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Updated 4:50 p.m. ET, Wednesday, July 25
Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense care little about your fantasy team.
For years, the Patriots have provided fantasy football owners difficulty during drafts. In New England’s spread attack, it’s far from a guarantee who you will get your points from week in and week out, aside from Brady.
In the years in which the Pats have steamrolled opponents with a high-octane offense (2007, ’10 and ’11), though, you could add several Patriots to a fantasy roster and be satisfied with your returns.
I addressed the Patriots’ fantasy dilemma last summer (just ignore that paragraph on Chad Ochocinco … oops), and the ’11 offense did not disappoint fantasy owners. The Patriots had three players (Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski) finish among the top 22 players in fantasy scoring. Four teams had two players finish in that range.
If that one Boston resident in your league grabbed a bunch of Patriots (and you probably mocked him for it, especially if you're a Jets fan), he probably fared pretty well. Outside the big three, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis was 24th in fantasy scoring among backs, TE Aaron Hernandez finished third among tight ends and WR Deion Branch scored 7.16 fantasy points per game — more than enough for a No. 3 fantasy wideout or a flex player. And we cannot forget PK Stephen Gostkowski, who finished third among kickers in points.
With Green-Ellis having departed for Cincinnati via free agency, either Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen will take over his touches. At wideout, fantasy owners now can decide when to draft Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney, with the safe assumption they will put up numbers in Brady’s attack.
When writing up fantasy capsules for Welker and Gronk, the one negative — which goes for all of the Patriots’ pass catchers — is always the competition for targets. Welker was sensational last season, but he also had five games with fewer than 50 yards receiving, including two catches for 22 yards in a 34-3 win over Kansas City in Week 11. Gronk was as consistent as a fantasy contributor could be in the second half of the season, but can he do it again?
One of the qualities that makes Brady so efficient is that he will not try to force a pass into tight coverage. If a team figures out how to shut down Gronkowski or Welker, Brady will have no problem going elsewhere.
How should fantasy owners treat the Patriots’ array of weapons in drafts this summer? Brady is a no-brainer, as are Gronkowski and Welker, which brings us to Lloyd, Gaffney, Hernandez and Branch.
Expectations are high for Lloyd, who had 966 yards receiving last season and 1,448 in 2010 with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as his head coach in Denver. Lloyd impressed observers in the spring and fills a need at the outside receiver spot, but what is his ceiling? A fair comparison would involve looking at Randy Moss’ contributions (before ’10) and Branch the past two seasons. Lloyd will get those snaps and targets, and while the TE situation in New England is different than when Moss put up his big numbers, and it’s not unreasonable to think Lloyd should be a No. 2 fantasy wideout.
Quick trivia: When Lloyd had 1,448 yards receiving for Denver, who finished second on the Broncos? That would be Gaffney, who had 875 yards that season and a career-high 947 in 2011 for Washington. He reunites with Brady, but will be hard pressed to be any more than a No. 3 or flex wideout in this offense, as he is fifth in line for targets. Gaffney scored 7.73 fantasy points per game last season — it will be hard to replicate that in 2012.
Hernandez has proven two seasons in a row that even as the team's second fiddle at the position, he is a consistent fantasy producer. Brady targets Hernandez in between the 20s and he is solid for PPR leagues. Plus, after Gronk got his big contract, Hernandez will certainly be out to prove he should be paid as well. He is a No. 1 tight end in all fantasy formats, with the only major concern being the injury factor.
Branch looks to be the odd man out. The 33-year-old veteran has a great rapport with Brady and should still make the team, but Branch’s production is likely going to take a hit.
At running back, owners have to gauge the preseason to see if it's Ridley or Vereen getting the bulk of the work. The primary back in this offense, though, will be productive.
Don’t laugh at that die-hard Patriots fan in your fantasy league who drafts Brady in Round One, then adds Welker, Hernandez and Gaffney, and maybe Ridley as well, before capping off his team with Gostkowski. Outside of Brady, you still can’t guarantee 16 weeks of consistent fantasy production from a Patriots player, but the offense has proven that there are plenty of fantasy points to be had by all in Foxborough, so feel free to load up on Pats.