What Should You Do With Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Marvin Jones in Fantasy Football?
The fantasy football draft is only one small part of the season, as leagues are won and lost through both good drafting and smart team management and lineup selections throughout the season.
One of the biggest headaches for a fantasy manager during the season is the fragility of their players and the tough decisions created by injuries. This is even true during Week 1, as lingering preseason ailments and long-term injuries just healing up in time for the season can create tough choices when setting a lineup.
With that in mind, let's consider a few players with injury concerns as Week 1 looms, and provide some advice and insight on how to replace them if they're unable to go.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
The seemingly "always hurt" Rob Gronkowski has had a quiet preseason as he's continued to recover from ACL surgery. That lack of news was seen as a positive, as his ADP slowly rose as the season got closer with no reports of any setbacks in his recovery.
And on Monday, Gronkwoski told the media that he'd be on the field for Week 1 against the Dolphins.
As Dr. Dave Siebert of Bleacher Report points out, this would mean a less-than-nine-month recovery from an injury that often sidelines players for a year or more. But if Gronk has been cleared to play, it wouldn't be the first time that a fantasy football star has recovered in time for Week 1 against all odds.
And it wouldn't be the first time in recent history for a health-limited tight end to play and still be a top option. Last season, Jimmy Graham battled through injuries and still managed to be a dominant tight end, something that Gronkowski will likely do to begin this season. When he's on the field, Gronkowski is better than Graham according to our data, and that means even if he's not 100%, he's still among the best at his position.
Start Gronkowski if you have him, as he's a must-start every week regardless of matchup. The Dolphins, his Week 1 opponent, finished 10th in pass defense according to our Net Expected Points data last season, but that's not a worthwhile excuse to not roll with Gronk.
If there are any setbacks, or if you're just too chicken to plug in Gronk this weekend, Travis Kelce (facing the 12th-worst 2013 pass defense from Tennessee) and Jared Cook (facing the second-worst pass defense from last year in the Vikings) make for smart pickups off of the waiver wire.
Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos
There are three distinct breeds of injury in the NFL these days. There are the clearly defined, well-known injury types that have set timelines for recovery. ACL tears take nine months to a year, and broken bones have a set timeline in most cases, for example.
Then there are nagging injuries, which never seem to go away until a player magically re-appears on the field and is fine. Hamstring pulls, hand injuries, and other "smaller" ailments can be fantasy football nightmares.
But the third type of injury, and most difficult to deal with for both players and fake footballers, are head and neck injuries. These maladies can end careers in an instant or only cost a player one week of playing time, and there's no way to tell the difference between the two.
And while we can often attempt to put puzzle pieces together and figure out how a player is progressing from a head injury, or how he'll deal with a new hit to his head, we often have to simply wait and see with these situations. Wes Welker has suffered several concussions in his career, and another preseason blow to the head brought up concerns about his future as an NFL player.
But Welker is progressing, showing up to practice while going through the NFL's concussion protocol. But there's nothing we can do but wait until game day to assess Welker's status.
There's reason to be optimistic, as he's already back on the practice field and testing himself out physically. But have a backup plan in place if you're a Welker owner. Because he plays on Sunday night, if he hasn't been fully cleared by the kickoff of Sunday's first games, don't hesitate to bench him in favor of one of your backups.
The exception would be if you have Cody Latimer on your team along with Welker. Waiting until the last minute to swap out Welker for Latimer should the former be ruled out is a viable approach, as the Broncos will face the 13th-worst passing defense from a season ago in the Colts.
But even then, I don't think Welker is enough of an upgrade over the player likely sitting on your bench at receiver, and you should probably just play it safe unless Wes is deemed fit to play ahead of Sunday's kickoffs.
Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
If you drafted your fantasy team a few weeks ago and didn't hear the news, Marvin Jones will be out for a couple of months after injuring his foot this preseason. We covered the Bengals' wide receiver situation in the wake of this news, and found that there's not a lot of quality depth behind Jones, and no players worth targeting in fantasy football outside of an increase in work for other starting Bengals players.
But if you're scrambling this week to find a player to fill in for Jones, or if you just want to drop him altogether (which I wouldn't recommend, since his coach is already talking about a Week 5 return for the Bengals' second best wideout), you do have some options who are likely available in your league.
Mike Williams of the Buffalo Bills is a starting receiver for an offense facing the Chicago Bears defense, which finished 12th last season against the pass according to our data. And while that's not a terrific matchup, he's one of a very small amount of starting receivers available on your waiver wire, and is worth a shot.
But the better lottery ticket option would be Rams starting receiver Kenny Britt, who's facing the second-worst 2013 pass defense from Minnesota. Yes, Shaun Hill will be his quarterback, but against the Minnesota pass defense, a good quarterback isn't required to get wideouts involved in the scoring.
Hold onto Marvin Jones for now, and if you need a fill-in this week, consider Williams and Britt. And if Jones is on the waiver wire in your league, grab him up and start using him a month from now when he's back on the field and producing as the target benefitting from the attention paid to A.J. Green.