By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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Tom Brady put up QB2 numbers. He’s the GOAT, as much as I hate to admit it. Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed two games and still finished as TE2, just four points below TE1 Travis Kelce. Dion Lewis finished as RB15 in his final year with the Patriots, and wide receiver Brandin Cooks put up WR13 numbers in his first and only year with New England.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Brian Hoyer (w/ SF & NE)||71.86||QB38|
|QB3||(R) Danny Etling||N/A||N/A|
|RB3||(R) Sony Michel||N/A||N/A|
|WR3||Jordan Matthews (w/ BUF)||57.20||WR96|
|WR5||Kenny Britt (w/ CLE & NE)||57.60||WR95|
What’s left to say about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said? He was fantasy’s second-best QB in 2015 and 2017. In his suspension-shortened 2016 season, he averaged nearly 27 points per game. Stretched out over a full season, those are QB2 numbers. So we’re looking at three consecutive seasons of top 2 numbers from 2015 – 2017. That shows that age is not Brady’s enemy quite yet. Thus, conversations about Brady’s projections are not much different than conversations about Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. You know what you’re gonna get with the GOAT. You don’t need a deep dive into statistics, patterns, and sample sizes like you do for Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz.
What you need to do instead is understand Brady’s value relative to depth at the position. By now you should know that QB is deeper than ever before and there’s no need to reach for a quarterback in the early rounds. If you want top 3 numbers at the position, by all means, take Brady somewhere between rounds 5 and 7. He’ll get you your 25 points per week and serve as your QB1 without question. Or, you can do what I would do: build depth at RB and WR and wait on someone like Jared Goff, Jimmy G, Philip Rivers, or Matthew Stafford in rounds 12-14.
It’s no secret that the New England backfield is a shell game. The Patriots typically rely on a multitude of running backs to move the chains. They take “running back by committee” to another level. Consider this: since 2013, only one Patriot has had more than 180 carries in a single season, when LeGarrette Blount rushed the ball 299 times in 2016. Consequently, New England rarely provides fantasy owners starting value at the position. Since 2013, only two Patriots running backs have finished in the top 15: Blount’s 8th place finish in 2016 and the newly departed Dion Lewis, who finished as fantasy’s 15th best RB in 2017. From 2013 to 2015, the best Pats RB finished 32nd, 45th, and 40th.
2018 appears to be heading back to the norm for backs in Foxboro. The Pats have a plethora of running backs they can and will deploy throughout the season. You’ll very rarely see blanket statements about a team’s position group from Club Fantasy. Like Blount’s 2016 season, here’s an anomaly for you: every single New England running back should be considered a FLEX option at the beginning of the season. You should closely watch how the season unfolds, as there will likely be periods where one running back dominates and can be inserted into starting lineups. It’s just how New England rolls.
Here are some thoughts on each New England back’s 2018 potential:
Sony Michel: Of all the backs in New England, the rookie from Georgia is the best bet for long-term success as a feature/workhorse back. He’s big (5’11, 216 pounds), physical, and can run downhill with deceptive speed. He also can receive and block well. I actually think he’s more likely to be a feature back in the NFL than his Georgia running mate Nick Chubb. Unfortunately, he’s going to cede carries to Rex Burkhead and receptions to James White. But I expect Michel to be New England’s goal line back, which could yield 6-10 touchdowns. He should be a FLEX target in season-long leagues and an absolute stash in Dynasty formats.
Rex Burkhead: Had he not been injured last year, Rex Burkhead may have put up RB25 numbers. Even with missing six games, Burkhead finished as RB37, averaging 12.98 points per game. Stretched over an entire season, that’s 207.68 points — RB11 numbers which would have placed him just above Chicago’s Jordan Howard. But it’s a stretch to think Burkhead would put up 13 points per game over a full season. As described above, New England just doesn’t ride one back to the promised land. They utilize all of their weapons. I think you’ll see more of the same this year. Michel will vulture carries and White will siphon receptions from Burkhead. With too many mouths to feed, Burkhead is just a FLEX target at this point. But hey, you could do worse at the position.
James White: White is the passing down specialist in New England. Since his sophomore season in 2015, White has caught at least 40 passes per season and averages 52 catches per year. Even with his abysmally low rushing attempts — his 43 carries in 2017 were a career high — he makes an impact on passing downs. With Julian Edelman out for the first four games of the season and Rob Gronkowski’s propensity for injury, White’s a threat to put up 4-6 receptions per game. That’s worthy of FLEX consideration but nothing more.
Mike Gillislee: Gillislee set the fantasy world on fire with three touchdowns in Week 1 last season. Then he fell off the radar almost entirely. The 22.5 points he accumulated in Week 1 accounted for nearly 33 percent of his point total at the end of the season. Gillislee’s fantasy prospects are dim this year. You can do far better and should not roster him.
