The New England Patriots have been one of the top scoring offenses in the NFL for the past 10-15 years. With Tom Brady under center, and Bill Belichick at the helm, the team has had a tremendous amount of success up in Foxborough.
Since 2001, this team has won four Super Bowls, and made the playoffs a total of thirteen times. Over this time, the team has enjoyed the presence of many feared offensive weapons including Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski, and Kevin Faulk. Because of this repeated success, fantasy owners are constantly turning towards the Brady-led offense for players to fill their roster.
The success of this team from year to year has been undeniable, but individual fantasy successes from this team have been a very different tale. Belichick is one of the most, if not the most, unpredictable coaches in the NFL. From limited status updates on injured players, to showing virtually no favoritism towards individuals when asked by the media, this witty and sarcastic coach makes it quite difficult to predict the fantasy success of his players.
With this said, there are obviously a few players on this roster that are no-brain starters coming into 2016 based upon their enormous fantasy success in prior years. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman are the first names that pop into fantasy players’ heads when considering the upcoming New England Patriot’s offense. All of these players are each absolute studs at their respective positions, and have a well-documented track record.
Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself
No preview or explanation is really needed for Tom Brady as a fantasy asset at this point in his career. Since joining the starting ranks of the NFL in 2001, Tom Brady has shattered records across the board, and has elevated the play of those around him. The few bad fantasy seasons we have seen from Brady in the past have come as a direct result of poor offensive line play, but these instances have been few and far between.
There were many offensive line troubles for the Patriots in 2015, but the team has filled many gaps in the offseason, and also has multiple linemen coming back from season ending injuries. In 2016 Brady finds himself a 38 years old man, but if last season is representative of his health, Tom definitely has a few more elite years left in him.
The alleged football deflation-suspension does undoubtedly hurt his stock during the upcoming season. If you have your heart set on having a pissed off, post-suspension Tom Brady leading your fantasy roster to the championship, you will be forced into spending another pick on a quarterback. Brady could be an absolute fantasy stud when he returns, with a huge chip on his shoulder, but being forced to draft two quarterbacks is no small sacrifice (especially in a 12 team league).
The Brady Bunch
This suspension also drops the Patriots’ position players’ down a few pegs in terms of fantasy stock. Four games without Brady may not seem like a big deal at initial evaluation, but one has to consider that this is a quarter of your fantasy season.
There is no telling what style of offense Belichick will run over this period, and the separate pieces in this offense will undoubtedly carry high risk levels with them with Garrapolo under center. Much the same case with Brady, if you are confident in your abilities to draft for depth to get you through the first portion of your fantasy season, there are many potential fantasy options on the Patriots’ roster that should rise to occasion when Brady’s return.
The Gronk is a man among boys in the NFL, that’s no secret. The unanimous number one tight end in fantasy football since joining the league in 2006, Rob Gronkowski has averaged a 63/925/10TD stat-line per year since joining the league. This is an absolutely ridiculous total, especially from a player filling your usually lackluster tight end position. This is one player of the Patriots’ offense that should be able to maintain his numbers with or without Brady.
The Patriots can’t run the ball every play for four weeks, and if there is one player Garrapolo will feel comfortable throwing to, it’s Gronkowski. He has such a wide catching radius, and great hands, which allows him to make the most of just about any pass thrown his way. The suspension to Brady may drop Gronkowski out of the first round of fantasy drafts, and if your league-mates make that mistake, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on him. There will be plenty of Gronk-spikes to go around in 2016-2017.
The wide receiver that gives young, small athletes around the nation a glimmer of hope that they can make it as an NFL receiver. With this said, Julian Edelman is not a normal human being. Arguably the most athletic player in the NFL at his size, Edelman has carved out a healthy role in the New England Patriots’ offense over the past three or four years. Brady has an almost bromance-esque relationship with Edelman, and this translates magically onto the field.
In PPR formats in particular, Edelman is one of the most sought-after slot-receivers in fantasy football. His route running is pristine, and he is able to use his small size to his advantage over usually taller and lankier defensive backs. If you take a look at Edelman’s receptions over the past few years, an overwhelming majority of them have come as a result of below the waist catches. Brady throws the ball to him low towards the field, but within the reach of only Edelman, and more often than not he comes up with the catch.
