Before I begin, please note that I’m not trying to make light of a serious situation. A 27-year-old man is dead, murdered execution-style. A talented 23-year-old tight end with seemingly a successful NFL career ahead of him has thrown it all away with a murder charge, and regardless of whether or not he pulled the trigger, he has enough involvement in the murder to most likely never play another down in the NFL again. And all because he had to maintain a “hard” mentality and escalate a situation that had no business getting to the point where somebody ended up dead.
But…I write a fantasy football column, and this situation has deep fantasy implications across multiple positions.
Tight End was a shallow position to begin with. 2012 left us with more questions than answers. Normally reliable players suddenly put up goose-eggs. Vernon Davis struggled with Alex Smith, then excelled for a couple weeks with Colin Kaepernick, then was seemingly never thrown to again. Jermichael Finley never met a pass he didn’t like…to drop. Antonio Gates assured us all he was 100% over his foot injury, but despite playing in 15 games, he put up the lowest totals of catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns since his rookie year. Other TE options like Dennis Pitta, Martellus Bennett and Kyle Rudolph were feast or famine. They either blew up or gave you nothing. And a 2012 diamond in the rough, Heath Miller, tore his ACL late in the season and is most likely going to start this year.
Complicating matters even more heading into 2013 was the Tight End Carousel. Oakland’s Brandon Myers went to the New York Giants, replacing Martellus Bennett who went to Chicago, replacing Kellen Davis who went to Cleveland, replacing Benjamin Watson who went to New Orleans. San Francisco’s Delaine Walker went to Tennessee, replacing Jared Cook who went to St. Louis. The Jets’s Dustin Keller went to Miami, replacing Anthony Fasano who went to Kansas City. It’s impossible to know for sure how the change of scenery will affect each player, either positively or negatively.
Even more complicated is guessing who is going to go off on teams that have clear two-TE sets. You’ll go mad trying to figure out who will go off for Denver each week: Joel Dreessen or Jacob Tamme. Will Coby Fleener score more for Indianapolis with his Stanford QB Andrew Luck, or will Dwayne Allen continue to see more looks? How does Tyler Eifert’s arrival in Cincinnati affect Jermaine Gresham? The aforementioned Kellen Davis is second on the Browns’s depth chart to Jordan Cameron.
After Rob Gronkowski’s five surgeries and Hernandez’s problems, we’re only left with two stud TE options: Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez, and some people aren’t sold on Gonzalez! Frankly I don’t think Matt Ryan would have convinced Gonzo to come back for one more year if he wasn’t going to get him involved in the offense.
So with all of this uncertainty, losing a sure thing like Aaron Hernandez for a really stupid reason is disheartening. Had he suited up for the Patriots this season, I could have seen him flying off draft boards as quickly as the third round.
What’s even more interesting about Hernandez’s incarceration from a fantasy perspective is how it affects Tom Brady. Not even two weeks ago, Brady was going in the third round. His overall draft value has dropped at least two rounds, as pundits are nervous about all of the weapons he lost from last year. Their argument: as talented of a quarterback as you are, you cannot catch your own passes (just ask Brady’s wife!). Gone are Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead, Gronk (for a couple games at least), and now Hernandez. Danny Amendola seems like as good a bet as any to replace Welker’s production, assuming he stays healthy. And Brady knows all about what Jake Ballard can do at Tight End, given that he caught the game-winning touchdown in the last seconds for the Giants against the Pats in the 2012 regular season. I’m not too worried about a slip in Brady’s production, and if he’s available in the fifth or sixth round, I’m scooping him up with glee.
This column is all about finding silver linings, so in any way…did Hernandez’s arrest HELP anybody? Sure did! Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, Vereen more so. Ridley was already being drafted early in the second round, and given that the Patriots’s offense may need to rely on the run game more often, I’d argue that Ridley needs to go in the late first round, especially in 12-team drafts. Vereen, who exploded in the playoffs, may have won the trust of Bill Belichick, and will get significantly more touches this season, especially as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, assuming the role Woodhead had over the past few years. In mock drafts I’ve done over the past couple weeks, Vereen has been available as late as Round 10. I would definitely take him around Round 8 as a solid RB3 and a definite RB4.
As the world watches the next turning point in the Aaron Hernandez murder saga, I’ll continue to monitor those draft boards.