Yeah, um, this could really suck.
We know very little at this point beyond that, although there’s speculation Hernandez could have stayed home due to an upcoming life event that’s far more important than a football game. As is often the case with developing stories, there will surely be at least one really important looking update at the bottom of this post that screams at you in bold letters. Thankfully, we have the technology to do that. Few others do.
At first this is surprising, and then it sort of isn’t, mostly because Belichick.
The Patriots’ matchup against the Rams is deceiving, because while shedding the stink of suck is a difficult task, St. Louis has one of the best and quickly-emerging cornerback tandems in the league with rookie Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan. That could and likely will lead to a slow strangling of New England’s deep passing game, as the Rams have only given up 14 passes of 20 yards or more (fourth in the league). So more sad times for Brandon Lloyd — who still doesn’t have a touchdown after catching only one pass for six yards last week — could lie ahead.
That’s why if torching the Rams through the air is an offense’s desire, doing it with large men who play the tight end position and/or shifty slot receivers is the recipe. So Wes Welker has a chance to produce a yardage number that’s at least three digits long, and Rob Gronkowski will be a particularly valuable weapon. In more logical and basic reasoning, the presence of Jenkins and Finnegan makes the absence of Hernandez — even if he isn’t at full health — a little confusing and troubling.
But one glance at the Patriots’ schedule fixes that dazed and confused state. Hernandez injured his ankle in Week 2, and then returned quickly and in a limited capacity in Week 6. Sure, he caught a touchdown, and that made you feel pretty awesome, but in that game against Seattle, Hernandez wasn’t Hernandez at all.
This is a tight end who very much functions like a slot receiver in a large, hulking tight end’s body, with the speed and burst to get downfield quickly on deep middle routes, and he’s therefore often used similarly to Welker. Yet in Week 6 he averaged only five yards per catch on his six receptions after averaging 11.5 last year. That’s a steep tumble, and even though his usage and per catch average jumped in Week 7 (54 yards on 10.8 per catch), with the Pats on a bye next week Belichick may have seen an opportunity to sit down one of his ailing key weapons, and give Hernandez two full weeks of rest.
In the short term, that’s a risky strategy in the surprisingly close AFC East as we reach the season’s halfway point. Long term, the upside of such a move is obvious: a healthy Hernandez, and renewed strength to the Patriots tight end super beast juggernaut tandem.
Whatever the reason — be it football strategy, health, or life happenstance — this does indeed suck deeply for you, the Hernandez owner, especially as we sit here on a Friday long after waiver claims for this week have been processed. There was likely increased aggression on the tight end waiver wire this week too with Fred Davis owners reaching and grasping.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, Oakland’s Brandon Myers is still widely available (17% owned in Yahoo leagues, and 3% in ESPN leagues). He’s averaging 55.7 receiving yards per game, which is sadly a remarkable accomplishment for any target in the Raiders offense, especially a tight end. Along with Logan Paulsen — Davis’ replacement in Washington who’s almost universally unowned — Myers leads your emergency options.
But Dustin Keller isn’t too far behind them. He’s not nearly as available (43% owned in ESPN leagues, 41% in Yahoo leagues), and I know what you’re thinking: he’s a member of the Jets offense. ‘Nuff said, right? No. Since he’s now healthy and Jeremy Kerley is beginning to look like Santonio Holmes-lite, Keller can maybe return to being the Keller we saw last year. Who exactly is that? Well, even with Mark Sanchez unable to escape the core fact that he’s terrible, Keller still had 815 receiving yards in 2011 and five touchdowns.
Hernandez didn’t beat that by a significant margin (915 yards and seven touchdowns), and he had some guy named Brady who’s a bit better than Sanchez chucking balls in his direction.
UPDATE: Adam Schefter reports that health is indeed the problem, as Hernandez is struggling to cut and his ankle isn’t responding well to treatment.