Fantasy Notebook: AFC East; What About Gronk? Miller Time In Miami?

May 08, 2013
Fantasy Notebook: AFC East; What About Gronk? Miller Time In Miami?

The NFL Draft is over and it's provided no shortage of data to add to the baseline of information we've been building in this space over the course of the offseason. That being the case, it's time to start the entire process over. So let's get busy, eh? This week: The AFC East.

We'll get the ball rolling in New England, where the Boston Herald reported on Wednesday that Rob Gronkowski continues to be in a holding pattern, as doctors hope the tight end’s recently completed six-week course of antibiotic treatment finally stomps out a lingering infection in his left forearm.

That being the case, sources told Herald staffer Karen Guregian that Gronkowski is going to need a fourth operation to change the plate that’s securing the broken bone in the forearm.

While there has been some suggestion recently that this step might be avoided, the Guregian source indicated the fourth operation still has to happen. The plate has to be switched, no matter what, and the surrounding tissue tested.

The real question is if Gronkowski, who has been taking part in the team’s offseason program, will need a fifth operation.

This is exactly what Patriots Football Weekly reporter Erik Scalavino told us during an appearance with the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio last Saturday Night.

While nothing is etched in stone here, Scalavino covers the team on a daily basis and his reporting is based on those close to the situation. That Guregian and the Herald are now reporting the same adds fuel to the fire.

Of course, we already knew that fourth surgery was coming -- this despite a report by's Mike Reiss, who was told Gronk has been participating in New England's offseason program and that he "looks great."

The Herald first reported last month the latest approach was to have Gronk delay the surgery for several more weeks to be sure the infection -- which is really the most worrisome issue -- was completely cleared out. Doctors continue to treat him with a course of antibiotics in order to achieve that objective.

The Herald is now confirming that if tests show the infection has been completely flushed out, the plate will be replaced and the recovery process begins. If there are still signs of infection, that won’t happen.

Even if Gronkowski only needs the fourth surgery, the required healing time for that surgery is roughly 10 weeks, which if done soon enough would allow him to begin training camp on time. But if the infection persists and further surgery is required, all involved will begin to seriously worry.

As Guregian put it on Wednesday: "That’s a scenario no one wants to contemplate. Ultimately, Gronkowski would need more surgery and his participation for the start of the season and perhaps beyond would be in jeopardy."

And what about Aaron Hernandez?

In case you missed it, Hernandez decided to get away this offseason. So he packed up and relocated to Los Angeles in an attempt to seclude himself from the world and concentrate solely on football. The fourth-year veteran changed his workout routine with the sincere hope of playing all 16 games for the first time in his career.

“Just been training, trying to get my body right, get my strength up so I can have a decent season next year,” Hernandez told the Herald last month. “I’d say more attention to specific muscles instead of just doing the basic bench, squat and all that other stuff. I’d say I started a little earlier this year to maybe try to get through 16 games this season."

Perhaps that explains why he had a shoulder scoped in April. Initial reports suggested a four-month recovery period. We should then expect Hernandez to be managed carefully once training camp opens, possibly even opening on the physically unable to perform list.

As Scalavino reminded us last Saturday, Hernandez went west this offseason with a specific goal in mind. "Hernandez got a place in California to work out with Brady," Scalavino explained. "But the surgery has kept him from doing that."

As for Gronkowski, Scalavino is even more concerned. "It's a weird thing with infections from surgeries," he said. “You never know."

It's not so much the star tight end's ability to get back in sync with Brady; more to the point, Scalavino added: "Gronk hasn't been able to lift since last November. I'm concerned about his blocking. I think it's going to be a slow start for him to return as the player we know."

And just how slow won't actually be known until the full course of treatment on that arm plays out and we're able to get a better feel for possible timetables on his recovery and return to work. In the meantime, assuming Hernandez's recovery continues without setback, he seems likely to build on the 175 receptions for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns he's compiled over the past three seasons.

Further assuming he can get in the full 16 games this year, there's no reason to believe Hernandez won't be an elite producer -- Gronk's status notwithstanding.

