Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Patriots Fantasy Preview

Monday, July 17, 2017


Patriots Offensive Profile Under Josh McDaniels

2013-2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 7th, 7th, 5th, 23rd
2013-2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 9th, 13th, 25th, 3rd
2013-2016 Play Volume Rank: 7th, 5th, 13th, 7th
2013-2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 6th, 13th, 6th, 6th
Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 87 (21st)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 317 (1st)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Tom Brady
RB: Mike Gillislee
WR: Julian Edelman
WR: Brandin Cooks
WR: Chris Hogan
TE: Rob Gronkowski
LT: Nate Solder
LG: Joe Thuney
C: David Andrews
RG: Shaq Mason
RT: Marcus Cannon

Passing Game Outlook

“Angry” Tom Brady returned from his four-game Deflategate suspension to set the NFL ablaze in 2016, throwing for 300-plus yards and/or multiple touchdowns in 13-of-15 games including the playoffs. At quarterback, only Aaron Rodgers and league MVP Matt Ryan scored more regular season fantasy points per game. Despite Rob Gronkowski’s eight-game absence and New England’s highest rushing attempt total (482) since 2012, Brady remained an unstoppable assassin, having mastered the arts of getting the ball out before the pass rush arrives and relentlessly exploiting opponent weaknesses. Per PFF’s charts, Brady recorded an 18:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 72.9% completion rate, and AFC-best 112.6 QB rating when releasing the ball in 2.5 seconds or fewer, and did so on 67.4% of his pass attempts. Gronk is now healthy, the Patriots acquired dynamic playmaker Brandin Cooks, all five offensive line starters return, and New England’s post-LeGarrette Blount running back stable is more versatile with Rex Burkhead joining a healthy Dion Lewis and James White. One “obstacle” to consider is New England’s cupcake schedule, which Rotoworld SOS analyst Warren Sharp has rated fifth softest in football along with the fifth-softest run-defense slate. With increasingly explosive passing-game weapons that could result in shorter offensive drives and even more positive game script forthcoming, it’s conceivable Brady sees another dip in pass volume. Last season, Brady’s 36.0 attempts per game were his fewest since 2010.

Julian Edelman was the primary beneficiary of Gronkowski’s half-season absence, and over the past four years has averaged 11.6 targets for 82.4 yards per game with Gronk inactive, versus 8.8 targets for 63.8 yards when Gronkowski plays. Edelman established career highs in targets (159) and receiving yards (1,106) with Gronk available for just 32% of New England’s 2016 offensive snaps. This, of course, creates a predictive conundrum with Gronk returning atop what is now the league’s deepest pass-catcher corps. The Patriots did renew their long-term commitment to 31-year-old Edelman with a two-year, $11 million extension and figure to increase his slot usage between boundary threats Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, and Malcolm Mitchell. Fantasy drafters are approaching Edelman with enough caution that he remains an arguable value pick. Over the past four years, Edelman has posted per-game PPR finishes of WR23 (2016), WR8 (2015), WR21 (2014), and WR23 (2013). Yet Edelman’s July ADPs are WR26 (FF Calculator) and WR29 (MFL10s). While anticipated volume losses are always concerning for fantasy receivers, Edelman’s unshakable on-field bond with Brady and potential efficiency gains from enhanced defensive focus on New England’s more imposing weapons make him a good bet to outkick his reduced draft cost.

Brandin Cooks is one of this year’s hottest-button fantasy players entering an explosive but already-loaded offense missing only 87 passing-game targets from last year, 84% of which came from Martellus Bennett and will be soaked up by Gronk. Although 4.33 speedster Cooks’ historical indoor-outdoor splits can be traced to simply playing with Superdome-dominant Drew Brees, it’s at least worth mentioning that Cooks has averaged 72.2 career receiving yards per game in domes but only 57.8 yards outdoors. Cooks has scored 17 TDs in 30 career indoor games versus 4 TDs in a 12-game sample outside. Moving from New Orleans to Foxboro, Cooks goes from an extremely pass-oriented offense where he was consistently the No. 1/2 option to a more balanced attack wherein Cooks figures to lose volume battling Gronk, Edelman, and a deep backfield for touches. While big moments are inevitable, I think it’s fair to wonder if Cooks might become a better reality than fantasy player with the Patriots, at least initially. A very difficult player to project for 2017, I personally intend to approach Cooks as a best-ball and DFS tournament option whose unknown weekly consistency makes him less of a re-draft target. The crowd is much more bullish on Cooks than I am, pegging him with WR12 (FF Calc) and WR13 (MFL10s) July ADPs.

Competitors for sub-package pass-catcher snaps include Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, and Dwayne Allen. Hogan looks like the favorite for third receiver duties after leading Pats wideouts in 2016 air yards per target (13.8) and yards per reception (17.9), and finishing second behind Edelman in snap rate (74.1%), operating as a low-volume deep threat. Although he flashed more in the playoffs, Hogan’s 58 regular season targets ranked a lowly 85th among NFL wideouts, and it’s difficult to fathom him experiencing a 2017 increase. Mitchell had an efficient and promising rookie season, but he may need an injury elsewhere on the depth chart to regain a meaningful role. Ex-Colts TE Allen apparently struggled at minicamp, leading beat writers to suggest he’s not a lock for the final roster. 31-year-old Amendola hasn’t been a significant offensive factor since 2013.

