The New England Patriots weren’t really the New England Patriots in 2013. They lost 75% of the weapons Tom Brady is used to throwing to, had to switch their starting running backs, and even had numerous injuries on the defensive side of the ball.
Despite all of their woes, though, Brady and co. somehow went 12-4, won the AFC East and reached the AFC title game. They weren’t really an elite team, but they had enough top-level players to will them further than anyone else dealing with their cloud of hell could dream of.
In reality, a lot of what we saw in 2013 can’t be trusted. Hell, it might not even be capable of being understood. But from what the numbers tell us, we need to try to learn what we can. With that, let’s go back and break the Patriots down in regards to how they helped or hurt fantasy owners during the 2013 Fantasy Football season:
Tom Brady Took a Dive
I was one of the few that professed that Brady couldn’t be dragged down by his suddenly average supporting cast. I was wrong. Of course, I didn’t foresee a length injury taking Shane Vereen out of the picture. Nor did I factor in Danny Amendola actually living up to his injury label, or Rob Gronkowski taking the full six weeks to return to action.
And that was the point. Brady didn’t have the same weapons he was used to, the running game was inconsistent, and as a whole New England’s passing game lacked reliability and most of all – explosiveness. Without that, Brady put up mostly pedestrian numbers across the board. Brady dropped from 34 touchdowns in 2012 to just 25 in 2013, while also taking a roughly 500-yard hit in passing yardage.
It had nothing to do with the Pats getting away from the pass, either, as Brady attempted just nine fewer passes than the year before. The difference was efficiency (down 3% from 63% the year before) and the lack of big plays.
Stevan Ridley and the Baton Backfield
Rids was probably one of the more underrated fantasy backs entering 2013, as he was fresh off of a stellar 1,200+ yard and 10 touchdown season. Given the offense and role were fully expected to be the same and injuries were putting a damper on the passing offense, he was slated to easily match or exceed those numbers. Then came week one, where Ridley fumbled his awesome role away. He truly never recovered from his banishment to the bench, and eventually was nothing more than a part of the solution in New England’s backfield. Considering his reduced role, the 773 rushing yards and seven touchdowns still wasn’t all that bad. Ridley dropped from steady, borderline RB1 status to shaky RB2/Flex status. That’s not what you wanted when you took him in round two or three of most drafts.
The Man That Would Be Darren Sproles
Shane Vereen was another piece of the puzzle and he was supposed to erupt into Darren Sproles numbers. That’s what I said he’d be, at least. After just one week (169 total yards on 21 touches) he was well on his way. Then he hurt his wrist and was out until week 11. By that time, most fantasy owners had dropped him and only the waiver wire demons of your league took advantage of his crazy 40 receptions through the Pats’ final seven games. When you factor that he wasn’t really 100% over the final few games and only caught five balls over his last three games, you can see just how amazing he was when it came to PPR value. Kid’s gonna be a freak next year if he can stay healthy.
Pass That Blount
The last big name back there behind Brady was LeGarrette Blount. He’s a bull who somehow can run pretty fast. I don’t get it, but there’s little use dissecting the inexplicable. What we can explain, though, is that Ridley’s ball control issues gave way to more touches for Blount, and he out-produced Ridley and Vereen as a true rusher, capping a solid season with an insane 189-yard season finale. He proceeded to mash up the opposition in the divisional round of the playoffs with four touchdowns and 100+ yards against the Colts. Dude’s going to get paid. His potential departure in free agency, however, could be the trick Ridley needs to get back to his 2012 status.
Julian Edelman, the Wes Welker Clone
We can probably all agree on a few things when it comes to Julian Edelman:
- No one saw this coming (in reference to his 105-catch season)
- He’ll probably never play 16 games in a season ever again
- The Patriots system really can make solid players into gods
- This makes Wes Welker look like a true product of the system
Those are some truths, but we also need to give credit where credit is do. Edelman had his name called, and he answered the bell 105 times for over 1,000 yards. While a lot of what he accomplished in his first full season was on him and it was impressive, a lot of it was also on Brady, the system and the fact that there was literally no one else to throw to for over half of 2013.
All that being said, Edelman is a shifty receiver with much improved route-running and every improving hands. He’s also still just 27, knows the offense up and down, and proved he can stay healthy. The Patriots would be extremely foolish to let him walk in free agency. Then again, if they can get Eric Decker instead, that’d probably be the better move.
Looking to 2014
The good news is that things can’t possibly get any worse. Gronk will be returning from his first ever major knee injury, but it being the first one can be spun positively. He should otherwise be healthy after the first few weeks, if not to start the season. Vereen will also be a full go and hopefully will be able to stay on the field. We have yet to see what the Patriots plan on doing in the slot, as Danny Amendola was a free agent bust and could be cut, while slot machine Julian Edelman (as stated above) earned his keep and really should be brought back.
Whether or not New England has the same guys at receiver could prove to be the difference, but after what Brady and co. went through with the ups and downs in 2013, I’m sure they’ll add some legit talent in the draft and free agency. Who knows, maybe they add some truth to the Larry Fitzgerald to New England rumors and make a splash. Either way, the Patriots still have a fantasy friendly offense and project well again in 2014 as long as they can stay healthy.