The last week has reminded us that most fantasy football news in May is of the bad variety. Today, we learn that all-universe tight end Rob Gronkowski will indeed have back surgery in mid-to-late June and stalwart stud running back Arian Foster will be out until training camp with a calf strain. In typical investment fashion, the correct response is to buy on that bad news.
The definitive Patriots beat writer voice, Mike Reiss (of ESPN Boston), writes that Gronkowski "isn't expected to be ready for the start of training camp". Reiss adds that the window between surgery and the team's season opener (about 12 weeks) might be enough for him to be ready, but that the Patriots could also "take the long-range view and consider the physically unable to perform list for Gronkowski". When I asked our Dr. Jene Bramel (who will surely be chiming in with more here and on the audible) whether his gut feeling was that Gronkowski would start the year on the PUP, he said "Bet active roster/gameday inactive rather than PUP/mandatory 6 wks if comes to that". In other words, the Patriots are going to get Gronkowski back on the field as soon as they can.
Nick Scurfield, of HoustonTexans.com, reported today that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said running back Arian Foster will be out for the rest of OTAs, but return for training camp, due to a "pretty good calf strain".
Both of these players are getting a bit of a stink around them in fantasy circles, with Gronkowski being thought of as "injury prone" and "fragile", and Foster scaring some because of the potential that recent overuse could cause a dropoff his production and abilities.
Gronkowski is the undisputed #1 fantasy tight end when he's on the field. Whether he misses two games or six games isn't really as important for your fantasy teams as whether he is at full speed for the stretch run and fantasy playoffs. At this moment, there are no strong indications that he won't be, although Peyton Manning taught us to never assume anything when it comes neck and back issues a few years ago. Still, with the ultra-deep tight end position this season, it will be very cheap to roster a viable replacement (heck, even Jake Ballard) at a minimal draft cost. Getting Gronkowski with a third or fourth-round pick in early drafts could give you a late-season checkmate on your opponents if you nail two running back picks before taking him and build a strong wide receiver corps later on. Make him a target and top priority in drafts while he doesn't cost a premium pick.
While you can basically control whether you get Gronkowski in early drafts, opportunities to "buy low" on Foster are dependant on draft position. The top nine running backs are very tightly packed, so Foster could fall to the second half of the first round on this news. I currently have Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles ahead of Foster, but if they are both gone when you are picking fourth or later, consider Foster a gift. He has already come into a season banged up after a year of heavy usage (hamstring in 2011), and Foster still finished with the third most points among PPR running backs despite missing three games. He was still the #1 running back on a points per game basis. Like Gronkowski, he has been the type of player that delivers fantasy championships.
If you do take Foster in the first, don't fall prey to the temptation to spend a mid-round pick on Ben Tate. If you believe Tate will be a big value, then that necessarily means Foster will be a bust. By taking both, you eliminate the chance of both picks hitting. If you don't trust Foster enough to roll into the season without Tate, then just let someone else take Foster and make a point of getting Tate in the seventh or eighth round.
Don't let fear be a draft killer. Good fantasy owners will have the wherewithal to create good plan B's if players like Gronkowski and Foster do bust, and they will assemble the complementary parts to vie for a title if these studs do stay healthy. Instead of fearing the risk that comes with Gronkowski and Foster, your opponents should be fearing the kind of juggernaut you can build if they let you get them at a discount in early drafts.