Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 New England Patriots Buying Guide
Admit it: You’re going to miss the Patriots dynasty when it ends. Well, not you, Bills, Jets and Dolphins fans. Obviously, New England’s reign of terror in the AFC East can’t end fast enough for you. But the rest of us might feel at least a tiny bit wistful when the Patriots are just another team and not an all-powerful supervillain. It’s like Tony Montana said: You need people like me so you can point your f**kin’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’ … So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you.”
And it all has to end soon, doesn’t it? How much longer can the party go on after Rob Gronkowski has taken his last shot of Fireball and stumbled out the front door to find a late-night burrito? Surely this rippah is almost over for New Englanders.
The fantasy intelligentsia think 42-year-old Tom Bradyis about ready to call it a night. While Brady’s average draft position of QB14 suggests he’s still a man of the people, his expert consensus rank was at QB21 a week ago. Brady hasn’t been this disrespected since Lloyd Carr made him share playing time with Drew Henson at Michigan during the first half of the 1999 season.
“Hey, Sully. Can ya believe where these frickin’ chowdaheads rank Tawmie? They think it’s all ovah. Na-ah!”
Brady is a senior citizen by NFL standards. He isn’t giving you any rushing value save for perhaps the odd one-yard TD plunge. And of course, the Aug. 16 reinstatement of Josh Gordon is bound to bump up Brady a few spots in people’s rankings.
I had Brady ranked QB19 before Gordon was cleared to return and have since moved him up to QB16. It’s been noted many times in these buying guides that the QB position is flat this year, so before any Pats diehard from Southie smashes a Sam Adams bottle over my head, realize that ranking isn’t the show of disrespect you might perceive it to be. I wouldn’t want Brady to be my top quarterback, but I’d be very content with him as my second quarterback in a 2QB league or a deep redraft league.
We know that scrappy little slot man Julian Edelman is going to catch a lot of passes, health permitting. Since 2013 he’s averaged 6.4 receptions a game, which works out to 102.7 catches over a full season. It’s tempting to think there’s room for more without Gronk around. As Graham Barfield of NFL.com (@GrahamBarfield) recently noted, Edelman has averaged 11.4 targets, 7.3 receptions and 85.0 yards in games that Gronk has missed over the last six years.
At times I’ve moved Edelman as high as WR13 in the rankings. Then I remember that Edelman gets hurt a lot and has never scored more than seven touchdowns in a season, and I knock him down to WR17 or so. I’ve gone back and forth like this for months. I currently have him at WR14. In the two years when he played 16 regular-season games, Edelman had 105 and 98 receptions. In three playoff games last season he had 26 catches for 388 yards. And Edelman is just so-o-o-o consistent. Over his last 51 regular-season games dating back to 2014, there have been only three times when he’s had fewer than four receptions.
Even the most devoted Gordon truthers are probably willing to admit that he’s never going to repeat the magic of 2013, when he had 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine TDs in 14 games. But Gordon was still good enough to post 40-720-3 in only 11 games last year. He played 71% of New England’s offensive snaps and was WR25 in fantasy scoring over those 11 games. The chemistry between Gordon and Brady should be better this year now that they’re accustomed to working together. But we do have to bake in some risk here, obviously. Gordon has struggled with addiction problems, and a relapse could abruptly end his season. There might not be a harder to rank as we enter the heart of draft season. I have him at WR26, but he could easily outkick that ranking or fall well short of it.
The Patriots took Arizona State WR N’Keal Harrywith the final pick of the NFL Draft’s first round, and that expenditure of draft capital by the NFL’s smartest franchise pushed Harry’s ADP up to WR42 before Gordon returned. Harry is a fine prospect who was wildly productive in college and has an appealing size-speed combo. As my colleague Melissa Jacobs (@TheFootballGirl) has detailed, Harry has a fascinating backstory and seems like a kid worth rooting for. But Harry hasn’t made a strong impression in OTAs or training camp. He had a pair of nice catches in his first preseason game, but he’s been dealing with an unspecified leg ailment, and Gordon’s return means Harry is No. 3 on the depth chart at best. Young, highly drafted receivers haven’t fared all that well for the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era. This isn’t the year to buy Harry.
