It’s early, but when will there be a better time to start previewing fantasy football situations on a team-by-team basis than July? Training camp isn’t here, games are a month away and there is otherwise no real reason to care about pro football. That is, unless you’re preparing for your 2015 fantasy football draft (as you should be).
That brings us to Breaking Football’s team fantasy previews and we’re kicking things off with the defending Super Bowl champs. Tom Brady has yet to hear back on his appeal of a four-game ban and his availability at the very least is in doubt to start the year. It’s fair to wonder what his overall fantasy value is with or without the suspension, though, as well as what this year holds for the rest of the Patriots. Let’s see how all of the big names project as we go through their top offensive players and see who you need to draft this August:
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo
Losing four games of an NFL regular season is a big deal. Brady could always see his suspension wiped out or reduced, but you can’t draft with that line of thinking. Instead, you have to go into 2015 knowing Brady won’t be there for the first four games of the season and with fantasy playoffs typically starting around week 14, you’re looking at Brady giving you about 9-10 weeks of productivity. That’s not assuming Brady hasn’t lost something in the process, doesn’t come in rusty or something crazy like Garoppolo winning the job for good doesn’t happen.
As bad as it looks for Brady, his ADP (round 10) suggests not everyone is all that worried, provided he drops far enough. The expert consensus at FantasyPros has him right around the 10th spot, too. That’s probably where you need to be when it comes to Brady, too. If you can get him in the 10th round or even later, he’s going to be a steal. Just make sure you grab another solid fantasy passer that can get you through the first four weeks.
That might be Garoppolo, who isn’t worth drafting early as a long-term option (he’d only be guaranteed those four weeks, after all), but if you pair him with Brady you could be in good shape. We haven’t seen much ouf of JG, but he’s looked good in limited action and he certainly has the coaching and weapons to succeed. If you’re taking JG, though, it has to be one of your final picks, and even then I’m not sold on it being the best idea.
The Patriots do have some good matchups early on (specifically against the Jaguars and Steelers), but also have two potentially tough road games against the Cowboys and Bills. It may be too much to ask to expect Garoppolo to come in and crush it. If you’re a fan of streaming quarterbacks, then he’s a good option to start the year, although it’s probably best to play it by ear.
Running Backs: LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James White, Jonas Gray, Travaris Cadet, Tyler Gaffney
New England’s running back situation is ever fluid. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were both draftable for different reasons a year ago, but now both are gone. Ridley going down with a knee injury kept him from producing, while the Pats spread the wealth and had Vereen finish 27th and Blount come in at 37th overall. Not amazing, but this year could be different for two key reasons: Brady’s suspension and both Ridley and Vereen are gone.
Both facts have many thinking Blount could be in for a massive workload. If he is, that’s something to get excited about, as he’s been an effective masher for the Pats and has scored 16 times in his last 18 games (including playoffs) with New England. That puts him at high-end RB2 range. There is even RB1 upside here, really, and you don’t even have to pay for it with Blount going off boards in round five right now. If that sticks, he could be one of the top steals of 2015.
Blount is not the only guy we have to pay attention to in New England’s backfield, though. Travaris Cadet is a real threat to emerge on third downs as the next “Vereen/Kevin Faulk/Danny Woodhead” scat-back. New England used guys like Cadet very well and that could put him in line for 50+ receptions. We have little to go on from him but he is shifty and explosive, so there is upside if he locks that role down. Bill Belichick is oddly high on North/South runner Tyler Gaffney, but he’s no lock to make the team, especially with more talented backs like Brandon Bolden, James White and Jonas Gray ahead of them. One of them is probably destined to get cut, too, while White figures to be Cadet’s main competition for that passing down role.
The morale here? The Patriots running back situation is currently Blount and then everyone else, but it can change in an instant. Given Blount’s ADP, I love him right now ahead of everyone else and probably wouldn’t bother trying to sort through the rest of the mess. Keep an eye on everything to do with Patriots running backs, but Blount remains the only must-draft option right now.
Wide Receivers: Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Brandon Gibson
Are we too be so worried about Tom Brady’s absence that we’re shying away from New England receiving weapons? I doubt it. The schedule early on isn’t all that terrible and from what we’ve seen, Jimmy G isn’t too bad, either. I’m sure Edelman will remain rock solid as a PPR threat and a round 5 price for standard leagues is really solid. He’s only a WR1 candidate in PPR formats but he’s still worth owning everywhere (but as more of a WR2 with TD liability).
I feel like what we saw from Danny Amendola in the playoffs last year is what he can still do over the course of a season, but he’s such an injury risk. I like him but I’m not sure you can draft him knowing how shaky he can be. In other words, he’s probably going to be a really nice waiver wire pickup at some point this year, but you can’t invest in him going into drafts. Aaron Dobson has some upside but just hasn’t figured it out yet, plus he also has struggled to stay healthy. Brandon Gibson is a throw-in who lacks explosiveness, too. This all combines to make Brandon LaFell the only other Patriots wide receiver you can trust, and his first year numbers in 2014 (953 yards and 7 scores off of 74 receptions) are rather encouraging. I don’t think he’ll ever sniff WR1 value but in this system he could be a more stable WR2 potentially. You need to draft him as a WR3 or Flex, though.
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler
The big reason why it’s hard to trust Patriots wide receivers is because a healthy Gronkowski is a hungry Gronkowski. He’s second in terms of receptions on the team and could even be first, while he’s the primary red-zone threat when New England throws the ball. Understandable, and we need to draft accordingly. The wideouts could potentially lose some value with Brady out (I still doubt it), but Gronk won’t. He’s just too big, too athletic and has a catch radius that will leave most every linebacker and safety in the dust. He’s a machine, as evidenced by his 12 touchdowns in 2014, despite returning from a scary knee injury. He also ended up being fantasy football’s #1 tight end and will surely take the top spot again in 2015. He held that title by a wide margin, too (next closest was 30 fantasy points away), so you shouldn’t feel bad about spending an early pick on him. The best part is that early pick comes in round two right now, which is a heck of a lot better than spending a first rounder on Jimmy Graham last year.
Scott Chandler is somewhat underrated as he has great size and is actually a decent athlete, but he’s more in the Gronkowski mold. The Patriots will use him more than any of their other tight ends, but I doubt he does enough to warrant being rostered. I would have felt better about Tim Wright as a move option, but he’s gone. It’s Gronkowski or bust, per usual.
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Gostkowski has been the top kicker in fantasy football for three straight years. His offense scores a ton of points, he has a pretty strong leg and he simply hits most of his field goals. I don’t condone picking a kicker before the final round in any draft, but if you’re going to do it, he’s the reason why. He’ll probably be the game’s #1 source for kicking points again in 2015. Such a reach, right?
While you can feel good about most of the top Patriots fantasy options above, their fantasy team defense should be another story. The coaching is certainly still there and the Patriots do have some good talent, but sticking inside the top-10 (7th in 2014) is going to be tough. Not only did they lose stud cornerback Darrelle Revis, but nose tackle Vince Wilfork is also gone. This could be a team that suddenly struggles to shut down the pass and could have some trouble against the run, as well. They also could be totally okay with a ton of young guys stepping into huge roles. But they’re dicey as balls and I’m not drafting them to be my top defense if I can help it. I’d much rather chase the Ravens, Bengals or Browns, all of which are strong and are currently available just after New England in the 14th round of drafts.