If you’re like me, you’ve already listened to that Rob Gronkowski soundbite 20 times.
You know the one – him and Drew Brees are chatting it up outside the ESPYs when he leans in and says something with a slightly more serious tone, before he goes right back to laughing. I’ll embed it below, so you can come to your own conclusion, but here’s my best translation.
“That’s what I’m hoping for,” Gronk says before dropping what sounds like a bombshell.
“Hey, I’m coming back.”
He followed it up with the patented Gronk laugh, so who knows what the context of the conversation could’ve been, but if this amateur cameraman just so happened to catch Gronkowski shedding some light on his heavily-speculated future, it would end up being one helluva twist.
If he were to follow in Jason Witten’s footsteps and end his retirement, the Patriots already-loaded stable of skill players would get a pretty sizable boost, regardless of any regression. Gronkowski is still just 30 years old, albeit oft-injured. If he’s deployed in more of a reserve role, there’s little doubt he could still be effective in New England’s offense.
Would post-retirement Gronkowski still be valuable fantasy asset? It’s a tough question to answer, largely because he’s a generational talent who has also dealt with some pretty significant injuries over his career. That history could hamper his ability to be more than just a shell of his former-dominant self. Durability aside, though, Bill Belichick will absolutely make him a factor if he’s available.
We can also take a look at two other notable case studies and gauge how former All-Pro players have looked after making a comeback. That could help give us an idea about the kind of value post-retirement Gronkowski could return in fantasy lineups.
Quick Note: In both of these case studies, you’ll find that the player stayed retired for a full season before returning, which could’ve obviously had an impact on their level of success and their re-acclimation to the NFL. Furthermore, while one of these players is roughly the same age as Gronkowski, the other was 35 when he made his return and already exhibited signs of slowing down during his preceding season in 2010.
Regardless, both samples can offer some insight.
Marshawn Lynch – Oakland Raiders
Following an injury-shortened year in Seattle, Marshawn Lynch decided to call it quits. He was only able to suit up for seven games and his averages saw a significant dip. His yards per carry dropped from 4.7 to 3.8, his yards per game went from 81.6 to 59.6 and he was only given 15.9 attempts per game, down from his 17.5 the year prior.
In his last season with the Seahawks, Lynch finished as the RB56, posting just 67.7 fantasy points on the season. It was a far cry from the seasons that we’d become accustomed to seeing from Lynch.
After one season off, Lynch was coaxed out of retirement by his hometown Oakland Raiders. He was 31 at the time, which is like 47 in running back years, so expectations were rightfully pretty low. That’s why it was actually somewhat of a surprise that Lynch had a pretty nice season and finished just shy of 1,000 rushing yards. His yards per attempt jumped back up to 4.3 yards per carry, which was the 15th-best mark in the league. He amassed 891 rushing yards, despite the fact that he averaged just 13.8 carries per game. His touchdowns also jumped from three in 2015 to seven in 2017. He finished as the RB18, entrenching him in the low-end RB2/high-end RB3 conversation.
Lynch is a fringe Hall-of-Fame running back and his comeback in 2017 was one of the better post-retirement seasons in recent memory. If Gronkowski were to come back this season, he’d be a year younger than Lynch and wouldn’t be relied upon like he was in his early years. Less usage would bode very well for Gronkowski’s prospects to make it through a season and remain productive.
In this case, Lynch has proven that a player can certainly come back and still be relevant.
Page 2: A loose comparison
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