2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6295 (5th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 47 (8th)
Offensive Plays: 1073 (2nd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 595 (15th)
Rush Attempts: 478 (3rd)
Unaccounted for Targets: 165 (9th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 65 (20th)
Predicting the Patriots’ offensive game plans week-to-week can be challenging, but the year-to-year consistency is bankable. The Patriots have finished top five in points for nine-straight seasons, and Bill Belichick isn’t taking his foot off the pedal. Last year, Football Outsiders’ credited New England with having the most offensive plays per minute in neutral situations, giving opposing defenses no time to pump the breaks on Tom Brady’s turbo attack. Whether it’s the pace, the game plan, or just pure talent, it’s still safe to project the offense for above-average production. Even a Julian Edelman suspension and Rob Gronkowski injury couldn’t stop New England from finishing top-10 in plays (2nd), points per drive (8th), and yards per drive (9th) in 2018. Does the Gronk retirement lower the ceiling? Of course. But the well-oiled machine should continue to fire on most, not all, cylinders with Bill Belichick lapping most of the NFL.
Life without Rob Gronkowski will be tough for Tom Brady. Since 2010, Brady has averaged 2.8 fewer fantasy points in the 27 games without his Hall of Fame tight end. But even with Gronk, Brady has been no more than a high-end QB2 for a few seasons. Last year, despite the Patriots’ second-place finish in offensive plays, Brady had his worst per-game yardage total (272 YPG) since 2014. That, paired with another drop in his touchdown rate, made Brady fantasy’s QB14. If Brady is without Gronk and Josh Gordon, QB14 is right around his 2019 ceiling. Early fantasy drafts rightfully place Brady as a low-end QB2.
Josh Gordon remains indefinitely suspended, but there’s a “chance” Gordon will be reinstated by training camp. Since that report surfaced in February, Gordon has signed a one-year contract and has worked out with Tom Brady. The Patriots are acting as if they’re expecting Gordon to be on the field in 2019. That, of course, is no guarantee. When he was active last year, Gordon flashed. His 10.6 yards per target average was seventh among qualifying receivers, and he was being treated as a WR2 across the fantasy industry. With his status up in the air, Gordon is being drafted towards the end of drafts, but he’s a fantasy starter if he's reinstated. There’s too much upside with Gordon to draft low-upside receivers over him. Gordon is a buy at ADP.
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Julian Edelman returned from a four-game PED suspension last year to be the WR9 in PPR points per game from Weeks 5-17. Edelman remains a tough cover in the slot and his chemistry with Brady is unmatched by anyone on the roster. Jules’ 144-target pace would have made him the 10th-most targeted receiver in the NFL last year. He’s likely to out-pace that if he plays a full 16-game season with the Pats replacing 165 targets from 2018. Edelman is a nice pickup at the Round 3/4 turn in Best-Ball drafts as a receiver with a reasonable ceiling and a high floor regardless if Josh Gordon returns.
First-round rookie N’Keal Harry was the top receiver prospect in my 2019 NFL Draft Analytics Top 300 model, finishing as an 84th percentile talent. He met all of my prospect minimums, checking boxes with strong early-age production, size (6’2/228), and athleticism. Basically, Harry is a receiver I want to be betting on. Harry “got a lot of work” with the starters at OTAs, lining up at “multiple spots” as Brady, Belichick, and McDaniels figure out how to properly scheme open their latest first-round pick. I’m a buyer at Harry’s current 10th round ADP, and if Gordon is reinstated prior to training camp, I anticipate buying the inevitable overreaction of Harry’s ADP. The Patriots’ 165 unaccounted for targets are enticing.
Demaryius Thomas signed a one-year deal this offseason but was only given $150,000 in guarantees. Despite the big name, Thomas is by no means a lock to make the Week 1 active roster. The 32-year-old could begin the season on the PUP list (torn Achilles’) or could be cut outright. Thomas was declining prior to his injury, bottoming out at 45 yards per game last year. There are better late-round fliers.
Phillip Dorsett is an option in the deepest of leagues. He caught 32 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns last year, and Harry, Gordon, and Thomas are more-or-less wild cards at the moment. Dorsett obviously needs some help for it to happen, but there’s at least a path to meaningful snaps on a decent offense, making him more viable than other deep-league targets.
Rob Gronkowski remains retired, but there is some speculation that he could unretire. Most of it is backed by air, but he did recently work out with Tom Brady and he has admitted that he didn’t know how he’d feel “when the games start rolling around." If you’re playing in a deep league, then a late-round flier on Gronk could make some sense.
“All signs point to” Matt LaCosse being the starting tight end Week 1, and he’s a player to keep tabs on. With size (6’6/265) and speed (4.64 forty) on his side, LaCosse has theoretical upside, especially since LaCosse has reportedly looked “smooth” at practices this offseason. LaCosse will likely amount to close to nothing in New England -- he’s played for more teams than scored touchdowns -- but he’s a worthwhile flier in deep leagues.
When Ben Watson returns in Week 5 from a four-game PED suspension, he could be a weekly streaming option depending on how LaCosse performs in his absence. Last year in New Orleans, Watson averaged 8.7 yards on his 46 targets.
James White’s 87 receptions in 2018 were tied for the 14th-most ever by a running back. And with question marks at receiver and tight end once again, White should remain heavily involved as a pass-catcher, especially with those 165 unaccounted for targets. White is a buy at his fifth-round ADP after finishing as the PPR RB7 last year.
The Patriots’ run-out-the-clock running back has been a valuable role for years because Belichick continues to pound the rock when it’s working. Last year, the Patriots had a 57.4% run rate after a rush for a first down, which was the second-highest rate in the NFL. Sony Michel, who averaged 4.5 yards on 209 carries (931 yards), was the beneficiary of that play calling tendency. That coupled with the goal line work he saw in the playoffs give Michel a reasonable ceiling. However, Michel is a near zero in the passing game and his knees are worrisome, even if he’ll be ready for training camp. In PPR leagues, I’d rather have White than Michel at similar ADPs.
Another concern for Michel is the addition of third-rounder Damien Harris, who was my 2019 draft class RB2 and a 74th percentile prospect in my 2019 NFL Draft Analytics Top 300 model. At Alabama, Harris was as reliable as it gets. He only had three fumbles, three dropped passes, and one sack allowed in pass protection across 54 career games. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe believes Harris has a chance for a “prominent role” in the offense, and I agree. Harris could be a league-winner if Michel or White missed time, and there’s a non-zero chance that Harris earns meaningful snaps on talent alone. Harris is a buy near the 100th pick in fantasy drafts.
The Patriots’ over/under sits at 11.0 with a higher return for those who dare bet against the dynasty. If we want to make things complicated, we could evaluate the Patriots’ moves in free agency and the draft (my models gave the Pats an A-). But don’t we already know what to expect with Belichick and Brady leading the way? Since 2006, the Patriots are 10-1-2 against this 11-win threshold and the schedule remains as easy as it gets. I’ll agree with the betting market and project the Patriots to walk away with 11 wins, but if forced to pick a side, there’s no way I’m betting against this organization. Give me the over.