The TE Position and 2013 Fantasy Drafts

Concerns about top 3 at position will linger into training camps and beyond

With the latest news about New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski possibly needing additional surgeries to clear up an infection in his elbow, the fantasy football landscape at the TE position will definitely be one of the more scrutinized during the months leading up to training camp.  
There are question marks about the players believed to be the top 3 fantasy producers at the position this off-season. Gronkowski's arm; his teammate, Aaron Hernandez just had shoulder surgery last month and the estimated timetable for his return is August; and finally, New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham, who had wrist surgery back in January and has had a myriad of minor injuries the last 2 seasons that have led to him not being as dominant at the position as we have expected.
Gronkowski, Hernandez, Graham; these are the TE's that are deserving of early round consideration for 2013 fantasy football drafts, and each of them come with concerns.
Now in the case of Graham, he is supposed to be ready in plenty of time for training camp, but given a history of ankle injuries and minor back concerns, there has to be a certain level of trepidation with fantasy owners spending a high pick on Graham. There's no doubt that Graham could be fantasy football's dominant elite TE if he could avoid the issues that have plagued him as despite his injuries, he has only missed one game the last two seasons while putting up 184 receptions for 2,292 yards and 20 TD's in that span. But he finished 2012 with only 1 TD catch in the last 6 games as he dealt with ankle and wrist issues.
Gronkowski, when healthy, has been the best fantasy TE the last two seasons. He missed 5 games in 2012 with a broken arm (which is what has led to his on-going elbow problems since) but in 27 games the last 2 seasons combined he has amassed 145 catches, for 2,117 yards and a ridiculous 28 TD's. And this despite the presence of Hernandez and WR Wes Welker in New England. With Welker gone now, there is a chance for Gronkowski to be an even bigger focus of the passing attack in 2013. But this elbow infection has refused to go away and threatens his status for the start of the 2013 season, and possibly into the regular season. Dare I say that there is a chance it could be a problem that gets so big it threatens his season? I'm just speculating here, but it's been 4 months since the end of the 2012 season and he is still dealing with problems associated with his arm. And that is concerning, especially for those with fantasy drafts sooner rather than later.
And such worry would normally mean that Hernandez would be in line become a huge part of the Patriots offense. It's hard to imagine what Hernandez's numbers could be if he were used even more as he has produced 130 catches for 1,393 yards and 12 TD's in 24 games played the last 2 seasons. But he missed 6 games in 2012 with an ankle injury and 2 games in 2011 with a knee injury. Now we have this shoulder injury that is expected to linger into the preseason and he likely will at least start training camp on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list and will need medical clearance before the start of the regular season to play.
That's the top 3 fantasy TE's all coming with question marks as we eagerly anticipate training camps opening in July.
And the concern has certainly reached the fantasy community as reflected in the average draft positions of these 3 players for 2013. On average, in a 12 team league, none of them are being selected before round 3 in current mock drafts. And I expect that as we get closer to the majority of real fantasy drafts, their ADP (Average Draft Position) could slip even a little further because of the uncertainty surrounding each.
For right now, I'm of the opinion that it may be the better value play to wait until round 6 or later before considering a fantasy TE. Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez are regular falling into round 6, and you could even bank on a breakout for guys like Kyle Rudolph and Jared Cook as your starting fantasy TE and wait until rounds 9 or 10 to take them.
Sure, there are months to go before we have to make decisions about these players. But we're already into May and we have these questions. Training camps will be here before we realize it and if the questions remain, it will prove to be interesting on how to approach Graham, Gronkowski, and Hernandez in fantasy drafts. It may well be that if you select one of them in the first 3-4 rounds, you'll also need to draft a high quality backup as insurance. And I usually dislike drafting a backup TE if I don't have to.