Aaron Hernandez has been the sort of dependable football player that elicits the confidence of his team, his fans and fantasy football GMs alike. Clearly, the Patriots believe in him; they signed him through 2018 and gave him a $12.5 million signing bonus. Fantasy GMs are beginning to recognize him as a first-tier TE. 2013 is revving up to be a hallmark year for Hernandez. Today, we are going to breakdown what to expect from him this year and how to draft him.
In 2011, Hernandez posted fantastic fantasy numbers; his sophomore year in the pros resulted in 137.5 FFPts. That year, he only started 12 times and played in 14 games. Despite only playing 14 games, he averaged a surprisingly high 9.8 FFPts/G. After a well-thought-of 2011, Hernandez was on course to have his best year yet in 2012. However, misfortune had other plans; an ankle injury set him back and led him to a 7.9 FFPts/G average.
His myriad abilities on the gridiron kept an injured Hernandez as a viable option in fantasy football in 2012. To say that he’s talented would be an understatement. When it comes to his football aptitude, he is unparalleled. Hernandez definitely has the strength to block. The blocks he set played a large role in Stevan Ridley’s and Danny Woodhead’s successful 2012. The Patriots rushing game would not have been nearly as good as it was without Hernandez’s blocks. Amongst tight ends, he has some of the best hands. In 2012, he had 51 receptions and nearly 50 yards per game. Not to mention, he had 483 yards and five TDs. That level of receiving capability is only shared by the likes of fellow Patriot Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten. In addition to his hands, his quickness makes him an ideal target for Tom Brady. That sort of speed allows Hernandez to be a viable option as a slot receiver; a vital facet of the Patriots’ offensive scheme. Last but not least, he can rush as well as the best running backs. Although he has only had nine attempts in 3 years, he averages 11 yards per attempt.
2013 will be a transitional year for the Patriots’ offense, and that bodes well for Hernandez’s fantasy owners. The loss of superstar slot receiver Wes Welker hurts the most. After ripping Welker from the grasp of the divisional-rivals Dolphins, he soon became Tom Brady’s favorite and most reliable target. That relationship grew and lasted for many years, but in a moment it was finished over a paltry sum of money. Needless to say, the Patriots’ offense is sad to see him go; his replacement, Danny Amendola, has a high mark that he must try to meet. There are no guarantees that Amendola will have a remarkable first season as a Patriot. He has missed more games than he has played in the last two years due to injuries. Veteran receiver Michael Jenkins is the newest addition to the Patriots’ offense; he’s meant to replace fellow veteran Brandon Lloyd. Jenkins doesn’t bring much to the table other than the fact that he’s a big target for Brady to aim for. Overall, the most important receivers for the Pats in 2013 are undoubtedly going to be Hernandez and his counterpart, Gronkowski. As a duo, Hernandez and Gronkowski are by far the most mortifying red zone threats that any NFL defense has to face.
The Boston Herald broke the news Sunday that Gronkowski’s broken forearm is infected. This development will certainly impact Hernandez’s fantasy value; in particular, how he should be drafted. Gronk’s infected and broken arm needs to have its plate surgically removed and replaced. Markedly, the infection complicates the medical procedure. If Gronkowski had the surgery right now then it would take 10 weeks for him to recover fully. That would set a recovery date for June 16 barring any setbacks. Keep in mind that in February, Gronkowski was wrestling, dancing, and intoxicated on a Las Vegas stage. He clearly had complete disregard for his broken arm. I won’t suggest that Gronkowski will not be ready for the season opener. However, I will suggest that if he is not ready then Hernandez will be there to step up.
With or without Gronkowski at his side, Hernandez is one of the best tight ends in the entirety of the NFL. What’s more is that he will play a pivotal role in fantasy leagues worldwide in 2013. Given what we know about the Patriots’ new offense, I believe it’s safe to assume that he will increase his fantasy production to 10 FFPts/G. He was almost there in 2011 and this year he will at least come close to reaching the zenith of his fantasy scoring. He’s projected to be an early-to-mid fourth rounder in fantasy drafts this year. In my opinion, he would be a tremendous choice at that point in the draft and a mammoth addition to any fantasy football team.
Eric Schuette is an enterprising sports writer and contributor to the Fantasy Cafe. You can follow him on twitter @EricOnSports and in the Cafe's forums also under the name EricOnSports.
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