Also of interest, while it's too early to say how LeGarrette Blount will fit into the New England Patriots' backfield plans in 2013 -- or if he'll fit into them at all, the newcomer has at least one enthusiastic endorser (well, as enthusiastic as he gets) in head coach Bill Belichick.

That carries some currency in Foxboro. "We felt like we got good value for Blount," Belichick told SiriusXM NFL Radio. "With LeGarrette, he's been a productive player. He didn't play as much last year with the emergence of (Doug) Martin down there, so I can certainly understand that Tampa was in. We felt like he was a talented guy that we wanted to have on our team."

As noted last week, if Blount can make any kind of impact, he'll represent a wise acquisition by the Patriots. Blount agreed to a restructured contract that reduces his salary-cap hit by $1.07 million for the 2013 season. Blount's base salary was slashed from $1.25 million to $630,000, the league-minimum salary for a fourth-year pro.

It's a low-risk deal for the Patriots, who got Blount in return for Jeff Demps, a project player whose focus was elsewhere.

From a fantasy perspective, of course, Blount only serves to further muddy an already cloudy situation that was just beginning to gain clarity with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen looking more like a tandem than a full-blown committee. That could change if Blount impresses in camp.

As Scalavino stressed, Belichick has a long history of relying on big backs when he's had them (Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith jump right to mind).

My own opinion is that Blount's less-than-impressive history in short-yardage and goal-line situations to date doesn't lead me to believe he's a better option than Ridley. But Scalavino believes "Blount could surprise."

As for the team's incoming rookies? Scalavino has an eye on one in particular: "Love the potential Dobson provides. He's the most physical presence at wideout in New England since Randy Moss left."

Indeed, Belichick has made it clear that he expects Dobson to play well as a rookie. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s got good hands, he’s a strong player; smart, very smart,” the coach said. But whether it's the bigger, more physical Dobson or the speedier Josh Boyce, Scalavino believes somebody needs to produce.

"One of the new receivers needs to step up," Scalavino said before reminding us of the vital first step in that process: "It's important to get on Brady's good side. If you get off to a bad start with Brady you might as well pack a bag."

Just ask Brandon Lloyd and Chad Ochocinco(/Johnson).

In Miami, staff writer Andy Kent also joined the FootballDiehards on Saturday night and made one thing clear when it comes to the team's running backs: "Lamar Miller will be the guy."

The truth is, Reggie Bush is no longer a Dolphin for many reasons. The list includes Bush's tendency to freelance more than coaches preferred. But it also includes Miller.

Their enthusiasm for Miller and what he brings to the table dates back to last summer. "Lamar is a very fluid player," head coach Joe Philbin said last May. "I think he has multiple skills, I don't think that he is just a runner, I think he is a guy that can catch the football, and [we will] move him around."

Coaches believe Miller can deliver big plays.

That's why Palm Beach Post beat writer Ben Volin advised readers back in February -- before Bush was gone -- that the Dolphins expect big things out of Miller in his second year. So much so that Volin felt it was possible that even if Bush (who subsequently signed with the Lions) had returned this season, his role would have been limited by Miller's presence.

Another recent visitor with the FootballDiehards, Alessandro Miglio, a featured columnist at Bleacher Report, was on the Miller bandwagon.

"I love Lamar Miller, was thrilled when they drafted him last year," Miglio told us. "He is a home run hitter, he just needs the reps. Having Bush gone is excellent; I've taken Miller at the end of the third round in a couple of draftmaster drafts already."

And what about Daniel Thomas?

According to Kent, "Thomas had some attitude issues. They've been hoping he'll come around -- and he has to a degree, but he hasn't sustained it."

Which is nothing hopeful fantasy owners haven't already figured out as Thomas heads into his third season as a pro. And his shortcomings could open the door for fifth-round draft pick Mike Gillislee. According to the Sports Xchange, Gillislee will contribute immediately on special teams, but the Dolphins like his decisive running style and his skills in pass protection, which isn't Miller's strong suit.

