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Fantasy football: Antonio Brown fallout, free agents to stash (Gronk!) before Week 4

The former Patriots tight end leads our list of speculative adds, but can you wait to snag him off the waiver wire? Should you?
Rob Gronkowski is a four-time first-team All-Pro. He saw at least 70 targets in four of the past five seasons for the Patriots. [JEFF ROBERSON | Associated Press]
Published Sep. 22
Updated Sep. 23

So you had Antonio Brown on your fantasy football team …

You could drop him and pick up another receiver (we’ll get to potential replacements like DJ Chark, Mecole Hardman and Nelson Agholor in a moment), but that doesn’t have to be the play. Instead, you could try replacing that production by upgrading at other positions.

In fact, chances are there’s an all-time great tight end available in your league.

That tight end: Rob Gronkowski.

Yes, he announced his retirement in March, but in public appearances since, he has left the door open to a return. “If I have the desire to play football again, if I feel passionate about football again, if I’m feeling I need to be out there on the field, I will go back to football,” he said last month on Good Morning America.

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You wonder whether the Patriots’ decision to release Brown, one of the best receivers in the game, will increase their interest in luring Gronkowski out of retirement. There’s no rush. New England has until Dec. 1 to remove him from the reserved/retired list so that he can be eligible to play in the postseason.

Of course, you don’t want to wait until then to add him to your roster. You want to act before the rumors pick up. Now might be too early, though. With bye weeks approaching, you will need every available roster spot. If you’re in desperate need of wins, you won’t be able to gamble on Gronkowski unretiring. But if you have a spot to spare, it’s the type of move that can elevate your team from playoff contention to championship contention. He is owned in 5 percent of ESPN leagues and 13 percent of Yahoo leagues.

In the meantime, here are some players you might want to add now instead of waiting until after the conclusion of this week’s games. These are players who are owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN or Yahoo leagues.

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford, Lions (Week 4 opponent: vs. Chiefs): This is your weekly reminder than Stafford, a top 10 fantasy quarterback, is owned in fewer leagues than Mitchell Trubisky, who is averaging 4.8 yards per pass. Put another way: Bucs running back Ronald Jones is averaging more yards per run than Trubisky is averaging per pass.

Jacoby Brissett, Colts (vs. Raiders): Brissett draws a potentially favorable matchup in Week 4 when the Colts host the Raiders. I say “potentially” because Oakland’s defense might look worse than it actually is. In Week 2, it had the misfortune of facing Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns.

Andy Dalton, Bengals (at Steelers): The Bengals aren’t good, or even interesting, but that’s no reason to overlook the Red Rifle, who is averaging nearly 20 fantasy points per game. Proceed with caution here, though. While Dalton’s Week 4 matchup against the horrendous Steelers pass defense seems favorable, he hasn’t won in Pittsburgh since 2015. In his seven career starts at Heinz Field, the Bengals have scored seven, 13, 20, 17, 16, 16 and 14 points.

Running backs

Raheem Mostert, 49ers (vs. Browns): So when I included Mostert in this list last week, I wrote that he “won’t make much of an impact in the passing game.” He caught three passes for 68 yards, including a 39-yarder for a touchdown, in the 49ers’ 41-17 win over the Bengals. He also gained 83 yards on 13 carries and outsnapped Matt Breida 32-21.

Frank Gore, Bills (vs. Patriots): The NFL is celebrating its 100th season, and Gore is the only player to play in every one of them. His remarkable run continues today against the Bengals, who have allowed 331 rushing yards (fourth most) and three touchdowns this season. Given that rookie Devin Singletary will miss the game because of a hamstring injury, it should be a productive afternoon for the 136-year-old Gore. Next week is much less favorable, however; the Bills will host the Patriots, who have allowed 74 rushing yards (second fewest).

Ito Smith, Falcons (vs. Titans): Heading into the season, the Falcons backup running back situation was a bit muddled, but Smith has since emerged as the clear No. 2 behind Devonta Freeman — and is making the case for an even larger role. Freeman has struggled over the first two weeks, gaining only 3.8 yards per touch. Smith has gained 6.5. If you don’t pick him up, make sure he’s on your watch list.

Wide receivers

Mecole Hardman, Chiefs (at Lions): In the Chiefs offense, there are plenty of big-play opportunities to go around. Hardman, in his first career NFL start in Week 2, capitalized on his chance by scoring a 42-yard touchdown. Bonus: He returns kickoffs and punts, too.

Nelson Agholor, Eagles (at Packers): Alshon Jeffery (calf) is questionable today for the Eagles’ game against the Lions, but DeSean Jackson (groin) has been ruled out and is unlikely to play in the team’s Thursday night game against the Packers in Week 5. If you have Jeffery or Jackson, Agholor’s the pickup. He has played 88.5 percent of the offense’s snaps and is second on the Eagles in targets (16) and yards per target (7.4).

DJ Chark, Jaguars (at Broncos): Because the Jaguars played Thursday night, it’s too late to add Chark. If he’s still available in your league, he’s worth a waiver claim. His 19.7 fantasy points per game average ranks 15th among receivers.

Tight ends

Will Dissly, Seahawks (at Cardinals): The 49ers have a bye in Week 4 so if you’re a George Kittle owner, you’ll be in the market for a replacement. The pickings are slim, but Dissly, who caught two touchdowns on five targets in the Seahawks’ Week 2 win over the Steelers, deserves a look. The downside is that tight end production is notoriously inconsistent; the upside is that the Seahawks play the Cardinals in Week 4, and Arizona has allowed opposing tight ends to catch 17 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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