Contributions from Joshua Hudson, Chris Molina, Chris Tyler, & Joe Zollo
The Patriots don’t usually draft offensive players early, and last year, they spent not one, but two first round picks to help their offense- G/T Isaiah Wynn and RB Sony Michel. This year, with the thirty-second pick in the NFL Draft, they selected Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry. We’re big fans of Harry here at Club Fantasy, and our own Joe Zollo lays claim for nudging Harry into pursuing a career in football. (And landed on his favorite team- some stories you just can’t write.) With Rob Gronkowski’s retirement and Josh Gordon’s career once again on hold (he recently applied for reinstatement), Harry has a clear path to being the third most targeted player on this team, behind Julian Edelman and James White. Chase Winovich in the third round was an absolute steal and looks the part of a classic Bill Belichick defensive end. During most of the 2018 season, Winovich outplayed teammate and first round pick Rashan Gary. Two other players of note are RB Damien Harris and QB Jarrett Stidham. Harris should work into the rotation with Michel to take some pressure off a knee that Michel continues to get looked at, and Stidham is yet another QB project in the team’s search for a QB of the future as Brady inches toward his twilight. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Brady is Brady. Even after throwing for 4,355 yards and 29 touchdowns, his QB13 finish was a disappointment for someone who was a consensus top three pick at the position heading into last season. The team seems to be shifting their focus on offense toward running the ball a ton, and it showed during the Patriots’ march toward their sixth Super Bowl championship. Sony Michel will have a chance to amass 10+ touchdowns in 2019, and if he remains healthy all season, should easily top 225 carries. The team drafted Damien Harris to help with the rushing load as James White is at his best as a pass catcher. White had a surprise top 10 finish a year ago, and while I think he’s a solid value at his current ADP (RB32 on Sleeper), he’s not repeating last year’s performance because he won’t have 94 rushes or five rushing touchdowns. Julian Edelman is a consistent weekly top 24 option (83.3% of the time, Edelman was a top 24 receiver, second best among WRs) and the team brought back Phillip Dorsett. But the excitement lies with suspended Josh Gordon and rookie N’Keal Harry. There will be plenty of targets since Rob Gronkowski is retired and there’s no real threat on the roster to assume that much volume from the TE position. Matt LaCosse had a few good games in Denver last year, but the team also brought in veteran Ben Watson (who will miss the first four games due to a PED suspension), so there likely won’t be a top 15 TE option from the Patriots. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Last year’s RB34, Sony Michel is being overlooked in the RB2 discussion that features players like Marlon Mack, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, and Kerryon Johnson. Honestly, I can’t figure out why. All five of those players have their own set of question marks, and few have the touchdown upside of Michel. At his current ADP as RB25 (an RB3?!), Michel gives fantasy owners tremendous upside as the Patriots move toward more of a ball control offense.
During the regular season, Michel’s 209 rushing attempts accounted for 43.7% of the team’s rushing attempts. Over the Patriots’ last nine games of the season — Week 12 through the Super Bowl — Michel ran the ball 174 times, averaging 19.33 rushes per game. Michel accounted for 55.4% of the teams rushing attempts. In fact, let’s take Michel’s final stat line from those nine games — 174 rushes for 814 yards and eight TDs — and extrapolate that over a full 16 games. Michel was on pace for 309 rushes, 1,447 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Without any receiving numbers (and let’s face it, Michel wouldn’t have high totals in that regard anyway), that would give Michel 228.7 fantasy points. In Club Fantasy scoring, that would have been good for an RB14 finish, just behind Philip Lindsay (RB12) and Tarik Cohen (RB13).
Now, let’s look at some slightly more realistic numbers. Michel missed three games last year due to injury, and had a knee scope this offseason. I don’t think it’s naive to assume this went into the Patriots thinking when they spent a third round pick on Alabama’s Damien Harris. Over the last three seasons, the Patriots have averaged 1,066 offensive plays. Their run percentages over those three years? 45.64%, 41.87%, and 44.55%. From Week 12 through the Super Bowl, their run percentage was 46.52%. Given Brady is heading into his age-42 season, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to believe the Patriots don’t want him throwing the ball 600 times. If we assume the Patriots run 1,070 plays and run the ball 47% percent of the time, there are 502 rushing attempts to account for. The Patriots will deploy Michel, James White, Harris, and Burkhead over the course of the season, with runs for Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Brady likely worked into the equation as well. Let’s assume that Michel, if healthy for the full 16-game season, accounts for 50% of those rushes- that splits the difference on his season-long average and his final nine-week average. Michel should see 250 carries in 2018. Last season, six players hit that 250-carry threshold. Only two — David Johnson and Jordan Howard — didn’t rush for 1,000 yards (under 4.0 yards per carry). If we assume Michel can replicate his 4.5 yards per carry from a year ago — 250 carries — you’re looking at 1,125 rushing yards. Michel was on pace for 14 rushing touchdowns over those final nine games and was tied for seventh in the league in rushing attempts inside the five. Per playerprofiler.com, Michel was ninth in the league with 10 goal line carries. Those carries will translate into double digit touchdowns scored in 2019- let’s say 11. Without including reception totals, that puts Michel at 178.5 fantasy points, which would’ve been RB20.