Gillislee wasn't a starter at Florida until his senior season, but broke out for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"He's a guy that earned his stripes there. He played on special teams and contributed to the team in a number of different fashions. Then when his opportunity came we thought he took advantage of it well," Philbin said. "You know how we feel about pass protection here at that running back position, and then we thought he was a guy that had good all-around skill for the position."

At wideout, Kent also reminded us of the obvious: The goal in free agency this offseason was "giving Ryan Tannehill the playmakers he needs."

Hence the additions of Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, who join Brian Hartline as the team's top three options at wideout.

Wallace provides the downfield big-play threat Miami’s pedestrian passing offense has been missing for years. "Wallace the clear burner, the deep threat guy," Kent explained. "Gibson is also a possession guy and Hartline will still be able to make deep plays."

The addition of a solid receiver at tight end, in Dustin Keller, will also help.

Remember: Last season, Miami was 26th in passing offense; two seasons ago they were 23rd. Last year, Miami was 27th in scoring at 18.0 points per game; two seasons ago they were 20th at 20.6 points per game.

Wallace should help improve those numbers. And his ability to get open deep should open up underneath routes for Gibson and the tight ends. The attention Wallace commands should make life easier for Hartline on the other side.

The fact that Wallace is an established deep threat should also help Tannehill in his second year in the league.

Kent also noted that coaches will be looking to better take advantage of the athleticism and mobility that Tannehill, a wide receiver early in his collegiate career, brings to the table.

In New York, while there are many, many more questions than answers when it comes to the Jets passing attack, the running game seems to be locked and loaded in hopes of providing a more explosive complement to whoever lines up as the starting quarterback and his receiving corps.

This after Chris Ivory was acquired from the Saints in exchange for a fourth-round pick during the second day of the draft.

According to the Xchange, Ivory, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry in three seasons with the Saints, enters the season as the heavy favorite to serve as the Jets' No. 1 running back.

During his visit with the FootballDiehards this past weekend,'s Eric Allen stressed that Ivory isn't the only back capable of producing at a high level.

The list of other candidates who might chip in includes free-agent acquisition Mike Goodson as well as holdovers Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight.

"Ivory is a huge move," Allen said. "But Goodson looks capable of being more of the receiving weapon. New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is going to throw to the backs. Don't overlook Powell and McKnight."

Goodson spent last season with the Raiders after three seasons with the Panthers. He has never rushed for more than 500 yards in a season and has been a backup his entire career. With the Jets, Goodson is hopeful for a greater role because he believes the offense under Mornhinweg will be a great fit for him.

“I definitely think it highlights the things that I do well in my game,” Goodson said, “catching the ball out of the backfield, being able to isolate the linebackers, run some routes and also running the ball between the tackles. I think it’s going to be good."

By the way, for those who haven't heard, there's going to be a five-man quarterback competition in New York which will include semi-incumbent starter Mark Sanchez, rookie Geno Smith, veteran David Garrard and two other guys (Greg McElroy and Matt Simms) not named Tim Tebow (who was recently released).

I'm quite sure we all have our own favorites in this competition. Or not (I said, barely stifling a yawn). But for those interested, Allen advised listeners, "Don't discount Garrard. … He beat out a lot of guys when healthy."

The list of guys Garrard has beat out includes Ryan Tannehill in Miami last summer -- until Garrard's knee gave out.

And finally, in Buffalo… Former Bills safety Mark Kelso, now an analyst for the Buffalo Bills Radio Network, joined the FootballDiehards another last Saturday and when I suggested it's time for C.J. Spiller to move into the lead role, Kelso was once again adamant in his backing of Fred Jackson.

Even if Spiller is the starter (and I have no reason to believe he won't be), Kelso still believes Jackson is the best all-around back on the roster.

Kelso reiterated the same attributes he did during a February appearance: "There's not a better contact runner or a guy with better vision than Fred Jackson," Kelso said. "I've never seen him caught in the open field."

Bottom line? Spiller is going to be a top-10 pick in most fantasy drafts this summer. Jackson will be available much later. And while I fully expect a Spiller-led backfield, those looking for value later in their drafts could do worse than calling on Fred-Ex.

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