Year in and year out the New England Patriots supply all types of football fans with entertainment and value. For the real NFL fan, they simply win games. For the 2% of the United States that have no interest in football, they get their fair share of Gisele Bundchen siting’s courtesy of Tom Brady. For the fantasy footballer, they provide a plethora of relevant fantasy options. Today we will take an in depth look at who exactly those fantasy options will be, position by position, for the upcoming 2014 season.
When an average football fan hears “New England Patriots”, or even the word quarterback, more likely than not, Tom Brady comes to mind. Since 2001, Terrific Tom has been the signal caller for the Patriots and has led them flawlessly to three Super Bowl championships in five appearances. However, old age will take its toll on everyone sooner or later, even Tom Brady.
At age 36, Tom Brady is coming off his worst season in terms of completion percentage since 2003. While some of his regression can be attributed to lack of receiving weapons, the 2-time NFL MVP has certainly lost some strength and flexibility equating into loss of long ball accuracy. The Patriots offense in recent years has been relying more and more on the running game and dump off passes to move the chains and this year should be no different.
Patriots NFL Ranks in 2013 With & Without Rob Gronkowski (Source)
|Red zone eff.||4th||30th|
|1st downs PG||2nd||16th|
Another key factor to keep in mind is the reliance that Brady has on Rob Gronkowski. He is not only the safety net for Brady, but has the ability to turn mediocre throws into huge yards and touchdowns, equating into more fantasy points for Brady. However, since Gronk has emerged in the league, he has been plagued with hip, forearm, back, knee and concussion problems. As you can see in the table to the left, much of Brady’s success is determined by whether or not Gronkowski can stay healthy, which is far from a sure thing.
The New England running back situation, from a fantasy perspective, is one of the trickiest to decipher in the entire league. They hold the key to both a standard league stud and PPR priority;
In one hand you have Stevan Ridley who is two years removed from a 1,263 yard, 12 touchdown campaign. Unfortunately for him, he experienced an abundance of fumbling issues last year, leaving him in Bill Belichick’s doghouse to rot on the bench. Despite LeGarrette Blount’s 286lb frame, it looks like he has gotten sick of clam chowder and moved his way out of New England, leaving behind some goal line carries for Ridley. The only legitimate knock against Ridley, which is the difference between RB1 status and a flex RB, is the fumbling issues. If Ridley can get that under control, there is RB1 upside, with an ADP of 96 per MFL, he could easily be one of the steals of this year’s drafts.
On the other hand, Shane Vereen has the ability to be an absolute monster in PPR leagues. In just half of the 2013 season he reeled in 47 catches for 427 yards, giving owners just a small taste of what he could produce if healthy. However, that previous presumption is nothing to overlook. This will be Vereen’s 4th year in the league, a fact probably unknown to the average fantasy player. However, in that span he has only touched the ball over 90+ times once, that was in 2013, a season in which he fractured his wrist. It is worth mentioning that he recently admitted to his wrist being less than 100%. While durability was never an issue pre-NFL, it is something to keep an eye on. If he can stay healthy, Vereen is a low-end RB2 in standard formats and RB2/low-end RB1 in PPR formats.
The Patriots have lacked the prototypical number 1 receiver since the departure of Randy Moss and his record setting 2009 season. Since then, they have relied heavily on the slot work of Wes Welker and its tight ends. As we all know, Welker has a new partner behind center with Peyton Manning in Denver. With Gronkowski coming back from serious injury, it is time for the younger receivers to take the next step in their development, setting the stage for players like Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell to produce relevant fantasy numbers.
Julian Edelman did an excellent job replacing Welker, hauling in 105 for 1,056 yards. He is the definition of a PPR receiver. Despite Edelman’s six touchdowns last year, with a healthy Gronk and a heavy run game, the Patriots will look to other options in the red zone, but will look Edelman’s way early and often to move the chains. Another 100+ reception season is certainly feasible, giving Edelman a very high floor/ceiling in any sort of PPR league.
At this time last year, it seemed as if it was all but guaranteed that either Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson would emerge to be the Patriots number 1 receiver and dominate fantasy football across all leagues. Fast forward a year and neither will be taken in the top 10 rounds of any fantasy draft this offseason, barring a Patriot only fantasy draft. While Kenbrell is expected to make this year’s final roster, the fact that it is even a question should notify owners that he isn’t a vital part of the Patriots offense. Dobson seems like the better option of the two. A more talented, consistent receiver, Dobson is currently rehabbing from a March foot surgery. He is being placed on the PUP list, enabling him to come off and start practicing at any time for the Pats. It would be smart to keep an eye out for training camp reports pertaining to Dobson as he could pay dividends as a late round pick shall he become a deep threat for the Patriots.
I must admit, I was riding the Danny Amendola bandwagon last year hard, shit I might as well have been the conductor. But, just like everyone and their mothers predicted, Amendola went down with a serious groin injury in week 1 costing him a big chunk of 2013. Durability has always been his biggest weak spot. As of this moment, Amendola is 100% healthy, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how long that will hold up. After being touted as a WR2 last year, Amendola can be a tremendous value pick this year, especially in PPR leagues, assuming he can stay healthy.
The final fantasy relevant option on the Pats, Brandon LaFell, had manned the slot position in Carolina for the previous four years. Let me clarify what I mean by relevant fantasy option. In a new offense, LaFell won’t make much of an impact immediately, but he is worth keeping an eye on in deeper leagues (16+ teams), especially if an injury were to occur (i.e. Gronk, Amendola).
Everyone knows that if you are drafting a Patriots tight end, you are drafting Rob Gronkowski. Everyone knows that Gronk has been plagued with injury filled seasons since entering the league. Everyone knows that Gronk is capable of putting up Jimmy Graham type numbers if healthy. Unfortunately, no one knows if he will stay healthy in 2014 and if so, for how long. As of July 23, Gronk was cleared to practice, avoiding the PUP list altogether meaning he is totally healthy, for now. His ADP, per MFL, is 31.72 at the moment, destined to shoot up following this news, but for the amount of time Gronk spends on the sidelines, it seems like a huge risk spending a 3rd round pick on the tight end. If you do draft Gronk in the 3rd-4th round, be prepared to draft another solid tight end later in case of injury.
Kicker, Team DEF and Conclusion
Simply put, Stephen Gostkowski is the best fantasy football kicker option available. He may not be the best pure kicker in the game, but he is definitely the most consistent, finishing as the number one kicker each of the previous two seasons. He will once again benefit from the high scoring Patriot offense.
Finishing as the number 11 team defense in 2013, the Patriots are sure to finish even higher in 2014. First round draft pick Dominique Easley will sure up their interior pass rush, while getting Vince Wilfork back will help solidify the defensive line. The most significant move however, has to be gaining the outside coverage abilities of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Look for the Patriots fantasy production to mirror that of the 2012 season, in which they finished third overall.
As usually is the case, the Patriots will provide many viable options to fantasy owners. The key in 2014 is to decide when and where you are willing to take risks, because that’s what is mainly being provided by this year’s New England squad. They have a surplus of players capable of finishing top 10 or top 5 at their respective positions but none that seem to be a lock to do so.
*Photo Credit – Football Schedule