For the New England Patriots, the 2013 season was a failure. They made the AFC Championship, but at this point a Super-Bowl-or-bust mentality is in place. Tom Brady’s championship window is closing, and the roster isn’t exactly built to transition smoothly after he leaves.
Among Patriots players, the most valuable in a fantasy sense last season was Julian Edelman. In the preseason, the Patriots had a top 5 QB, top 20 RB, and top 2 TE. A WR2 as the best player didn’t sit well with fantasy players. Although the Patriots offense looked down in 2013, there is reason for hope in 2014. According to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), the Patriots had the 4th most efficient offense in football last year. Well, what does that mean? According to TeamRankings.com, the Patriots ranked 18th in time of possession, but 3rd in points scored. This is good because a) the Patriots can score in less time and b) there is room for improvement.
QB: Tom Brady
After preseason concerns over his receiving corps caused his draft stock to tumble, Brady fulfilled the prophecy. He finished 11th in passing DVOA (he finished 1st in 2012 and 4th in 2011) and threw only 25 touchdowns. Granted, he played better as the season progressed, but it looks like his value depended on the health of Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Shane Vereen. Read that last part again!
Brandon LaFell was the only receiver added by the Patriots, so Brady will have to make do with mainly the same receivers from last season. That means the best chance Brady’s stats will improve is if one of the receivers breaks out or Gronkowski can stay on the field. I ranked Brady in my top 100 and think he can return that draft position, but one shouldn’t reach for him thinking he’s in the Manning/Brees/Rodgers tier.
RB: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen
Ridley comes across as one of the more efficient backs in the league from 2013, but he also only had 20+ carries in a game twice, and one of those games was a blowout. He probably wasn’t that good, but he was great in 2012 and LeGarrette Blount is no longer in town, so he should be in line for carries. Shane Vereen is a flex value if he can stay healthy and catch passes out of the backfield, but Brandon Bolden is lurking in the background. The team drafted James White out of Wisconsin, but scouting reports peg him as a change-of-pace back, so he shouldn’t be fantasy relevant this season.
WR: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins
After both Amendola and Thompkins were highly regarded prior to last season, Edelman was the only Patriots receiver worth owning in fantasy. As long as expectations are kept in check, Edelman is a fine WR2/Flex as long as he remains a target monster. While Amendola has never stayed healthy for a full season, he usually plays well before succumbing to injury. He’s interesting in DFS or leagues where it’s relatively easy to sell high. After anticipating multiple LaFell breakouts in Carolina, I’m off the bandwagon, although there is talent. In fantasy, he’s a WR4 at best. Finally, the Patriots have three second-year wideouts who failed to contribute in 2013. If you’re looking for a breakout, I prefer Dobson, but I have heard others praise Boyce and Thompkins as well.
TE: Rob Gronkowski
After last year’s Zach Sudfeld fiasco, I think most people have learned their lesson about trying to replace Rob Gronkowski. A big part of his success is his massive talent, and teams don’t have spare Gronks just lying around. When he’s healthy, he’s the best tight end in fantasy, but he’s missed 14 games over the past two seasons. Gronkowski will get drafted with the second tier of tight ends (Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron, Vernon Davis), but he offers much less safety.
After adding Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the Patriots pass defense is now above-average. However, the run defense, which ranked 27th in DVOA in 2013, was left unaddressed. In my D/ST rankings, I placed the Patriots 14th and inside the streaming class.