Patriots tight end Jake Ballard is almost back to full strength following his 2012 ACL reconstruction and microfracture surgery. That's the word on Friday from USA Today's Mike Garafolo. Ballard hasn't played in a game since Super Bowl XLVI in which he tore his left ACL.
Who would have ever thought that Jake Ballard would be this important to the New England Patriots? He was picked up off the Giants' scrap heap in 2012 when everyone knew he wouldn't be able to play for at least a year. And on a team with two elite tight ends, there didn't look to be a big opportunity for Ballard to do much with the Pats. But with Rob Gronkowski coming off surgeries on multiple body parts that will leave him unavailable to play until at least August, and Aaron Hernandez connected to a homicide investigation that may leave him unavailable to play for much, much longer than that, here we are.
Ballard still needs to show that his major knee surgeries have not taken away his ability to get open and athleticism, which weren't in large supply to begin with. He can be a big red-zone threat, much like a Scott Chandler. But with Tom Brady as his quarterback and a Week 1 start a realistic possibility, Ballard needs to be on all fantasy radars. He would still be a late-round draft pick, but if Gronk and Hernandez end up in worst-case scenarios -- Gronk's back continues to act up and keeps him off the field well into the season, and Hernandez ends up suspended or in jail or both -- Ballard could a huge value pick. I won't say that he will make it into the TE1 range, but he could be a high-end TE2.