Rob Gronkowski will be suspended for Week 14 after his after-the-whistle hit on the Bills’ Tre’Davious White. Frankly, the fallout for the Patriots may be positive: Give an injury-prone star a late-season rest in a game when New England is an 11-point road favorite, and get him ready for a Week 15 showdown with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. But for Gronk’s fantasy owners heading into the playoffs, the suspension is brutal. After years of being teased by the big tight end’s dominance only to see him taken away by yet another injury, it finally seemed we were getting a full season of Prime Gronk. Nope.
So you need a potential one-week replacement. Brutal right? In terms of maddening randomness, tight ends are a half-step up from kickers and Al Pacino performances. Anyone consistently good is owned. You’re basically chasing a touchdown, or the possibility of five targets. Here are the lightly owned Week 14 candidates I’d try, in order. (You can find my complete weekly tight end ranks here.)
Trey Burton, Eagles
This presupposes that Zach Ertz misses Sunday’s game against the Rams; Ertz left Week 13 with a concussion and hasn’t practiced yet this week. Urban Meyer recruited Burton to Florida to be a spread-option quarterback — he was going to be Meyer’s next Tim Tebow — but Meyer left and the team adopted a drop-back offense and Burton became a running back, Wildcat quarterback, fullback (he had 11 rushing TDs as a freshman), tight end and slot receiver. He’s undersized by NFL tight end standards (6-foot-2, 224 pounds), but he’s fast. He’s scored a couple of times this year, he had a seven-catch game in 2016, and most importantly, unlike the other candidates on this list, he’s got a very good quarterback helming a very good offense.
David Njoku, Browns
Njoku is a first-round rookie who belongs to the crew of physical-freak TEs redefining the position: a ridiculously fast leaper who’s also 6-4 and 246 pounds. He’s been playing 30 to 40 snaps per week all year and has four touchdowns. Unfortunately, he also splits time with Seth DeValve and catches passes from DeShone Kizer, factors which have made Njoku a weekly dart throw: He’s accumulated 20 receiving yards or fewer in seven of his 12 games. But he’s one of the truly versatile downfield receiving weapons at TE, as befits his outrageous physical gifts. He can give you nothing, but he also can run down the seam and make a big play.
Julius Thomas, Dolphins
I know: gross. Except Formerly Orange Julius has three TDs in his past five games, two 12-TD seasons in his (now-distant) past and more receiving yards this season than any other tight end owned in fewer than a third of Yahoo fantasy leagues. With Thomas, you’re getting a once-great athlete diminished by years of injuries, but he plays a lot. You’re essentially chasing a touchdown.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Cardinals
RSJ is a ’tweener: a college wideout who was way too slow to play that position in the NFL, but who converted to a hybrid tight end in his rookie year. He’s big enough to play TE but is still learning the position, and as such is borderline useless right now doing anything other than running around with his hand in the air. Seals-Jones has played eight, 17 and 15 snaps the past three weeks — low totals that are by far his high-water mark for the season — and became a momentary waiver-wire darling when he scored two TDs in Week 11 and another in Week 12. He can be a mismatch against a safety in the middle of the field; I just wish he played more.
Stephen Anderson, Texans
Anderson is getting tons of expert love this week, after C.J. Fiedorowicz headed to injured reserve and Anderson caught five passes for 79 yards in his absence last week. Could Anderson pick up where he left off? He could. But could the presumptive return of Will Fuller at wideout give Houston another alternative to DeAndre Hopkins and throw a wrench in those Anderson-related plans? Yup. Like Burton, Anderson is undersized by NFL standards (6-2, 230), and he’s also fast and a good athlete. Unlike Burton, Anderson has to catch passes from Tom Savage.
And, honestly, considering all these dudes are wing-and-a-prayer Gronk replacements who guarantee you nothing in a one-week sample size, that’s my tiebreaker. Given the prospect of adding tight ends who’ll be hauling in ducks thrown by DeShone Kizer, Jay Cutler, Blaine Gabbert and Tom Savage, I’d probably rather take the higher-upside chance on Carson Wentz and the Philly offense that’s still averaging more than 30 points per game.
Christopher Harris runs HarrisFootball.com, where you can find more info on the “Harris Football Podcast,” with new episodes every weekday.
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