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Team Previews

Patriots Fantasy Preview

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 24, 2020, 5:32 pm ET

2019 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,664 (15th)

Offensive Touchdowns: 42 (14th)

Offensive Plays: 1,095 (3rd) 

Pass Attempts + Sacks: 620 (5th) 

Rush Attempts: 447 (9th)

Unaccounted for Targets: 124 (12th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 33 (22nd)

 

Coaching Staff

Outside of Joe Judge’s departure to New York, the Patriots return the same core of assistants and, more importantly, welcome back five starting offensive linemen from years past. David Andrews (blood clots) was unavailable last season but allowed just two sacks across 1,104 snaps as Pro Football Focus’ No. 13 center among 51 qualifiers in 2018. Isaiah Wynn, New England’s former No. 23 overall pick who debuted as a sophomore last year, also returns after supplanting Marshall Newhouse as PFF’s No. 36 pass-blocking tackle (among 123 qualifiers) mid-season. With All-Pro Joe Thuney signing his $14.78 million franchise tag, the Patriots’ squeaky clean 4.49 Adjusted Line Yards and 5.3% Adjusted Sack Rate should both maintain around the offense’s everchanging blueprint (see below) this year.

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Passing Game

QB: Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham

WR: Julian Edelman, Jakobi Meyers

WR: N’Keal Harry, Damiere Byrd, Marqise Lee

WR: Mohamed Sanu, Jeff Thomas

TE: Devin Asiasi, Matt LaCosse, Dalton Keene

The Patriots have finished top-seven in total pass attempts in six of the past eight seasons with OC Josh McDaniels calling plays -- ever since he returned from his failed stint as Denver’s de facto GM -- but neither he nor Belichick have ever conducted an offense with a dual-threat presence under center; Cam Newton, 31 and left for dead on a bare-bones incentive-laden “prove it” deal, essentially becomes their bridge to another world. Newton hasn’t stayed upright since Carolina’s first eight games in 2018, eventually opting for offseason shoulder surgery before infamously suffering a broken foot during the preseason last year, but did average 9.1 scrambles and the third-most fantasy points per game (23.7) behind Patrick Mahomes (27.8) and Matt Ryan (24.8) in that stretch. Any confidence Newton is healthy (and there’s nothing to suggest he isn’t after he passed his physical) should coax fantasy players into ‘reaching’ for him as the perfect storm of a proven week-winner currently being valued among a tier of matchup-based statues (Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo, etc.). Newton’s FFPC ADP as the overall QB15 includes a low-risk, high-reward incentive for those willing to put aside recency bias altogether.

Julian Edelman was peppered with 10.4 targets per game through Week 14 before closing the year with an abysmal 13/137/0 and 56.5% catch rate on 23 targets over New England’s last four contests. Recovering from shoulder surgery ahead of his age-34 season, the veteran is clearly on the wrong side of a prominent decade-long career that’s consisted of 9.0 targets per game and 7.0 yards per target since 2013. Engulfed in an unfamiliar situation with fewer helpings for more mouths to feast, Edelman is a player I’ll continue comfortably avoiding at his overall WR34 ADP well into the summer.

Patriots got a total of 220 snaps (19%) from No. 32 overall pick N’Keal Harry (6’2/228) after he was out-played by UDFA Jakobi Meyers in the preseason then opened the year on injured reserve with ankle, toe, and hamstring ailments. Whether it was injury-related or simply due to a lack of development, Harry’s underwhelming 4.38 yards per target were the fourth-lowest mark among 92 qualifiers who saw 20-plus targets as first-round prospects since the statistic was charted in 1992. Currently sandwiched between DeSean Jackson and Sammy Watkins as the overall WR57, fantasy players are forced to blindly buy into the 22-year-old’s Day 1 capital despite his lack of separation skills in both the Pac-12 and hampered first year. He’s still considered an offseason “winner” and late-round dart with upside since the team failed to add any significant competition at his position.

