Thursday, July 5, 2018
Patriots Offensive Profile Under Josh McDaniels
2014-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 7th, 5th, 23rd, 7th
2014-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 13th, 25th, 3rd, 11th
2014-2017 Play Volume Rank: 5th, 13th, 7th, 4th
2014-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 13th, 6th, 6th, 5th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017 (Rank): 2,489 (4th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017 (Rank): 189 (11th)
Projected Starting Lineup
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Passing Game Outlook
Tom Brady enters his age-41 campaign with top-four QB1 finishes in five of his last seven full seasons. Including playoffs, Brady has thrown for multiple touchdowns and/or 300-plus yards in 30 of his last 36 games (83%). An unflinching robot in the pocket, Brady has mastered the art of getting rid of the ball before pass rushers arrive with a lightning-quick release and top-ten rankings in PFF’s Time To Attempt metric in six straight years. The Patriots sent Brandin Cooks packing and will miss Julian Edelman for the first four games, but Brady is still set up for elite production with a healthy Rob Gronkowski. And Gronk’s health is critical; since he entered the league in 2010, Brady has averaged nearly four more fantasy points and 0.41 more touchdowns per game with his future first-ballot Hall of Fame tight end in the lineup. The Pats play high-volume offense, ranking top seven in both plays per game and pass attempts in five of Josh McDaniels’ last six years as coordinator. Brady led the NFL in attempts (581) and passing yards (4,577) last season, the first time he accomplished either feat since Randy Moss’ historic 2007 season. Decline is an unavoidable topic at Brady’s age, but he averaged 377.3 yards per game with an 8:0 TD-to-INT ratio in the playoffs and roasted the Eagles for 505 yards in Super Bowl 52. Brady is my No. 2 fantasy quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers.
Chris Hogan established himself as one of Brady’s 2017 go-to wideouts by playing over 80% of New England’s offensive snaps in each of the first eight games and scoring five TDs in the opening five. A debilitating shoulder injury cost Hogan seven games and limited his effectiveness down the stretch, but he went berserk against the Eagles in Super Bowl 52 with a 6/128/1 receiving line on eight targets. Over the past two seasons, Hogan has drawn 19 targets inside the ten-yard line – more than Gronkowski’s 13 – and efficiently converted seven into touchdowns. As Cooks was sent to the Rams and Edelman drew a four-game suspension, Hogan will open the season as Brady’s No. 1 receiver in an offense missing the NFL’s fourth-most Air Yards and fifth-most targets from last year’s team. A realistic candidate for double-digit touchdowns, Hogan is undervalued anywhere after the sixth round of drafts.
Julian Edelman tore his right ACL in last year’s third preseason game, then received four extra recovery weeks via his PEDs ban. Edelman’s game is built on short-area quickness, so it’s fair to question his returning effectiveness with suspect knee health and performance-enhancer ingestion at age 32. Edelman’s suspension ends just before a short-week Thursday night road trip to Indianapolis, so it’s also fair to wonder whether he’ll return immediately for Week 5. Working in Edelman’s favor is New England’s desperate wideout need, especially on quick-option routes, which are Edelman’s specialty. I’m still drafting Edelman at his discount seventh- to eighth-round ADP.
Cooks’ departure and Edelman’s ban increase the appeal of New England’s battle for complementary passing-game snaps. 30-year-old Kenny Britt was a 2017 flop in Cleveland, but Britt has a real chance to open the year starting opposite Hogan. Britt logged his first-ever 1,000-plus-yard season in 2016 and showed high-end Game Speed in Josh Hermsmeyer’s Next Gen Stats charts that year. Britt’s mental buy-in is much more important, but I think he is the Patriots’ third-most talented wideout. Also in the mix is one-year, $1 million pickup Jordan Matthews, who is coming off left knee and right ankle surgeries after a lost season in Buffalo. 26-year-old Matthews averaged a 75/891/6.3 receiving line over his previous three years in Philly. Strictly a slot player, Matthews is arguably New England’s best one-for-one in-house Edelman replacement. Once-promising 2016 fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell missed all of 2017 with knee problems that date back to high school, didn’t participate in OTAs, and was limited at minicamp. Former first-round draft picks Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett are also in the hunt for sub-package snaps. The Patriots traded for Patterson, most likely coveting his return-game value.