In fact, Harry has reportedly been outplayed in training camp by another rookie, undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers of North Carolina State. Building on the positive camp buzz, Meyers had an impressive preseason debut, with six catches for 69 yards and two TDs. Meyers was recruited to N.C. State as a quarterback in 2016 but was talked into switching to wide receiver. As a sophomore he had 63-727-5, and last year he had 92-1,047-4, breaking Torry Holt’s single-season reception record. The kid has moxie, as they say in Boston. He’s not draftable but worth monitoring.
Demaryius Thomas was a fantasy stud for years, but he’s 31 coming off a torn Achilles and not a lock to make the final cut. Maurice Harris was considered a try-hard guy during his three seasons in Washington and climbed up the depth chart in training camp, but the former UDFA isn’t very athletic and offers limited upside. Phillip Dorsett, DOES have draft pedigree as a former Colts first-rounder. He never should have been drafted that high, but Dorsett has 4.3 speed, and the Patriots liked him enough to bring him back on a one-year contract after his previous deal expired.
The Patriots’ TE situation is messy without Gronk around. Ben Watson was the favorite to start even though he’s 38, but then Watson received a four-game PED suspension. Ex-Bronco Matt LaCosse will start until Watson is back and possibly beyond, but his college numbers at Illinois and his modest athletic profile offer little reason for enthusiasm.
Todd Gurley’s knee drew more offseason attention, but Sony Michel’s knee issues have been freaking out fantasy owners to a lesser degree. Michel underwent arthroscopic surgery in the spring and has a history of left knee troubles dating back to a torn ACL in high school. But while Gurley was being outplayed by teammate C.J. Anderson in last season’s playoffs, Michel was going berserk, rushing for 336 yards and six touchdowns in three games. He wasn’t quite as good during the regular season, but he still had 931 rushing yards, topped the 100-yard mark four times, scored six TDs and averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, Michel was a nonfactor as a pass catcher, with seven receptions in the regular season and one in the playoffs. Michel showed decent hands at the University of Georgia and reportedly has been catching the ball well in camp. If he starts catching more passes and stays healthy, Michel could be a monster. But we can’t assume he’ll contribute in the passing game, and we have to use a sliding scale for Michel’s value based on league format since he’s significantly more valuable in standard scoring formats than in full-point PPR. The knee issues and the addition of another RB in the draft seem to outweigh Michel’s sublime playoff performance in the minds of fantasy owners, as his ADP sits at RB25. A lot of people will flee from the risk, but I see Michel as a buying opportunity at that price.
Like Edelman, James White could be a little busier with Gronk out of the picture. The NFL’s premier third-down back posted career highs in almost every category last season as both a runner and receiver. White had 87 receptions, finishing third among RBs behind only Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley. He isn’t likely to repeat his RB8 fantasy finish in half-point PPR formats, but White should continue to be a very useful asset, especially in PPR leagues. He’s a buy at a downright disrespectful ADP of RB31.
Concern about Michel’s knee condition no doubt factored into the Patriots’ selection of Alabama RB Damien Harris in the third round of this year’s draft. He isn’t especially big or fast, but Harris is a smart, no-nonsense runner, capable pass catcher and willing blocker. There’s a pretty wide range of possible outcomes for the rookie. He has the potential to become a coveted fantasy contributor if Michel’s knee acts up, but Harris could also be close to a nonfactor is Michel’s knee is fine.
The versatile Rex Burkhead is still around, too, but it would probably take multiple injuries to clear a path to fantasy relevance for him.
(Note: Average draft positions and expert consensus rankings are from Aug. 14, before Josh Gordon’s reinstatement.)
ADP = Average Draft Position ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking (based on half-PPR scoring)