Fantasy Football 32: New England Patriots
When your team wins 12 games, makes it to the AFC Championship game and it’s considered a “down” season, you know you are doing something right.
It’s the hoodie and the Brady. Forever a better love story than Twilight.
The New England Patriots are really, really good at football, and still with no immediate threat in the AFC East, they continue to be one of the safest bets in football to make the postseason each season. Still, it’s funny that the league is so accustomed to this team putting up monstrous numbers and making it to the Super Bowl and 2013 was often referred to as a down season for the Patriots. From a real life perspective, no, not really.
Fantasy, on the other hand …
Arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game of football, Tom Brady is better than you. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. As a Bills fan, I don’t like talking highly of him, but I cannot deny.
However, from a fantasy perspective, Brady wasn’t all that. In fact, it was the first time he finished outside of the top-12 among quarterbacks since way back in 2008. He only had six top-12 finishes last year, and had plenty of outings where he was barely a quarterback two for fantasy owners.
So, just 37.5 percent of the time did Brady warrant a “start” in fantasy leagues, which is, well, not Brady-like at all. I will admit that Brady was a bit unlucky last year, but before we get into that, it’s also worth nothing that he simply wasn’t the elite passer we have grown accustomed to seeing over the years. According to Pro Football Focus, his fantasy points per dropback have decreased in each of the last three seasons, as well as his deep ball accuracy. Meanwhile, as Sam Monson of PFF pointed out in his popular Brady piece at ESPN, it’s his accuracy when under pressure that has been telling. In 2013, Brady completed just 57.6 percent of passes when under pressure, good for 28th among qualified passers. The league average, meanwhile, was 70 percent. The offensive line was rather weak, and the AFC East has some teams that can get to the quarterback, as Buffalo ranked 2nd in sacks, while Miami finished 11th.
Now, onto the bad luck.
Of course, not having all of his weapons healthy hurt big time. Like everyone imagined, Danny Amendola was banged up all year, and, of course, Gronk’s status played a huge role. But, as Matthew Berry points out, Brady didn’t have a ton of help at times, as only Detroit receivers dropped more passes than New England’s last year. And speaking of Detroit, the Patriots pass-catchers also had the Calvin Johnson impact, being tackled at the one-yard line eight times, the most in football.
At this point in his career, I think Brady’s value really does depend on the health of Rob Gronkowski.
The Gronk Effect
via Matthew Berry
These numbers are over the last two seasons, and clearly, Brady, as well as the New England offense, has much more upside with Gronkowski on the field. Draft Brady as a QB1 still, but he’s no longer one of the top dogs.
So Stevan Ridley just fumbled again …
But seriously, all kidding aside, there could be some decent value regarding Ridley this year. LeGarrette Blount is in Pittsburgh, making Ridley their only true featured back. And, for all of his fumbling issues, Ridley is still a pretty good short-yardage back, scoring 19 rushing touchdowns over the last two years. Meanwhile, the Patriots ranked second in the NFL in red zone scoring attempts per game last year, and he’ll get the first shot to hang onto the number one running back spot on the depth chart. And they may be transitioning to a run-first team in the red zone, ranking second in rushing touchdown percentage last year (47.2). There is value to be had with Ridley, just cross your fingers he hangs onto the football.
Then there’s the exciting Shane Vereen, who caught 47 balls last year and will continue to see a huge role in this offense, especially with the inexperience and health concerns at the wide receiver position. He’ll be a great safety blanket for Brady when he’s in trouble, and a great guy to own in PPR leagues.
Speaking of PPR, 105 receptions is pretty darn good, no? While most entered the season thinking Amendola would be the 100-catch guy, it was the familiar face Julian Edelman who thrived with Brady. His 105 catches were good for the 4th-most in football, as he served as Brady’s go-to option in the passing game all year long. There were only four weeks where Edelman didn’t haul in at least five passes last year, making him an elite PPR asset.
Another intriguing name is Aaron Dobson, who could end up a screaming value in fantasy. He showed flashes during his rookie season and appeared to get past his issue with drops from the start of the year. Another year under his belt with Brady can only help, and the Patriots are looking to use more three wide receiver sets. He could have a breakout season with little cost on draft day.
If we knew he was going to play 16 games, Rob Gronkowski would be the top tight end in fantasy. There is no better red zone target in the game of football today and, like Jimmy Graham, can totally alter the tight end position in fantasy land. During his seven games last year, Gronk averaged 5.5 catches for 84.5 yards and found the end zone four times, posting five top-12 finishes during those seven games. Draft him in the third or second round, hope he plays all 16 games, and if so, you’ll probably have the best tight end in fantasy football.
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