Acquired for a second-round pick at the trade deadline, Mohamed Sanu essentially played two full games alongside Edelman since the two battled injuries (which eventually forced both to go under the knife) as part-time players down the stretch. Sanu’s yards per route run from the slot have also steadily declined for four straight seasons (1.16 > 1.43 > 1.62 > 1.73). The 30-year-old logged a career-low slot rate (32.2%) upon joining the Patriots in his last eight games, indicating an upcoming shift to the boundary for the first time in his nine-year career. A positionless veteran who hired a full-time trainer and worked out with Newton this summer, I have been coming away from nearly every Best-Ball draft with either Sanu or Harry as one figures to surprise as New England’s No. 1 option.

Notable ancillary receivers include Meyers, Jaguars castoff Marqise Lee, 27-year-old speedster Damiere Byrd, who is just two years removed from recording 10/105/2 receiving from Newton with the Panthers, and UDFA Jeff Thomas (5’9/170), who arguably would have been on more draft boards had he not been booted from the team as a sophomore. I rank them Meyers > Byrd > Thomas > Lee if forced to choose, with Meyers’ 2.32 YPRR and league-high 28 targets during the preseason garnering him sole dynasty appeal among his peers.

Matt LaCosse is something listed atop New England’s depth chart but was kept inline to run block on a team-high 236 snaps last year. Two third-round investments in UCLA TE Devin Asiasi (6'3/279) and Virginia Tech H-back Dalton Keene (6'4/253) suggest more multi-tight end sets with explosiveness and wiggle as the former recorded 14 plays of 20-plus yards in Chip Kelly's high-octane offense the past two years while Keene, a first-team all-state running back as a senior in high school, led all FBS tight ends with 8.4 yards after the catch per reception. It would be shocking to see any buck the rigorous offseason and excel in the short-term with Newton, but Asiasi, who averaged over 15.0 yards per catch with the Bruins, is the name to monitor in startups.

 

Running Game

RB: Sony Michel, James White, Rex  Burkhead, Damien Harris 

OL (L-R): Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon

A sluggish runner who has averaged no more than 2.56 yards after contact per attempt the past two seasons, Sony Michel has been impasse as a receiver (19 catches) through 29 career starts, deriving all of his production from 54 carries and 11 touchdowns inside the 10-yard line since being drafted as the team's No. 31 overall pick. The 25-year-old’s injury history dating back to high school (including this offseason’s maintenance-based foot surgery) would fill the List of Jericho. If Newton is expected to take off 90 times as he did in every season leading up to last year’s debacle, there are fewer reasons to depend on Michel for what was previously considered a bankable 200-plus touches as the team’s (only) goal-line bruiser. The third-year runner shoulders far too many red flags to roster in re-draft formats. Note that any setback stemming from June’s surgery would also launch 2019 second-rounder Damien Harris (5’10/216) into orbit as a premier late-round flier. Not only does the former Alabama product (who held off Josh Jacobs as the Crimson Tide’s starter) act as insurance behind Michel, New England quietly opens with the second-softest slate of opposing rush defenses, facing the Dolphins, Seahawks, Raiders, Chiefs, and Broncos before hitting their Week 6 bye.

James White’s 95 targets and RB18 finish may seem like a fall from grace but is much more in line with expectations moving forward compared to his 181-touch campaign the year prior. Having averaged 8.8 fantasy points per game the past five seasons (and 13.3 in his last two), there is no reason to suspect the 28-year-old’s role is in jeopardy. Rex Burkhead recently restructured his contract to ensure he stays with the Patriots for one last hurrah, but it’s White who offers PPR appeal as an RB3/FLEX with an optimal role. I have him ranked as my RB43 in Best-Ball leagues. Burkhead, a shoo-in for a handful of vulture carries and catches if healthy, is a dart reserved for the final turn of high-stakes 20-round drafts.

 

Win Total

The public wants to believe the Patriots are in the running for Clemson cornerstone Trevor Lawrence, but the truth is Belichick doesn’t have a single tank-bone in his entire body. New England, which most recently saw its odds to take down the AFC East increase from +130 to +110 with the signing of Newton, will at worst compete with the Bills (+145) for bragging rights ahead of the postseason. The organization at best coasts to its 12th consecutive 11-win campaign under Belichick, perhaps figuring it out against Lamar Jackson and/or Patrick Mahomes whenever that day comes. If wagering on the Patriots to eclipse their 9 (-125) Season Win Total, bettors would be wise to sprinkle on the team’s division outright, too.