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Rob Gronkowski likes fantasy football as way to spark fan interest

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is enjoying himself in a public setting and a fan comes to say hello, he knows where the discussion will often lead.

"You hear a lot of crazy things, like, 'Nice job man, let me buy you a drink because you got me all these points in fantasy.' It's stuff like that," he said.

The intersection between real-life games and fantasy football is a fascinating dynamic to explore, and one that seems timely to highlight while Patriots players are on their bye week.

With no Gronkowski, QB Tom Brady, WR Julian Edelman, RB LeGarrette Blount and RB Dion Lewis to play this week, fantasy owners have to go deeper into the bench.

"It's great for the game; it gets the fans more involved with the game of football and understanding the game of football, which is pretty cool," Gronkowski said of fantasy football. "Anytime you're out, people bring it up."

Gronkowski added that he's never played fantasy football but is familiar with how the points system works. Lewis, on the other hand, is mostly in the dark.

"I don't know too much about it, but I just know fans go crazy over it," he said. "I'll get tweeted about fantasy football a lot, people saying, 'I picked you up,' but I don't even know how it works."

Lewis, who has gone from under-the-radar player to top fantasy option, said the most frequent question he hears from fans is: Are you going to score this week? He often just shrugs his shoulders.

"I can't control what happens in the game. I'm just trying to do what I'm asked to do," he said. "They'll want you to get your stats, but they maybe don't care as much if you win or lose. For me, I don't care about my yards or touchdowns, I just want to win. If you get 200 yards and lose, that doesn't mean anything. I'd rather win than have yards or touchdowns."

But if that's the way it unfolds, fantasy owners won't win, and they are often quite competitive.

"They're dedicated dudes," RB James White said. "It's a good way to get the fans involved and they have a lot of fun with it."

White, however, has never played fantasy football. Some of his former teammates at the University of Wisconsin do, and he sometimes hears from them.

The message he often receives from them is, "Get me some fantasy points this week!"

"I've never gotten into it too crazy, but they have fun with it," White said. "It's a part of the game."

Indeed, a big part of the game that seems to be growing each year.

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ESPN.com NFL Insider Field Yates, whose daily Fantasy Focus football podcast with Matthew Berry is a must-listen for those who play fantasy, shares insights on Gronkowski, Lewis and White:

Gronkowski: "Through three games -- if it's possible -- Gronk has exceeded expectations. He is the pre-eminent touchdown maker in the NFL and has four trips to the end zone already. No player presents a more dramatic edge at his position than Gronk, who is averaging more than five more fantasy points per game than the second-highest scorer at the position."

Lewis: "The Patriots have an uncommon ability to find value in players that others seemingly are unable to, and Lewis has been the ultimate value play for fantasy owners. He was drafted, on average, as the 48th running back on ESPN.com and currently ranks sixth among running backs in scoring. Moreover, he's shown he is a running back that won't only impact the game as a pass-catcher -- he's tough between the tackles."

White: "Some forecast a larger role for White in Year 2, though he's been quiet through three games thus far. He's stuck behind Lewis on the depth chart [and LeGarrette Blount, though Blount is more of the power back option]. Given that Lewis is on a one-year contract, White is a player whose value is best as a stash player in dynasty leagues."