Fantasy football 2013: The Aaron Hernandez ripple effect

The media coverage of the Aaron Hernandez case has been downright ludicrous … unless you are a Patriots fan or have a certain tight end on your dynasty fantasy roster.

And if you fall into either of the latter two categories, I feel your pain. The Patriots (technically now that is “former” Patriots) pass catcher helped my dynasty squad finally reach the promised land last season and I had sugarplums of a repeat dancing in my head until this morning’s breaking news that Mr. Hernandez had been arrested and subsequently cut by Bill Belichick’s squad.

Thank you, Aaron Hernandez. Thank you very much.

OK, there is a perspective thing here that needs addressed. There was a man murdered and a grieving family to consider, and all things football should be kept a distant second to the reality of that. Let’s hope justice is served and those who are guilty are handled to the full extent of the law.

To those of us further removed from the life-and-death ramifications of the situation, however, the loss of Hernandez is a huge blow to Patriots Nation and to fantasy owners who have Hernandez, Tom Brady or other Pats on their respective rosters.

What does that mean and how will the ripple effects be felt in the fantasy communities? Let’s look at the major players involved.

1. Aaron Hernandez. There is much that is unknown for Hernandez and his involvement in the murder case, and we should be careful not to tread into unchartered waters just yet. However, the fact remains that he was waived by the Patriots this morning and there is a possiblity he may be claimed by another NFL team by 4 p.m. Thursday. The odds of that are very slim, though.

At a tight end position that had been looking pretty shallow lately, the loss of Hernandez only makes things look even bleaker. Even if he does somehow avoid prosecution or Roger Goodell’s sanctions and winds up on another NFL team this year, he won’t have Tom Brady throwing him the pigskin. Yes, there are situations where he could do well, but from all current reports, no one should expect anything out of Hernandez for the foreseeable future.

All that considered, it does make him a very buy-low option at the moment. If you are able to snag him off waivers in your respective dynasty leagues or swing a fairly one-sided deal to the owner who is currently freaking out, it wouldn’t hurt to bury Hernandez on your roster on the chance that he could emerge down the road as a viable fantasy option. He is just 23 years old and barring any long-term jail sentence out of all this, he still has some upside in dynasty formats.

2. Tom Brady. Many Brady owners were already freaking out from the dwindling number of pass-catching options in New England, and the loss of Hernandez only complicates that situation even more. With Rob Gronkowski’s immediate availability in serious doubt and the loss of better known receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots suddenly look very vanilla in the receiving corps.

Factor in Brady’s age and there is definitely a cause for concern for a quarterback that has been as consistently solid as it comes in fantasy football for years. But before you start selling your Brady stock like a Wallstreet broker who forgot to take his anxiety medication, consider Brady’s body of work. The Patriots dynasty wasn’t built on the backs of elite receiving options. Welker became a household name in the Boston area, but before that he was just another receiver with the Dolphins. Deion Branch was no Jerry Rice. Randy Moss and Brandon Lloyd — who both made big names for themselves before their time with the Patriots — did fairly little considering the expectations of playing with Brady’s bunch.

Will Brady’s stats take a hit in 2013? Probably to a degree. But I don’t think he’ll suddenly become a QB2 in fantasy circles. I’ve bet against Brady ways too many times and learned my lesson the hard way. He has made lemonade before with sour receiving options, and he’ll likely do it again.

3. Danny Amendola. The only healthy “known” quantity in the Patriots’ pass-catching crew, Amendola holds a lot of value, especially in PPR leagues. His injury history should still scare enough people away from him to be a decent value in many fantasy leagues this summer despite his juicy situation.

One word of caution, though, is that opposing defenses will also recognize Amendola as the team’s best option and likely key off him. Is he enough of a talent to split double-teams and still put up solid stats weekly? That remains to be seen. However, considering what you’ll pay for him and the liklihood that Brady annoints a lesser-known receiver to eventually take the pressure off Amendola, he’s worth the gamble.

4. Jake Ballard. Suddenly finding himself in a great situation, Ballard is suddenly behind a dinged-up Gronkowski on the Patriots’ tight end depth chart. Those who have followed my posts in the past know that I’m a big advocate of opportunity dwarfing talent — that many times a fantasy sleeper emerges from a good opportunity and not necessarily just because he is talented.

That being said, Ballard is coming off a devastating knee injury and isn’t similar in terms of style and ability. He lined up more as a receiver than a tight end before the injury. It may seem like a situation where we are trying to put a square Ballard into a round Hernandez hole, but considering that Ballard can be had on the cheap, he is worth a speculative add for those who are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

5. Julian Edelman. For years, we’ve been waiting for Edelman to break out, and each time he only skirts around the situation from a statistical standpoint. However, the Hernandez situation could finally lay the red carpet that Edelman needs to make his triumphant entry.

For one, he is the only player on the roster that caught a pass as a Patriot last year. Brady’s familiarity with him will help in that regard. He is coming off a foot injury, which will likely keep his value at a great rate for a speculative add.

6. Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. The two rookies also are in the mix to see an uptick in usage as other receiving options flounder for the Patriots. Dobson’s size could prove beneficial as the team tries to replace Hernandez and Gronkowski in scoring situations. As rookies, though, in a complicated Patriots offensive scheme, expect a decent-sized learning curve. Again, if you can land either cheap enough and have room on your bench for some speculative upside guys, you could do worse than take a flyer on either Dobson or Boyce.

7. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. The Patriots’ two backs will almost assuredly see an uptick in passes out of the backfield as the tight end situation becomes more and more unstable. Vereen especially becomes more valuable in this regard as the replacement to Danny Woodhead with solid hands and respectable speed. Those holding back in picking up Vereen in PPR leagues should throw caution to the wind and add him to your roster with the potential of being a cheaper version of what Darren Sproles has become for the Saints.

Who else do you think will benefit from the loss of Aaron Hernandez in terms of players on the Patriots’ roster? What current free agent could become an upside value snag in case he is added to the Patriots’ fray? We’d love to hear your opinions.

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