Now for the receiving, or lack thereof. When Michel was on the field, 90.9% of his rushes came when Brady was under center, the second highest number in the league. Basically, when Michel is on the field, it’s no secret the Patriots are going to run the ball. Michel had only 11 targets all season, leading to seven receptions. Michel likely won’t push for top 15 status unless he can catch at least 20 balls in 2019. Reports have surfaced that the team is peppering him with balls out wide to get him more comfortable catching the football. Whether they utilize him more in the passing game in season is still a mystery, but it will go a long way for their offense to be less predictable when Michel lines up behind Brady. I don’t see a reason why Michel can’t increase his reception totals to at least 15 for 105 yards and one touchdown. That would add an additional 31.1 fantasy points, putting Michel over 200 fantasy points. When you look at players like Marlon Mack (17-103-1) and Derrick Henry (15-99-0) as receivers and where they’re being drafted (neither scored 200 points either last season), it makes little sense for Michel to be passed over in the RB2 conversation. So instead of taking Mack or Henry a round or two sooner, wait and grab Michel for similar, if not better, production. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
The New England Patriots offense is in a weird position. They were fourth in points-per-game, fifth in total yards, and fifth in rushing yards. Their lowest offensive statistic was in the passing game- ninth in total passing yards. Tom Brady was not a QB1 last year. He also just turned 42 and lost Rob Gronkowski to retirement. Brady and Gronk together have connected on 521 passes/receptions for 7,861 yards and 79 touchdowns in Gronk’s illustrious career. We saw signs during the regular season, and it became abundantly clear in the playoffs- the Patriots are transitioning into a run-heavy team. To prove this point, they drafted Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 draft. The Patriots were again fifth in total rushing yards last year, despite Michel missing time with injuries. Michel exploded in the playoffs for 336 yards in three games, and the Patriots won another Super Bowl. The Patriots then spent more high capital on RB Damien Harris. What does this tell you? Likely avoid all WR/TEs on the Patriots except Julian Edelman. The pass catcher with the most potential downside is rookie WR N’Keal Harry, who was taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
Since the other-worldly 2014 rookie class, most receivers that were drafted in the first round of their respective draft classes have struggled mightily their first year. In 2015, there were six receivers taken in the first round: Amari Cooper, Kevin White, Devante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, and Phillip Dorsett. All six of these receivers were taken before the thirty-second pick (where Harry was taken), and Cooper and White were both top 10 picks. Of those six, Cooper was the only receiver that had a good year (WR19). Kevin White and Breshad Perriman missed the entire year to injuries and came back the next year to combine for 52 receptions. Parker was WR91, Agholor was WR105, and Dorsett was WR117 (all between weeks 1-16). In 2016, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, and Laquon Treadwell were all taken in the first round. Between weeks 1-16, they were WR88, WR61, WR164, and WR176, respectively, their rookie year. In 2017, Corey Davis, Mike Williams, and John Ross were selected in the first round. In the same 16-week time-frame, they were WR84, WR136, and WR194 – there were 193 WRs to score at least 0.1 fantasy points – in their rookie years. Finally, last year, the 2018 first round WR selections were D.J. Moore and Calvin Ridley (WR39 and WR22, respectively). That means there were more first round receivers that didn’t catch a single pass their rookie years, than there were first round receivers to be a WR3 or better. That’s not unusual from rookie receivers drafted at any round, and that’s despite the 2014 rookie WR class- so don’t let Harry’s first round draft capital fool you.
The voice of public opinion would probably mention that he’s only being drafted as the WR43 at the 9.08 position in mock drafts, so the reward outweighs the risk. Public opinion might be correct. However, let’s ponder the other WRs he’s being taken around in the ninth round. Harry is going just below Dede Westbrook and Curtis Samuel. If you remember from the Jaguars upside article, Dede was WR28 last year between weeks 1-16. I presented the argument that WR28 was his floor and he could end up as a mid WR2. Last Year, Curtis Samuel established himself as an excellent route runner who should have plenty of opportunity alongside DJ Moore, as Cam Newton will be healthy going into the season. Harry is going before DeSean Jackson and Donte Moncrief, and Moncrief looks like he will be the WR2 on a high-flying offense that has 170 vacated targets to fill. Jackson is still an elite deep threat in today’s NFL who will be playing with the best quarterback that he’s seen in a decade and has an outstanding supporting cast that will keep any extra attention off of him. Seems like those three receivers, who have a ton of upside, are sandwiching the rookie Harry who is likely being taken at his ceiling.
