New England Patriots
Coaching: How long has Bill Belichick coached the Patriots? Who cares at this point. It’s his team, and that extends to the offense which Josh McDaniels is taking over after a few years elsewhere. McDaniels will likely be subserviant to Belichick, reflecting his offense rather than his own philosophies.
Overall: Ranked 9th in both rushing attempts AND yards per carry in 2014 (2065 yards, 4.4 YPC), but will be losing LeGarrette Blount who was their most productive rusher on a per carry basis (And a close 2nd in yardage). Finished 10th in passing yardage but only 17th in yards per attempt. Repeating similar metrics this year appears likely given the development of Tom Brady’s younger receivers and the depth along the skill positions on this team. With that being said, the Patriots are defined by their head coach more than any other NFL team takes their personality from their coaching. Bill Belichick is primarily a defensive coach who as time has progressed, proven to be equally adept at managing an offense.
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady’s the QB. Despite throwing the 2nd most attempts in his career (628), Brady posted one of his worst campaigns in years, setting lows in Completion Percentage (Lowest since 2003), Yards per attempt (Lowest since 2006), Touchdowns (Lowest since 2006), and Yardage (Lowest since 2010). His interceptions weren’t particularly out of line with other seasons though. The real talk is if Brady is over the hill, given his 13th place finish amongst quarterbacks.
Don’t worry too much about it. Tom Brady’s receiving corps is largely intact from last season, but the Patriots added Brandon LaFell (627 yards last year) and continued improvement from Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson should mean that Tom Brady will have no issues replicating his 4,343 yards from last year. And without LeGarrette Blount hammering in TD’s in short yardage situations (7 TD’s on 153 carries), there’s more opportunities for touchdown passes. After all, his three seasons before this, Brady had 36, 39, and 34 TD passes. It’s worth noting that if Brady had matched his 34 TD passes from two seasons ago, Brady would have tied with Phillip Rivers for 6th in fantasy scoring rather than 13th.
TL;DR: Tom Brady can be acquired in the 6th round and is usually the 6th QB off the board, if not later. Draft him. Draft him now.
Running Backs: In the past 5 years, the New England Patriots have failed to be a top 12 rushing offense only once. In that same time frame, the Patriots have had three different leading rushers, and their #2 RB in terms of rushing yardage has changed every season. Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount split carries fairly evenly last year, while Shane Vereen spent most of the year injured. In limited action Vereen accumulated 208 rushing yards (4.7 ypc) and 427 receiving yards (9.1 ypc). Shane Vereen is being drafted as a borderline RB2 at this point despite having fewer than 1,100 yards from scrimmage in his career in his first three seasons of work. Stevan Ridley is on again, off again in Bill Belichick’s dog house, but he’s been the team’s leading rusher the last two seasons despite offering basically nothing as a receiver (10 catches in 2013).
Short story here is that the Patriots are a consistently productive rushing offense, but good luck finding who’s going to be the bell cow this year, or even on a week to week basis. Despite leading the team in rushing overall, Stevan Ridley only lead the team in rushing yards on a week to week basis five times. The Patriots change things up and fool defenses more than nearly any other team in fantasy. It’ll be brutally frustrating to own any of the RB’s in the New England backfield, but there’s definitely production to be had.
Receivers: Did any position group get eviscerated more than the WR’s for the Patriots last year? Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are both big targets but were very raw coming into the NFL. Edelman is a converted quarterback, and the big free agency pickup Danny Amendola has never had a consistent track record of health. While I think Edelman will continue to be the most reliable fantasy contributor amongst this bunch, Dobson and Thompkins are worthy late round fliers (mostly Dobson) who could yield some explosive results. Brandon LaFell may wind up being the next Brandon Lloyd here, but given his middling career so far, expect the same 500-700 yard season he’s put up as of late. Danny Amendola would likely get the majority of the work in New England if he could see the field consistently, but… he can’t. The 10th round pick you’ll likely need to draft him isn’t an unwarranted gamble though.
Rob Gronkowski remains one of my favorite players in the NFL, if only because of having exceptionally fond memories of watching him carve Pac-10 defenses while he was in college. Extrapolating his numbers over a 16 game season, and he would have had 96 Catches, 1,457 Yards, 10 TD’s. If it wasn’t for Jimmy Graham scoring 16 TD’s, Gronkowski would easily have been the #1 TE in Fantasy last year (With 10 more catches going for 242 more yards than Graham). On the other hand, he’s gone on Injured Reserve in each of his last two seasons (For a broken forearm and a torn ACL/MCL), and also missed his entire last season in college due to a herniated disc in his back. He’s demonstrated that he is the best TE in the game while he’s on the field but has just as strongly demonstrated that he cannot stay on the field reliably. This is not the return you’ll need from a third round pick, which is what you’ll have to spend to acquire him. Let another player deal with the headache of owning him unless there’s substantial value.