A Fantasy Spotlight: The New England Patriots

Written by Jacob Dreyer, who goes by @jacob9er on the Fantasy Life App and Twitter as well

Beasts of the (AFC) East: Patriots sport top TE, top-5 QB, top-10 WR

New England is a fantasy football goldmine.
Need more supporting evidence?

  • Won 12 games or more each season since 2010
  • Top four in scoring in each of those seasons
  • Passed on 62.2 percent of snaps in 2015 (only 383 rush attempts)

If you want to win…put Patriots in.

Quarterback

Tom Brady
In case you missed it, perennial top-10 quarterback Tom Brady will not play the first four games due to suspension as a result of Deflategate. While a four-game suspension is significant, Brady will remain a top-10 QB for the 2016 season.

Brady has five top-five finishes since 2009:

  • 2009 – 5th
  • 2010 – 3rd
  • 2011 – 4th
  • 2012 – 3rd
  • 2013 – 13th (TE Rob Gronkowski missed eight games due to injury)
  • 2014 – 8th
  • 2015 – 2nd

Brady is basically a lock to play every game (once he is back from suspension), as he has not missed a single game since taking over the starting job in 2001 (not counting 2008). Brady has not posted a completion percentage below 60…ever. He has failed to reach 4,000 yards only once since 2009…and he threw 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions that season. Brady scored 343.70 fantasy points in 2015 (21.48 points per game) and a runner-up finish. If you subtract four games at his average, he finished with 257.77 points (16th). If you subtract his four worst performances, he finished with 296.36 (7th). And if you take his two best games and two worst games, he finished with 265.18 (16th, as he would have if you subtracted four games at his average).

Statistics suggest he will likely be a low-end QB1, finishing around QB9.

But this is no ordinary quarterback.
This is no ordinary coach.
And this is no ordinary team.

As coined by Matthew Berry, it is the Gronk You Tour, Part Two. New England improved its offense by adding WR Chris Hogan and TE Martellus Bennett (better NFL moves than fantasy moves). And LeGarrette Blount will not be carrying the rock 25 times per game. 

Brady will avoid three difficult defenses in those first four games (though three of those games are at Gillette Stadium) in Arizona, Houston and Buffalo. He returns from suspension to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Buffalo before New England’s Week 9 Bye.

Bold prediction: Brady will enter the off week with 16 TDs and 2 INTs and finish as QB4 in fantasy football in 2016.

Jimmy Garoppolo
There is no supporting evidence for Jimmy Garoppolo, one way or the other. None. He has appeared in 11 games for the Patriots over the past two seasons, completing 20 of 31 pass attempts for 188 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.

Garoppolo has posted the following stat lines this preseason:

  • 11/18, 168 yards
  • 16/21, 181 yards, TD
  • 9/15, 57 yards

His lone touchdown was in Week 2 of the preseason against the Chicago Bears, who have been absolutely embarrassed in their other two games. Short story a bit longer, I do not trust Garoppolo for the first four weeks and I think his play will affect TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Julian Edelman…negatively.

Garoppolo will be a top-12 QB in Week 2 (vs. Miami), but will fail to crack the top 15 any other week.

Running back

Dion Lewis
In case you missed it, running back Dion Lewis will miss 8-10 weeks after a second surgery to clean up an area in the knee that was repaired in November (ACL). Prior to injury, Lewis eclipsed 100 total yards on three occasions and scored four total touchdowns, including 90-plus receiving yards on two occasions and two receiving touchdowns.

Last season: PPR dream.

This season: PUP nightmare.

Lewis was climbing draft boards before the announcement of his second surgery…and now he is off of my draft board completely. Reports suggest he has a good chance of playing this season, but New England Patriots starting running back jobs wait for no man. And Lewis is no exception.

James White
Why is James White the next New England running back being discussed? Because he played a limited role until Dion Lewis tore his ACL in November.

Lewis finished 2015 as RB48 with 84.20 points.
White finished 2015 as RB50 with 82.60 points.
Combined? RB10 with 166.8 points.

RB10 is now his ceiling.

Assuming White continues in the role he finished with last season and assuming Lewis does not come back at full strength (if he comes back at all), he is the most valuable RB on the roster. There is nothing to write about on the ground (31 carries, 94 yards, 2 TDs), but there is plenty to write about through the air (45 receptions, 433 yards, 4 TDs). If he holds this role for the entire 2016 season—and that’s a big if—he will catch more than 75 balls and finish as a top-10 RB in PPR formats.