Rob Gronkowski strained a hamstring in the middle of training camp last year and was rarely right the rest of the way. He missed Weeks 1-2, barely played in Weeks 3-4, exploded for an average stat line of 5.3/118.3/0.75 during a healthy Weeks 5-8 stretch, missed another month with a punctured lung, and was shut down due to a ruptured disk in his back in late November. Gronk underwent his third career back surgery on December 2. Gronk was inflicting body slams at Wrestlemania by early April and participated fully in late-May OTAs. In his small 2016 sample, Gronkowski drew a mind-bending 15.1-yard average depth of target, which is high-end deep-threat wideout territory. He also averaged career highs in yards per target (14.2) and yards per catch (21.6). Now a mid- to late-second-round pick across the industry, Gronk’s ADP is the lowest it’s been since 2014, when he was coming off ACL/MCL tears and went on to lead all tight ends in fantasy points, a feat he’s accomplished in three of the last six years. While Gronk will spend his entire career at elevated injury risk, he remains firmly in his prime at age 28 and will continue to offer mammoth weekly upside in an offense that figures to live in scoring position.

Running Game Outlook

As the Patriots lost a league-high 317 carries from last year’s roster, projected early-down/clock-killer back Mike Gillislee has immense opportunity in a high-scoring offense that has produced an NFL-most 18.0 rushing touchdowns annually over the past six years. LeSean McCoy’s complement in Buffalo, Gillislee averaged a league-high 5.7 yards per carry on a career-high 101 rushes in 2016 and scored nine all-purpose TDs, turning 7-of-11 carries inside the ten-yard line into scores with a perfect 6-for-6 clip inside the five. Per Next Gen Stats, Gillislee averaged 5.34 YPC against defenses that placed eight men in the box. This year’s Patriots face the NFL’s second-softest running back schedule based on 2016 fantasy points allowed. While Gillislee’s scoring potential is high, he has never been a passing-game asset with just 23 receptions in four years at the University of Florida and 15 grabs in four seasons as a pro. Gillislee finished 54th among 62 qualified backs in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency last year. Although he presents risk as a limited grinder in a crowded backfield, Gillislee’s RB25 (MFL10s) and RB28 (FF Calc) ADPs should appeal to upside seekers willing to take a middle-round gamble that Gillislee can score double-digit TDs.

The Patriots signed James White to a three-year, $12 million extension a little over two months after White’s 20-touch, 139-yard, three-score eruption that helped fuel New England’s Super Bowl comeback win. White’s value extends beyond that one-game sample, however, as the designated passing-down specialist for a team that uses role-specific backs to the most efficient extent in football. Behind only David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, White finished the 2016 season third among NFL running backs in targets (86), catches (60), and receiving yards (551) and was the overall PPR RB22 from Tom Brady’s Week 5 return from suspension through Week 16. While White’s replacement-level inside running caps his short- and long-term ceilings, his usage is arguably the most secure in New England’s backfield considering projected early-down leader Gillislee’s passing-game deficiencies. Even if becoming a fantasy “league winner” is likely out of the question, White’s odds are good of outscoring his PPR-league ADPs of RB37 (FF Calculator) and RB42 (MFL10s). White is barely a factor in non-PPR formats, however.

Signed to a one-year, $3.15 million deal in March, jack-of-all-trades Rex Burkhead joins the Patriots as an intriguing all-purpose talent who was pigeonholed as a special teamer and lightly used slot receiver in four years with the Bengals. Burkhead shined in his 2016 opportunities, averaging 4.65 yards on 74 carries and finishing second among NFL backs in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, behind fellow new Patriot Gillislee. While it’s conceivable Burkhead’s primary role will remain on special teams, it’s also worth noting that he was bigger (5’10/214) and way more athletic (73rd-percentile SPARQ) than Gillislee (5’11/208, 8th percentile) coming out of college and obviously holds a huge passing-game edge. Burkhead is merely a late-round dart throw, but he’ll be someone to monitor closely all August.

Rumored in some circles to be on the roster bubble, Dion Lewis also has an uncertain 2017 role after struggling in his 2016 return from a torn ACL. Lewis needed an additional clean-up surgery on his balky knee last August and spent all but seven games on the reserve/PUP list. Still exciting at times as a runner down the stretch, Lewis exhibited diminished playmaking ability in the passing game and fumbled twice in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, then was out-touched by White 20 to 7 in the Super Bowl. Beat writers have guessed the Pats will keep Lewis on their 53-man roster, but perhaps only to return kickoffs and as insurance for their other backs. Like Burkhead, Lewis is just a late-round flier in fantasy drafts.

2017 Vegas Win Total

The Patriots have a Win Total of 12.5 games, highest in the league and a mark they’ve beaten only once in the last half decade with four straight 12-4 finishes before going 14-2 in 2016. Last year’s Patriots outplayed their 12.8-13.5 Pythagorean Win Expectation, although they didn’t have Brady for four games and missed Gronkowski for eight. This year’s club was significantly improved on both sides of the ball by the out-of-house additions of Cooks, CB Stephon Gilmore, DE Kony Ealy, ILB David Harris, DT Lawrence Guy, Allen, and the aforementioned running backs. Even in the event of a Brady injury, backup Jimmy Garoppolo has flashed enough competency that it’s not crazy to believe New England could challenge for 13 wins were Garoppolo forced back under center. Taking the over on a 12.5-game Win Total is awfully aggressive, but it’s where I have to lean given the Pats’ league-best roster and cupcake schedule.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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