Jay Skurski’s Fantasy column: Gronkowski’s return a welcome one for owners - The Buffalo News

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Jay Skurski’s Fantasy column: Gronkowski’s return a welcome one for owners

Fantasy owners who took a leap of faith on Rob Gronkowski might finally be rewarded this weekend.

Gronkowski, the Amherst native, is expected to make his season debut for the New England Patriots against the undefeated New Orleans Saints. “Gronk” has missed the first five weeks of the season as he recovers from offseason surgeries on his back and forearm. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, cryptic as ever, has only said Gronkowski is “day to day,” so fantasy owners should monitor his status Sunday morning.

Gronkowski’s position on draft day was not severely impacted by his injuries. His average draft position in CBS Sports leagues was 47th – at the end of the fourth round in 12-team leagues. Fantasy owners are expecting him to be the same player who has produced 31 touchdowns in his past 29 regular-season games.

The Patriots’ offense has all but abandoned using the tight end in the absence of Gronkowski (and Aaron Hernandez). Quarterback Tom Brady has completed only five passes to tight ends all season in leading his team to a 4-1 start. Preseason fantasy sleeper Zach Sudfeld never woke up – he’s now with the New York Jets – so expecting a dominant performance from Gronkowski might be too much to ask in Week Six.

The Saints have given up an average of less than six points per game to opposing fantasy tight ends, in the top 10 of the NFL. Given his track record, though, especially in the red zone, Gronkowski is good enough to insert in your starting lineup.

As for the tight end on the opposite sideline, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham is making a case for 2013 fantasy MVP. He’s got six touchdowns in the first five weeks, and has four straight games with at least 100 receiving yards. Graham ranks seventh overall in ESPN leagues with 93 points through the first five weeks, the most among non-quarterbacks.

Jones’ injury a killer

While Gronkowski is coming back, the injury news is the opposite for Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who will miss the rest of the season because of a foot injury.

Jones ranked sixth in fantasy scoring among receivers with 65 points on 580 yards and two touchdowns. That type of production isn’t easily replaced, but there are a few options to consider on the waiver wire.

Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon, for example, returned from a four-game suspension in Week Five and gained 136 yards on five catches with a touchdown in his first game of the year. Blackmon goes up against the Denver Broncos in Week Six in a game that should have garbage-time points written all over it.

Blackmon has seen his ownership increase about 25 percent this week in ESPN leagues, but he’s still available in more than 50 percent.

Other receivers who have seen an uptick in their ownership this week include Dallas’ Terrance Williams, who took advantage of the video-game like numbers put up by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo last week by gaining 151 yards on just four catches, with a touchdown. Williams is available in more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues, and looks poised to overtake Miles Austin as the Cowboys’ No. 2 receiver.

Tennessee’s Nate Washington is his team’s target leader, with 38. He hasn’t reached the end zone, but Washington does have 22 catches, offering him some value in points-per-reception leagues as a flex player.

Analyzing the Bills

Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel’s absence should only worsen the recent problems of Bills receiver Stevie Johnson, who has just three catches for 18 yards in the past two weeks, and hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week Two.

Any potential use of rookie receiver Robert Woods should also be delayed this week until he shows he can form some sort of chemistry with Thad Lewis.

At running back, Fred Jackson has a higher points projection this week than C.J. Spiller. That’s a bad sign for Spiller, a first- or second-round pick in most formats. Jackson has failed to rush for 100 yards in a game, but has four touchdowns. He’s best used in a flex format this week.

The Bengals’ best fantasy option is receiver A.J. Green – although he’s underperformed this year. Green hasn’t topped 61 yards since Week One. He’s due for a breakout performance.

The Bengals are fully invested in the dreaded “running back by committee” approach, leaving fantasy owners guessing on a weekly basis as to which back – veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis or rookie Giovani Bernard – will get more work (it was Green-Ellis last week).

email: jskurski@buffnews.com

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