LeGarrette Blount
LeGarrette Blount finished 2015 as RB29. He turned in good fantasy performances in only four of his 12 games, the only games in which he found the end zone.

In the opening paragraph, it was noted:
Passed on 62.2 percent of snaps in 2015 (only 383 rush attempts)

Blount received 165 of the 383 carries last season, tallying 703 yards and six touchdowns (also caught six passes for 43 yards and one touchdown). However, he rushed for more than 100 yards only once and finished with 78 yards or less in all but two games.

It’s called the Gronk You Tour, not the Blount You Tour.

He will be the power running back, but with a better red zone threat at TE and no more than 15 carries in a single game…it won’t result in fantasy power.

Other running backs: Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden, James Develin

Wide Receiver

Julian Edelman
The best slot receiver in the NFL returns after missing the second half of the regular season due to a left foot injury. Julian Edelman racked up 61 catches, 692 yards and seven touchdowns in only nine games before undergoing surgery in November. He returned for the NFL playoffs, but missed the fantasy playoffs. Despite the shortened season, Edelman finished as WR36. If you multiplied his game average and added it to his total: 198.22 points; WR7.

Problem: Edelman has played 16 games in a season only once since 2009 (2013). He finished with 105 receptions for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. He is also the second receiving option on the team, despite being the No. 1 wide receiver.

Edelman will benefit from the absence of Dion Lewis and the presence of TE Martellus Bennett, who will draw attention from the defense in the short areas of the field and around the goal line.

New England wants to throw the ball. Edelman will be the guy catching it.

Edelman will win single-handedly win matchups in PPR leagues and will finish as a top-10 WR in all formats behind 120-plus receptions.

Chris Hogan
Chris Hogan is drawing a lot of attention from fantasy experts. Many are describing him as a bargain…but he may be valued accurately. The former Buffalo Bill caught 36 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns in 2015, leaving him just shy of 100 catches and 1,000 yards for his career. Hogan will be an improvement over Brandon LaFell, but he is the fifth receiving option for Tom Brady (Gronkowski, Edelman, White, Bennett) and one can only spread it around so much.

Hogan is a nice player, but nice does not win fantasy matchups. He should be considered a bye week flex.

Other wide receivers: Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson

Tight End

Rob Gronkowski

Does anything need to be said?

Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football, NFL or fantasy. He finished as the No. 1 TE with 183.60 points…25.3 points more than runner-up Gary Barnidge. It was the second-greatest differential between first and second at a position (Cam Newton over Tom Brady at QB). Gronkowski was also the No. 1 TE in 2014 with 184.40 points…30.3 points more than runner-up Antonio Gates. He has been a top-five TE every year since 2010, finishing as the No. 1 TE thrice (2011). Gronkowski is the supreme player at the position and is a first-round pick in all formats.

Martellus Bennett
For the first time since 2012, many believe a single team could sport two top-five tight ends. And once again…it’s the Patriots. Martellus Bennett was the No. 5 tight end in 2014 as a member of the Chicago Bears. He was traded to New England (after holding out during the Bears voluntary offseason program over a contract dispute) for a fourth-round pick.

And he is now part of the best TE tandem in football.

Bennett is a good football player. He blocks well and he receives well. But Aaron Hernandez, he is not (both in a good way and in a bad way). He will have an impact, but more so in real life than in fantasy. Bennett will not cut into Gronkowski and Edelman production (at least not significantly) and he will not finish the season as a top-12 TE.

He is a bye week fill-in.

Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski
In The 2014 Draft Day Manifesto by Matthew Berry, he said: “Take a kicker last; anything earlier isn’t playing to win.”

It makes sense.

Stephen Gostkowski was the No. 1 kicker in fantasy football in 2015. He was No. 1 in 2014 as well. And in 2013. And in 2011. And he was No. 2 in 2009 and 2012. But, combine the total points he finished ahead of the runner-up kickers…16. There is something to be said for consistency and Gostkowski is a top option year in, year out. While you should draft your kicker and defense in the final two rounds…Gostkowski makes a case for Round 15.

Defense

New England Patriots
New England defense finished 2015 as DEF11. And that’s about right. The unit lacks elite talent on the line. Its strength is in its linebackers with Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower. And the secondary leaves something to be desired unless the other parts can pressure the quarterback. Patriots tallied 49 sacks in 2015—second most—but recorded only 21 turnovers and three defensive scores. The prospect of playing from ahead with a higher percentage chance of sacks and interceptions is intriguing, but this squad will fail to reach starter status. It remains a bye week play.