Despite this precision, Edelman has had a lot of trouble staying on the field over the course of his career. He is constantly having issues with his foot, has injured his knee, and has also dealt with at least one concussion over the course of his career. If the Patriots’ medical staff and trainers can keep Edelman limber and healthy, I fully expect him to finish as a top-25 PPR receiver in 2016. He was well on pace for such numbers in 2015, and could easily put himself beyond that position if he stays on the field. Draft him, but have a backup plan in mind in case he goes down again this year for extended time.
Dion Lewis burst onto the scene in 2015 for a short period of time, and absolutely massacred opposing defenses both on the ground, and in the air. During the seven games that Dion Lewis played in 2015, he averaged 88.86 all-purpose yards and .57 TD per game. This means, had Dion Lewis been healthy for all 16 games in 2015, he would have been on pace for 1,422 all-purpose yards and 9 TD. Not bad eh?
Now, I know that assuming a players’ success “if they had been healthy” is always a risky game to play, but there is no denying the extreme trust between Lewis, Belichick, and Brady. Belichick has had a harsh and infamous approach to running backs in previous years, but when Dion Lewis was on the field for those seven games, we caught a glimpse of what that offense was capable of with a trusted all-purpose back. It will be very interesting to see how Lewis produces when Brady is on the bench, but if you can afford to draft this skilled back, the opportunity for through the roof upside is going to be there for the taking.
If the Patriots have one true sleeper on their roster with massive potential, it’s Martellus Bennett. Bennett, who was traded to New England from the Chicago Bears earlier in the year, is Gronkowski 2.0. They are roughly the same height, same weight, and have both been striking fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators since joining the NFL.
What makes Bennett so intriguing coming into the 2016 season is what Belichick was able to pull off with two quality tight ends in the past. Bill Belichick was one of the first NFL coaches to lean on the tight end as a pass-catching weapon repeatedly. In 2011, both Gronkowski and Hernandez finished in the top-three of fantasy football tight ends, amassing a ridiculous combined stat-line of 169/2237/24.
Now, Hernandez was a much different player than Bennett is today, but that season clearly showed that Brady was not afraid to lean on his tight ends when other options weren’t rising to the occasion. With Edelman’s injury concerns, and the rest of the receiving core being seemingly lackluster, Martellus Bennett could carve a healthy role for himself in New England.
Cusp-WR’s: Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Nate Washington, Danny Amendola
Not one of these receivers gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when looking forward to the 2016 NFL season. Hogan and Amendola are both lackluster WR2 options at best, and are both better utilized in the slot. This automatically drops their value drastically, as Edelman is definitely the first option for the Patriots in that position.
There’s Nate Washington, a player who has bounced around several teams in the NFL, and has never been able to lock up a consistent starting role. Not an ideal breakout fantasy candidate either.
Then you have the unproven rookie Malcolm Mitchell out of Georgia, who has the physical traits and characteristics of a solid Y-receiver. The arguments against Mitchell as a quality option are just plain and simply beyond his control. He’s a member of a Bill Belichick offense, one that is very complicated to learn, and even harder to gain trust in. Malcolm Mitchell is off to a great start, as he skipped the NFLPA Rookie Premiere earlier in the offseason to focus on learning his new offense, but he definitely has a long way to go before he enters the fantasy conversation.
James White / Legarrette Blount
If one of these guys ends up on your fantasy roster in 2016, there must have been some things that went really, really wrong. Both of these backs have had games here and there that have sparked interest from the fantasy community, but more often than not the unfortunate owners who started these players the weeks following good performances were left with big fat goose-eggs.
This is a great example of Belichick’s finicky relationship with the running back position. If the trust isn’t there, or if a player is inefficient in pass-protection, Bill has no problem putting them on the bench for a game and looking for the next man up. Even if the trusted Dion Lewis goes down again, Belichick sees these other guys as purely situational, using them only when the time is perfect.
If you want to try getting inside the mind of this frustrating coach, and predict his running back moves, be my guest. Otherwise, don’t waste the bench spot, and certainly don’t risk the start. Hopefully Dion Lewis will stay healthy and these guys won’t even be relevant options in 2016, but if we learned anything from last year, it is that injuries are a just another part of the game. Don’t play with fire, you’re bound to get burned.