We never have all the information, even for healthy players. We make educated guesses about game plans and the opponent's capabilities on defense, among other things (Magic 8 Ball, for instance), but we can't know. When NFL players return from lengthy absences, they only complicate matters.
How do you decide whether to play these two?
TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Gronk: ready to throw down?
The media has dwelled on Gronk's dwindled muscle mass since the spring. He's reportedly improved that aspect of his conditioning since. Journalists have observed a difference. That's encouraging, but by how much?
Think about some of the plays you're used to seeing Gronkowski make: when he shields a defensive back or three from Tom Brady's window; when he outmuscles two defenders in the red zone or end zone; or when he sheds a linebacker's attempt at an arm tackle to gain a bunch of yards after the catch.
Gronk's instincts will take over on those plays, but his body wouldn't have quite the same level of response if he were short of 100 percent strength. That could lead to a pretty disappointing day, fantasy-wise. And it's not easy for players to gain weight in-season.
Gronk may very well be among the Week 4 inactives. Despite a deceptively tough matchup -- against the Atlanta Falcons -- fantasy owners can consider him a strong play if he's not. They're putting faith in oft-ambiguous Bill Belichick, but the Pats have given the sense that they won't let the tight end take the field until he's pretty much at full force, at least.
RB Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
The view through the frames of Bell owners' specs appears to be pretty rosy. The rookie from Michigan State is scheduled to debut a couple of weeks or so sooner than expected. He's reportedly dazzled teammates with his combination of size, strength and agility. On tap: the Minnesota Vikings, who have given up loads of fantasy points to running backs in their first three games.
Bell: able to be bell cow?
Wait, Bell has already recovered from a Lisfranc sprain? I just can't shake the idea that this typically isn't such a forgiving injury, even if his was very mild. The chances of aggravation are normally good, too.
Oh, also, he's played in only one NFL contest -- a preseason game in which he carried the ball four times for nine yards against the heretofore unimpressive Washington Redskins. He's supposed to be a great blocker, but he hasn't had to pick up a legit NFL blitz yet. "Practice" and "game" -- two different animals. Just ask The Answer.
Few things shock me these days. Bell may rush for 150 yards and two TDs against the Vikes. He may play in 13 games and set franchise rookie records. That, or anything close, would be "surprising," though, from my perspective. What would someone give you for him in a trade, while vibes are positive?
By the way, most of the damage RBs have done to Minnesota came from the Reggie Bush-Joique Bell combo in Week 1, when defensive tackle Kevin Williams was inactive. Williams still isn't 100 percent, but he returned to action in Week 2, when Matt Forte carried the mail against that unit.
In the wake of the Trent Richardson trade, the Cleveland Browns' band of misfit rushers didn't do jack against the Vikings.
Which of those crews is more like the Steelers'? Is Bell really in the kind of shape required to separate himself from Jonathan Dwyer so soon?
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.
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