Brady with another player to get a commodity with more upside for your team.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins - In many leagues, Thompkins will be an "Add" due to roster sizes under 20 players, but in deper leagues he's a "buy." A lot of fantasy owners and writers have given up on Thompkins because he failed to look at consistent during the regular season as he did during training camp as a UDFA who essentially went from JUCO to the NFL. Thompkins has performed well in his second camp, beating the likes of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner routinely enough in practice that Browner told the media that Thompkins' routes off the line of scrimmage are "unmatchable." If Gronkowski gets hurt, look for Thompkins to figure more prominently in the offense as a third or fourth option -- if he doesn't winner a bigger piece of the pie with fellow second-year receiver Aaron Dobson dealing with a foot injury.
WR Brandin LaFell - It's a longshot, but LaFell has displayed some skill with fade routes and he could earn time as a red zone specialist. Since Randy Moss, the Patriots haven't been good at acquiring free agent talent that as paid off and LaFell was a disappointment in Carolina. Don't overspend to get LaFell, who might not even be on the opening day roster if Thompkins continues to perform well, Josh Boyce makes strides, and Aaron Dobson returns from injury.