As a general rule, you should just avoid drafting all rookie WRs in redraft leagues, including Harry. Rookie WRs, especially ones who land on historically great offenses, are very valuable in dynasty. However, in redraft, you are likely going to be stashing them on your bench all season, hoping they break through. You will also probably find most of them on the waiver wire if they don’t break through by October. Take Dede, Samuel, DeSean Jackson, or Donte Moncrief above Harry in the ninth round. I get that he’s playing with Tom Brady, but the Patriots never have rookie WRs come and dominate. Welker had been in the league for many years, and it took Edelman four years with the Patriots to breakthrough. Also, don’t forget Brady is 42 — over-the-hill for fantasy — and they are transitioning to be a run-heavy team anyway. Father time will always be undefeated. – Chris Molina
With Brady’s rising age and the uncertainty in the backfield, there is no doubt that Julian Edelman is the Trust Fall of the Patriots. Even missing the first four games of 2018, Edelman finished as WR23 with just a single game under 12 points. In terms of average points per game, Edelman ranked fifteenth among fantasy receivers last season with 17.375 PPG, which was higher than Keenan Allen, Brandin Cooks, and Amari Cooper- all of whom have a current ADP that is higher than Edelman.
Edelman is not a WR1 in fantasy football, but is a more than viable WR2 who can consistently get you double digit points. He may not score all the touchdowns, but what he lacks in scoring for his team he makes up for in receptions. With Gronkowski out of the picture, Edelman is the undoubted favorite target of the oldest starting quarterback in the NFL, making him all the more desirable. Yes, the offense has been moved to a more predominant run offense, but it is still Tom Brady behind center, so the passing game will never be out of the question at any point. Edelman is currently competing for targets with rookie N’Keal Harry, Demaryius Thomas, Phillip Dorsett, Dontrelle Inman, Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson, and Lance Kendricks. You tell me- which guy scares you the most to take targets away from Edelman? If you said none of them, you answered correctly. Here is why Edelman is the surest thing for a WR2 in PPR leagues:
N’Keal Harry will be a bit of a project in terms of learning the offense, as evidenced from news coming out of camp. Demaryius Thomas is one of the softest receivers I have ever seen play, not to mention he’s coming off an Achilles injury at 31 years old. Phillip Dorsett is a one trick pony and will not take any meaningful targets away from Edelman. Dontrelle Inman is a solid receiver, but is another veteran coming in who has to learn the offense in a short amount of time. Matt LaCosse is a hybrid tight end who will not be targeted much. Ben Watson will be targeted once he is back from a four-game suspension, and I am convinced Lance Kendricks is cut after Week 4 when Watson comes back.
“But what about the backfield, Joe? Shouldn’t we be worried about James White?” Fair question, reader. I am a huge James White fan. But for the most part, when Brady targets White, it is already a designed play to him. Whether that play be a screen pass, option route out of the backfield, or a fly or quick stop against a Linebacker on the outside, it always seems Brady is looking his way and just waiting for him to get open. White will take plays away from Edelman, but it will not be anything significant and there may be fewer of them this year. It felt like James White was fazed out of the offense when Sony Michel started hitting his stride in the latter half of the season, but the New England backfield is something that is TBD on a week-to-week basis. Julian Edelman has been the constant cornerstone of this offense — along with Tom Brady — throughout the 2010’s and I do not see that changing this year. – Joe Zollo
How fitting that my number one receiver coming into the 2019 season — N’Keal Harry — would get drafted by the Super Bowl champs. I’ve previously discussed his stats and accolades at Arizona State, so let’s talk about Harry’s situation. Besides Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett, the Patriots wide receiver corps is pretty lackluster, and Tom Brady is going to need someone to target if they want to repeat last year’s success. With Harry’s size and toughness combined with strong hands, prepare yourself for Brady to use him often in the red zone. He’s also a deep threat nightmare especially on man coverage. Look at the division he’s in- the AFC East is awful, and he is athletic enough that he can expose their secondaries easily. N’Keal Harry is in a perfect situation to succeed as an NFL wideout, and with development in the offseason, come Week One, you’ll regret not picking him. – Chris Tyler
Despite what I said in the Trust Fall segment, James White is easily a sleeper, and a good one at that. White finished RB8 last season — higher than Joe Mixon, David Johnson, and Phillip Lindsay — yet his ADP is currently RB25, which is lower than each of the aforementioned players. While White was used a little less in the offense come the final push at the end of November and December last season, Rob Gronkowski is no longer on the team and White is Brady’s second favorite target behind Julian Edelman. This could mean more designed plays for White along with him splitting out wide more often or running more consistent routes out of the backfield to match him up on Linebackers. I love James White and think he should be utilized more in the offense than he already is, and I believe that he can crack the Top 15 again this season, far outplaying his current ADP. – Joe Zollo
The last full season Jamie Collins played in New England, he ranked LB6 in fantasy football with 212 points. Even with a subpar season in 2018, Collins still put up 192 points, and I believe Belichick will find another great season in Collins and repeat the success he had in 2014. I don’t think Collins is the most talented guy on the field, but for some reason Bill Belichick knows exactly how to get every last ounce of talent from all of his players. It really is slim pickings on this defense, and that is why I am taking a leap with Jamie Collins. Please do not take him as your LB1. But if you have a solid guy as your LB1, you can afford the very big risk that is Jamie Collins. – Joe Zollo