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The Fantasy Football Fallout of the Aaron Hernandez Murder Charge

Aaron Hernandez charged with murder
Aaron Hernandez Fantasy Impact

Dec 30, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) reacts after missing a pass against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with murder in a Massachusetts courtroom today, can safely be eliminated from your fantasy football draft list. The fantasy impact of his absence, however, goes well beyond that.

Tom Brady could now enter the 2013 season without Wes Welker, who left for Denver, Rob Gronkowski, who underwent successful back surgery this month, and Hernandez, whose size-speed combination was something to behold in his short time with one of the NFL’s most potent offenses.
The crassness of pondering the fake football implications stemming from someone’s death is not lost on me, just for the digital record. You’re a degenerate though, as am I, and this horrific ordeal will have a marked impact on your fantasy draft come August.

Hernandez’s elimination from the fantasy football tight end pool and Gronkowski’s questionable status for Week 1 leave Jimmy Graham as the lone elite tight end, with guys like Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez in their next tier.

Keep a close eye on the average draft positions of Dennis Pitta and Vernon Davis to creep upward in the coming weeks as mock drafters come to grips with reaching for the few tight ends who are all but guaranteed prominent roles in their respective offenses.

Dennis Pitta

Dec 16 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta (88) brings in a touchdown reception as he is defended by Denver Broncos strong safety Mike Adams (20) at M&T Bank Stadium. The Broncos defeated the Ravens 34-17. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Tight ends’ ADP climbs are already in full swing

Pitta’s ADP jumped from 8.01 on June 15 to 7.08 on June 25. Davis, in that same span, saw his ADP go from 6.10 to 6.05. Don’t expect Davis’s stock to stop there, as there’s a real possibility that he could be deployed as a wide receiver in Michael Crabtree’s absence.

Other tight ends who will soon see their fantasy draft cost rise include Greg Olsen, Jared Cook, and Jermichael Finley, though they won’t see the ADP rise of Pitta and Davis, barring glowing training camp reports that dazzle fantasy footballers.

How Patriots skill position players are impacted

Brady, as Chris Wesseling of NFL Around The League so astutely pointed out last week, is simply not the same signal caller without Gronkowski, and Hernandez’s absence won’t help.

Brady posted a 65.7 completion percentage, 23-3 TD:INT ratio and 106.6 passer rating at 7.9 yards per attempt on snaps with Gronkowski on the field. Those numbers plummeted to 58.9 completion percentage, 11:5 TD:INT ratio, 87.1 passer rating and 7.1 yards per attempt on snaps without Gronkowski.

Brady is the fourth quarterback coming off of mock draft boards. That’ll change, and soon. Expect Cam Newton and Matt Ryan to have a higher ADP come fantasy draft time, and unless the Patriots inexplicably transform into a team that chucks the ball 700 times, I’d project Brady as a low-end top-10 fantasy quarterback.

The Patriots are smitten with pass-catching running back Shane Vereen, as is our own Rich Hribar. Vereen was already set for a spike in snaps and opportunities after the departure of Danny Woodhead. It should be noted that the Patriots didn’t hesitate to line up Vereen all over the offensive formation, including in the slot, where Hernandez played more than half of his 2012 snaps.

Julian Edelman is also a lead candidate to fill that slot role left by Hernandez – and Gronkowski, who lined up in the slot on 62 percent of his 2012 snaps – but I’d put my fantasy money on Vereen, whose hands, speed and versatility are unquestioned, and who touched the ball 25 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ two 2012 postseason games.

It’s impossible to say right now how the carries would be split, but Vereen and his backfield mate Stevan Ridley could see a slight uptick in running plays with the Patriots’ aerial game temporarily grounded. They won’t see a major jump in runs because New England is already one of the run heaviest teams in the league, trailing only the Seahawks in running plays last year. Brady, amazingly, still recorded the fifth most dropbacks of any quarterback in the NFL. The Patriots offense moves quickly, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I begrudgingly mention the Third String Quarterback Whose Name Shall Not Be Uttered, Tim Tebow, as a potential beneficiary of the Patriots’ tight end void. Not until Tebow actually practices at tight end this summer should we even put his name in the tight end pool, but it’s (barely) worth noting that CBS Sports NFL insider Mike Freeman reported June 10 that Tebow will indeed study the tight end position, according to a team source.

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