Patriots fantasy focus

Posted Aug. 02, 2011 @ 3:12 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

The Patriots always provide quite the fantasy conundrum considering how much the ball is spread around in New England. In 2010, Tom Brady shared the rock plenty, but with such a high-octane offense, many of his skill players turned in solid fantasy seasons.

Here's a player-by-player look at the Patriots from a fantasy perspective heading into 2011.

QB Tom Brady: There's no reason to think that last year's MVP shouldn't be one of the first QBs off the board in fantasy drafts. Brady had offseason ankle surgery and should be 100 percent for training camp. He might not put together another season with 36 TD passes and four interceptions, but he is still one of the best in the game. And while all other Patriots skill players can be somewhat risky draft choices becuase of the way the offense works, Brady is as safe as they come.

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis: "The Law Firm" was a fantasy revelation in 2010 thanks to 13 rushing touchdowns. He was also New England's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004. Green-Ellis is locked in as the team's No. 1 back heading into this season after working his way up thanks to injuries and the trade of Laurence Maroney. With two rookie backs on the squad, he might share carries more than he did last season, but you can count on Green-Ellis getting the touches near the goal line, and that's what matters for fantasy.

RB Danny Woodhead: The diminutive Jets castoff had more than 900 total yards in 2010 and should be a big part of the offense again. Here's the big stat, for those worried about taking the Pats' No. 2 back: Woodhead got 11 touches per game, and would be solid in PPR leagues. He could see a dip in production with Shane Vereen, who has similar skills as Woodhead, now on the roster. Woodhead is worthy of being a flex or No. 3 back on fantasy teams.

RB Shane Vereen: The rookie has the tools that Bill Belichick likes in a running back. He is a solid receiver and smart. Vereen, a second-round pick, wasn't picked that high to sit on the bench, and he will get his chance to impress the coaching staff. But don't expect him to get the type of production Green-Ellis and Woodhead will, unless there's an injury.

WR Chad Ochocinco: The always entertaining receiver got his wish of joining Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Ochocinco's numbers took a dip last season, but he should work very well in the Pats' offense. Ochocinco might not put up the fantasy numbers he did earlier in his career with Carson Palmer, considering how often Brady spreads it around, but look for him to be the most targeted wideout near the goal line, and he is worthy of being a No. 2 WR in fantasy.

WR Wes Welker: Coming off ACL and MCL surgery, Welker still had a big season and turned it on down the stretch in 2010. He will be healthier in 2011 with more ability to break tackles. Welker is perfect for PPR leagues as Brady's top target. He hauled in seven touchdowns last season and, unless the Patriots make a splash in free agency, will be the team's No. 1 receiver in terms of production.

WR Deion Branch: Branch was solid getting yards after the catch and even being a deep threat at times for Brady after returning to New England last season. He put up big numbers during a four-game stretch in the middle of the team's eight-game winning streak but also had very ineffective games toward the end of the season. He benefits by working well in the Patriots' system, but he shouldn't be counted on to be any higher than a No. 3 receiver in fantasy.

WR Brandon Tate: If the Patriots have it their way, Tate will use his speed that we have seen on kickoff returns and become a legitimate deep threat. He has potential, but he has yet to make a big impact. He likely will be undrafted in most leagues, so keep an eye on him in the first few weeks to see how involved he is with the offense. Tate could be the sleeper.

WR Julian Edelman: Edelman always plays well when given the opportunity to start, which happens when Welker is out. Unfortunately, that was one game last season, the season finale. He's a dangerous punt returner and could get more involved in the passing game, but needs to show more consistency before being considered in fantasy.

TE Rob Gronkowski: Gronk was a red-zone force in his rookie season, using his 6-foot-6 frame to haul in 10 touchdown catches. The Patriots used Gronkowski often, as he is a good run blocker as well. With as many snaps as he gets on the field, he is one of the top fantasy tight ends in the game, especially the way Brady looks to get him the ball.

TE Aaron Hernandez: While Gronkowski is a big threat near the goal line, Hernandez is like a receiver in between the 20s, but also got some scores late in the season. He is versatile with some speed and lines up in the slot at times. The Patriots could use him as a deep threat as well. He should be just as productive as he was in his rookie season.