The retirement of Rob Gronkowski does put some ease on us when ranking or drafting tight ends for the 2019 season. We will not struggle to rate him based on the fact that he is coming off a disappointing season, yet there would always be the possibility that he could bounce back, and the position is not top-heavy with high-quality selections. There will be enough challenging decisions at the position, and now Gronk won’t be part of that frustrating mix.
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Patriots without Gronkowski
Yet the absence of Gronkowski now puts the Patriots offense is an uncomfortable light, from both real and fantasy perspectives. He finished as TE10 in PPR scoring last year and New England finished 22nd in passing offense. Tom Brady finished as QB13. There are widespread perceptions that the New England passing game is going to take a big hit without Gronkowski, yet it wasn’t all that impressive last season, either. Overall, the Patriots finished 21st in yards per game.
Yet Gronkowski obviously still commanded a lot of defensive respect, and with that dimension gone, the New England offense, at least for now, looks a lot easier to defend. Of course, the offseason is not over, but unless the Patriots pull off a headliner trade of some sort (A.J. Green?) it seems unlikely that some veteran will come in and stabilize or improve the crew. Michael Crabtree may be the best free agent WR still available, and he would be an adequate, but not outstanding fit.
The Patriots have not taken a wide receiver in the first round since 1996 when they selected Terry Glenn seventh overall, and they don’t pick until 32nd overall this year. But before last season, when they took Sony Michel in the first round, they had not selected an RB in the first round since taking Laurence Maroney in 2006. So it would not be a total shock if they veer away from the norm. Still, it would be expecting a lot of a rookie to be an impact player in the New England offense right away.
Of course, Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman will be back, and should be a target vacuum and a high-end fantasy WR2 in PPR leagues even if the Patriots get him more complementary reinforcements. Philip Dorsett was re-signed and is second on the depth chart at this time. He has occasionally flashed as a playmaker and should be a WR4 candidate if he remains in the same spot in the pecking order. You have to believe New England is not comfortable with that scenario, though. Maybe their next roster move is one we simply are not foreseeing right now.
It is uncertain if Chris Hogan will be back, and even if he is, he has been a bust in real life and fantasy. No one knows if and when Josh Gordon will return. There are no true tight ends of note in free agency now that Jared Cook is off the market. So what we have now is Brady with an early Expert Consensus Ranking of QB18 on FantasyPros.com. He can still win real ballgames, but not fantasy ones like he used to.
So at least in the current view, this team will have to rely heavily on its running backs, with James White operating in a major role as he did for much of the first half of last season. Through Week 8 of 2018, he was RB5 in PPR formats. There were some times he also had to fill in as a runner because of injuries during that span, but I could see him being a high end RB2 in 2019 if he is essentially asked to carry a heavy receiving role again,
Sony Michel, who had a tremendous playoff run, could turn out to be the team’s best-featured ball carrier since Corey Dillon. Yet he cannot be overworked, as we already saw him miss three games in his rookie year and he came into the pros as an injury concern. He will play well enough to be a high-end fantasy RB2 but New England will be very judicious with his usage.
Rex Burkhead will part of the scene again too, but you never can be sure about when he will make a solid fantasy contribution. Right now, the Patriots appear as though they will lean heavily on White and Michel as a primary duo. Yet there is a strong chance New England will move to address what appears to be a large receiving void in the near future. Even if Gronkowski returned, the team still needed another significant playmaker at WR. Another notable addition could at least propel Brady back to high-end QB2 status as well.
The End of the Baldwin Road?
The Seahawks could suddenly be facing an immediate future without top WR Doug Baldwin. After he reportedly underwent knee and shoulder surgeries after the team’s postseason ended, he could possibly need a sports hernia procedure, too. There have been published reports that Baldwin is actually considering retirement.
The veteran WR will turn 31 during the 2019 season, but that is not quite yet “old” for players at the position. Baldwin could just be frustrated after an injury-plagued 2018 campaign and the Seahawks have not won a postseason game in the last two years.
The draft may tell us more about Baldwin’s immediate future. If they take a WR early, they could be concerned about Baldwin’s short-term outlook. If they use a first rounder on a WR that will send a significant message. The Seahawks only have four picks in this year’s draft and no second rounder. Even if Baldwin does return, there is a need for a big target on key passing downs and in the goal line area. But if they take a wideout first, speculation can only rise that Baldwin’s near future is uncertain.
The Seahawks were clearly a run-first team last year, and the addition of a top rookie WR would appear to send a message that Baldwin may need to replaced rather than the team being willing to start to throw more. They were heavily criticized for not opening up the passing game more in a Wild Card loss to Dallas. But unleashing Rashaad Penny more in the running game could be their answer to such talk, as the potentially explosive open field runner was essentially kept under wraps against the Cowboys.
Of course, Baldwin could easily change his mind once he is feeling better. I would use this opportunity to deal for Baldwin in a dynasty league. If he comes back in good health next year he should at least be a top fantasy WR2.
Scott Engel is an inaugural member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s Hall of Fame and a four-time award winner. He was one of the driving content forces in the rise of RotoExperts.com and was the lead host on the RotoExperts in the Morning for six years on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. He was also instrumental in the launch of the FNTSY Sports Network. Scott was the first-ever Senior Writer and Managing Editor at CBS SportsLine and won a company Hall of Fame Award. He was also an Associate Editor and Fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He has been the featured Fantasy Writer on Seahawks.com since 2012 and his work has been syndicated to the Associated Press, NFL.com, New York Daily News, New York Post, Yahoo Sports, Bloomberg Sports, Sports Illustrated and many others. He is a credentialed media member who won an FSWA award in 2016 for his Insider Fantasy Reporting. Known as “The King”, Scott is on Twitter @scottTheKing
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