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Fantasy Football: Should You Play Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski in Week 1?

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The Patriots All Pro tight end made himself available for the first week of the regular season; as a fantasy General Manager should you play him?

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

If you have Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on your fantasy team, you've likely spent an early draft pick on him and are pining to see some quick results. As Gronk announced his clearance to play in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, playing him as your Week 1 tight end might seem like an easy call.

This begs the question: Should Gronk be a Week 1 play at tight end?

Gronk admit that he will be on a short leash and on a snap count, limiting his opportunities on the field. Is it reasonable to hold off on playing him until he's fully integrated into the offense? Absolutely. Playing Gronk comes down to your risk appetite as a Fantasy General Manager (FGM).

When arranging your roster, you need to try and generate the maximum number of fantasy points every week. I know that at any given week, a healthy Gronk is likely the top scoring tight end due to his red zone prowess and quarterback Tom Brady's reliance and number of targets. However, if you have a viable alternative starting option on your roster, then you can feel more comfortable sitting Gronk until he's 100% back into the offense.

But let's say you want to play Gronk- how will he, with his limited snaps, produce?

Gronk has come back from three major injuries in his career. He had ankle surgery, courtesy of Bernard Pollard, in between the 2011 and 2012 season, he broke his arm against the Colts in game 10 of the 2012 season and returned for game 16 (Patriots were playing for a first round bye), and then he had to come back from his catastrophic injuries in the middle of the 2013 season.

Of these injuries, one could compare his return more similar to his return from ankle surgery prior to the 2012 season. Upon his return, Gronk played 66 of the team's 67 snaps, showing little sign of easing into the football season.

Alternatively, his return could be considered more akin to the tumultous 2013 off-season. Gronk didn't return until week 7, where he played 51 of 79 snaps. He wasn't integrated into the offense until week 12, playing 35/68, 49/77, and 63/72 in the interim.

The least similar would be his mid-season 2012 return after breaking his arm on special teams. He came back in week 17 with the team competing for a first round bye, but the Patriots won 28-0 and the Patriots managed Gronk's return to the tune of 25 snaps of a possible 80.

I would propose that Gronk will likely be monitored more similarly to his 2013 return, where he'll play roughly 50%-60% of the snaps for the first few weeks, before becoming a full part of the offense.

But that's not to say Gronk won't be a productive and active member of the offense with those snaps. In the first four games of his 2013, prior to his full return, Gronk averaged 9.75 targets, 6 receptions, 85.75 yards, and 0.5 touchdowns. In his first game back, he saw 17 targets (or an astounding third of his snaps on the field). In his second game back, his targets fell to 5.

While his touchdowns will be a little more random, you can be certain that the Patriots will get him involved early and often. He will have the opportunities to score points whenever he is on the field.

History shows that you shouldn't be concerned about shying away from a snap-counted Gronk (even in his 25 snaps in Week 17 2012, Gronk fielded 4 targets for 42 yards and a touchdown). Still, playing Gronk is assuming the risk that his snaps will be over-managed.

So should you play Gronk? It comes down to how much you enjoy risk. No one will blame you if you have a top alternative; but if you're playing without one of the other top 4 tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, and Jordan Cameron (the 10 pointers), and maybe Dennis Pitta, Jordan Reed, and Vernon Davis (the 8 pointers), feel free to confidently start Gronk and know that he has a high chance to score like a top TE1.