Jeremy Hill: Hill arrives in New England after never really living up to his potential in Cincinnati following his promising rookie campaign. It’s too crowded of a backfield at this point to consider drafting him. Monitor the situation, but you can fill your roster with better candidates in your draft.
Chris Hogan may be one of the most under-the-radar receivers in fantasy this season. People seem to forget that before his shoulder injury in Week 8, Hogan was one of Brady’s favorite and most reliable receivers, catching 33 passes for 439 yards and 5 touchdowns. When he was healthy, he was fantasy’s 10th best wide receiver. Now, with no Brandin Cooks in town, Hogan is set up to succeed as New England’s greatest outside receiving threat. He’ll get single coverage while teams account for Gronkowski. I predict 70 catches for 900 yards and 8 touchdowns. He’s a very useful and underrated WR2.
Julian Edelman begins the season suspended for the first four games. When he comes back, he’ll resume his role as Brady’s favorite short yardage target. He likely won’t get you many touchdowns, but he’s going to catch at least 5 passes per game. In standard leagues, he’s no more than a FLEX option, but upgrade him in PPR leagues to a low-end WR2.
Jordan Matthews comes to New England after a dismal year in Buffalo. It remains to be seen what his role will be in the Patriots’ offense, but don’t forget that Tom Brady has a penchant for turning underdogs into superstars. With Edelman missing the first four games, Matthews may soar. Would it really shock you if Matthews scores 4-5 touchdowns in his first four games? We’ve seen Brady do it before with less talented receivers. At just 25 years old, Matthews is still in the prime of his career, and he may just fit perfectly in New England’s scheme. Snag him as a late round flier and hope his potential success materializes.
Malcolm Mitchell turned heads in 2016 and was the darling of many fantasy owners before missing the 2017 season with an ACL injury. Mitchell returns to a crowded receiving corps and will unfortunately have to compete a little harder for targets than he did in 2016. As with Matthews and any other Patriots receiver and running back, he could blow up. But at this point, he’s only worth a stash in deep leagues. There is just too much competition for targets.
The conversation about Rob Gronkowski is similar to the one about Brady, but with one critical twist. There’s no need to get into statistics — when healthy, Gronk’s the best tight end in the league and in fantasy. You know this. You also know he gets hurt all the time. He’s missed 26 of the Patriots’ last 96 games, an average of four games per season. Gronk’s the ultimate risk/reward player. If you get him for a full season, you’ve got a number one tight end whose end-of-year numbers would put him as WR10 or better. It’s pretty nice having a #1 wide receiver in your TE slot. But concerns about his health are real, and I’d be very nervous spending anything higher than a fourth round pick on him. Club Fantasy consistently preaches minimizing risk and maximizing value. If you want to roll the dice on a tight end, there’s no better one to draft than a guy who outscores all but 8-10 wide receivers. I can’t blame you if you take him in the 3rd.
If Gronk does get injured, waiting in the wings are Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister, and Troy Niklas. None of them are fantasy relevant at the moment, and to be honest, they aren’t worth the handcuff, either.
Rookie to Watch
RB Sony Michel has vision, speed, and physicality. He is the “have your cake and eat it too” type running back. Michel’s 3,638 career rushing yards proves he can carry the ball and that was with new Browns’ RB Nick Chubb sharing the same backfield with him. Now he will have to battle Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee for some playing time. It won’t take long until this beast is released from his cage to tear up front sevens across the league. – Chris Tyler
Jordan Matthews comes to New England looking to prove he is a legit receiver. After a lackluster year in Buffalo, playing in just 10 games, Matthews will return to full form like he was in Philadelphia. He averaged over 100 targets and 75 receptions and managed 19 touchdowns in his time with the Eagles. In his first two years, he ranked in the Top 25 of WRs in fantasy football. With a depleted WR corps and Tom Brady as his QB, Matthews should manage his way back into the Top 35 of WRs this season. Look for Matthews late in drafts to be a strong flex option and someone you can trust off your bench. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
As with most other seasons in New England, you can be certain of four things in Foxboro in 2018. Brady will ball, Gronk will ball but will probably get hurt, kicker Stephen Gostkowski will be consistent, and you have no idea which running back will lead the pack on a weekly basis. Don’t be afraid to draft Julian Edelman in PPR leagues. Much like Mark Ingram, people are getting scared off by his suspension. Edelman is easily a WR2 in PPR formats, and you can get him for a bargain this year.
|New England Patriots|
|5||10/4 (Thurs)||vs IND|
|8||10/29 (Mon)||@ BUF|
|11||** BYE WEEK **|