Rob Gronkowski re-confirmed himself as the NFL’s premier tight end in 2017 by finishing as the fantasy TE1 for the third time in the last four years despite sitting out two games; Week 5 due to a short-week thigh injury and Week 14 for an illegal hit. Although his Game Speed and average separation yards (2.3) show Gronk has lost movement ability off his prime, Gronk’s contested-catch dominance buoys his vertical-game value. Among tight ends with at least 40 targets over the past three years, Gronk’s 16.9 yards-per-catch average ranks No. 1 by more than 3.5 yards over runner-up Ladarius Green (13.3). Even if Gronk no longer wins with straight-line jets, his monstrous touchdown upside in a high-volume, high-scoring offense keeps Gronkowski as a viable fantasy pick anywhere in the top-two rounds. The Pats will likely ask Gronk to take on an especially big receiving load during Edelman’s absence.
Running Game Outlook
The Patriots’ first-round belief in Sony Michel broke their credo of low-cost running back investments but promisingly demonstrated their view of Michel as a potential lead runner. Michel was an instant pre-draft favorite of RB gurus Josh Norris and Graham Barfield for his elusiveness and pass-blocking proficiency. Michel averaged an absurd 7.9 yards per carry as a senior at Georgia, but he caught just nine passes and fumbled 12 times in his college career. Loose balls have been a particular pet peeve of Bill Belichick’s. Michel won’t become a full-time player with Rex Burkhead and James White behind him, but the rookie offers low-end RB1 upside at low-end RB2 cost. New England is a decidedly pass-first team, but has also ranked top 13 in rushing attempts in five of the last six years. Michel’s first-team usage this preseason should give us a hint as to whether he’s earned Belichick and Brady’s all-important trust.
The Patriots re-signed Rex Burkhead to a three-year, $9.75 million deal after he scored eight TDs in ten games, averaged 7.05 yards per target – far superior to receiving specialist James White’s 5.96 clip – and beat out higher-cost acquisition Mike Gillislee to be the Patriots’ designated goal-line back. Among running backs who drew at least 30 targets, only Alvin Kamara averaged more yards per route run than Burkhead (PFF). Burkhead ran a pass route on 52% of his 2017 snaps and can line up in the slot, giving him a shot at an increased role with Danny Amendola gone to Miami and Edelman out for a month. Typically an early-ish middle-round pick in 2018 drafts, Burkhead’s cost would likely be far higher had he not missed Weeks 3-6 with a rib fracture and Weeks 16-17 plus the Divisional Round with a sprained left patella. Most fantasy leaguers remain afraid of Patriots running backs, but competitive-edge seekers know Belichick’s team plays fast, scores a ton of points, and runs the ball voluminously after building leads. Burkhead is a lock to be one of my highest-owned 2018 fantasy players.
James White’s 2017 playing time was cut by Burkhead’s addition, but White still finished ninth among NFL running backs in targets (72) and tenth in catches (56) as the Patriots’ go-to passing-down back. Including playoffs, however, White failed to reach double-digit touches in 13 straight games to close out the season. White needs injuries elsewhere in New England’s backfield to be usable in re-draft leagues and isn’t draft worthy in those settings. He’s a late-round, roster-filler RB5/6 in best-ball contests.
Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill will battle for one roster spot or perhaps none at all. Gillislee scored four TDs in the first six quarters of last season, then didn’t hit pay dirt again until Week 16. Doghoused by Belichick for his lack of versatility, Gillislee was a healthy scratch for every playoff game. New England could save $2.2 million by cutting Gillislee this offseason. The Pats signed two-down banger Hill to a one-year, $1.5 million deal with only $150,000 guaranteed. If the Patriots keep four backs, they’ll most likely be Michel, Burkhead, James White, and special teams maven Brandon Bolden. Gillislee and Hill need the Patriots to keep five backs on the 53 for either to win a spot.
2018 Vegas Win Total
The Patriots’ Win Total opened at 11.0 with -130 odds to the over. The under is a terrifying bet since New England has won more than 11 games in eight straight years and draws Warren Sharp’s second-softest schedule, a commonality against lame intra-division “competitors” Miami, Buffalo, and the Jets. Even while the Patriots will begin the season without key pass catchers, their defense is primed for a step forward with LB Dont’a Hightower (pectoral) back and DE Adrian Clayborn, NT Danny Shelton, and CB Jason McCourty on board as proven, productive veterans. The Patriots are my AFC Super Bowl pick – I have them facing the Vikings – but I’m still shooting my shot on the odds-friendlier under here.