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Chase Claypool and Cam Akers look to be elite players

Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Big Gronk calling it a day

At age 33, the all-time great tight end, Rob Gronkowski is finally calling it a career (again). The former second-round pick out of Arizona (in 2010) has too many stats, awards and accolades to even name. Maybe it’s worth a small debate (I doubt it), but Gronk should be considered the GOAT at the tight end position. In fact, HOF tight end Shannon Sharpe has said as much. When it comes to being prolific statistically, players like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates most certainly trump Gronk. Where Gronk wins the battle is how he played the game and what he was able to do in the amount of games he played. Despite being an elite run blocker, he put up the best tight end-season in NFL history during 2011 when caught 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns (NFL record for TE). Injuries throughout his career kept him from putting up out-of-this-world type numbers. Gronk started at least 14 games in a season only four times in his career. Injuries slowed him a bit, but he left the game still with a lot left in the tank. In only 12 games in 2021, Gronk put up an amazing stat line of 55 receptions, 802 yards and six touchdowns. He also spoiled us in our fantasy leagues, securing six top-five fantasy seasons, with three of those finishing as TE1. This man is a legend, on and off the field. He will be missed.

With the Gronk walking into the sunset, more opportunities will come for other players on the Buccaneers’ offense. The two names that immediately come to mind are Cameron Brate and Russell Gage. In Gage’s case, the writing was already on the wall. With Chris Godwin set to miss some time as he recovers from his ACL injury, Gage will step forward. Tom Brady has already spoken highly of Gage throughout the Bucs’ minicamp sessions. Gage had a slow start to the 2021 season. For the first six weeks of the season, he missed three games and didn’t do much in the other two. Over the next 12 weeks (Weeks 7-18), Gage would finish with 61 receptions, 742 yards and four touchdowns which was good for WR17 in that span. With no Gronk, Godwin recovering, Tom Brady at quarterback and a better offensive system, Gage will play his best football yet.

Other hand, people may not be as high on Brate, but there’s room for him to thrive as well. For starters, he’s always been available and dependable. Since 2015, Brate has been available for all but three games. The fact that he’s been able to stick on the roster through four head coaching changes speaks volumes. Usually in a backup role, he’ll once again get to man the Bucs’ TE1 position (to start). Speaking of TE1, in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Brate finished as TE7 and TE10 respectively. The next two seasons he split time with O.J. Howard while they tried to make that a thing. Obviously, when Gronk comes to town you’re taking a back seat. With Mike Evans returning as the lead dog in the receiving group, others will look to capitalize. The Bucs drafted tight ends Cade Otton and Ko Kieft, possibly anticipating Gronk’s retirement. The team hopes that they can learn quickly and produce as well. Otherwise look for receivers Tyler Johnson, Cyril Grayson, Breshad Perriman and possibly Jaelon Darden to compete for the newfound targets that the Bucs’ offense possesses.

Top three and he ain’t (top) three

Steelers third-year receiver Chase Claypool made headlines this week when he said he believes he’s a top-three wideout in the NFL via the I Am Athlete Podcast. The jokes flew all over social media with the most common being “he meant top three on his own team”. There are a few silly things that Claypool has done in his short career. After losing to the Browns in a 2021 Wildcard playoff game, he got on social media to trash talk THE TEAM WHO JUST BEAT THEM and said the Browns would get “clapped” by the Chiefs. Weird energy. We all know about Claypool’s first down pose that did not contribute to helping the team win, no need to beat that dead horse. Of all of those things, him saying he is essentially an elite receiver is ok. My question is, why not just say you’re the best? I have no qualms about a man believing in his talent, especially if he’s put the work in.

A man who stands 6-foot-4, weighs almost 240 pounds and ran a 4.42 40-yard dash should feel like he’s amongst the elites. The problem is he just needs to prove it on the field, and I’m sure he would say the same. After a respectable rookie season in which he finished with 62/873/9, the numbers dropped to 59/860/2 in year two. You don’t need me to tell you that those aren’t elite numbers, but they can be built upon. Coming off of a season in which he finished as WR41 in fantasy, he’s certainly got work to do. Most would say (and agree) Diontae Johnson is the Steelers receiver that’s closer to being a top-three receiver. Johnson gobbled up 169 targets, 107 receptions, 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns en route to finishing as WR7 in 2021. JuJu Smith-Schuster signing with the Chiefs does open the door for targets in Claypool’s case, but second-round rookie George Pickens could potentially shut that door. Another factor for all of the receivers, who will be under center? Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky will battle it out in camp for the Steelers’ QB1 job. Claypool is currently my WR50.

Baker back?

Earlier this week Josina Anderson reported that the Seahawks not only have a “high level of interest” in trading for Baker Mayfield, but they would potentially extend his contract as well. Coming into the 2022 season, Mayfield is set to earn $18.7 million. That cap number is what has held up the transaction all along as teams know that the Browns are in a tough spot. To a lesser extent, the Panthers are still interested in Mayfield as well. This should tell us a few things, one being that neither the Seahawks nor the Panthers feel comfortable going into the season with their current quarterback rooms. In the Seahawks’ case, if this news is true, this is great for Mayfield. Despite a dismal season in which the Browns went 6-8 with Mayfield as the starter, he would present a decent upgrade over Drew Lock or Geno Smith. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett would get a small bump as well. Once the Browns can figure out how much of Mayfield’s contract they’re willing to eat, things could move rather quickly.

Cam ready to roll

Cam Akers told The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue he is “100 percent”. Akers is going to hurt a lot of feelings and egos when he shows that he’s an upper echelon running back in 2022. Rodrigue also said she expects Akers “to be worked into the passing game at an even higher volume than he was previously.” This is great news for him. In fantasy, it would be clever to take advantage of football fans who are hanging their hats on Akers’ recent lackluster playoff performance. No Rams running back, Akers, Sony Michel or Darrell Henderson, played well as the team faced top-seven run defenses in the Bucs, 49ers and Bengals. Think about this…How could you be “all in” on all of the pieces of this explosive Rams offense, but not their bell cow back? At the two-three turn in fantasy drafts, Akers is the one.