Lots of players to consider as you're preparing for your fantasy draft. Lots of teams too. Thirty-two of them as a matter of fact, and because I seem to love challenging myself to tough endeavors and procrastinating, I will try to analyze all of them before the season starts.
Rough math tells me that pre-season just started, there's 4 weeks of pre-season, so we're going to be cutting it close. But have no fear. Unlike the Seahawks, I won't fall flat in the red zone. (Football metaphors galore!)
A good rule of thumb when you're going to start a tough project is to give yourself a softball to start out with. The Patriots are that softball. They led the league in scoring with 32.4 points per game on the way to a 14-2 record and they pretty much did it all without Randy Moss or a well-known lead running back. The Patriots are as efficient as a Japanese auto-worker and half as flashy. Still, there's some very interesting fantasy options on offense, including some top tier players. Let's take a look after the jump...
Is this the year that people finally hear about Tom Brady? Seriously, nobody ever talks about this guy. I wonder if he has a girlfriend and if she is pretty.
Brady was redonkulous in 2007 when he threw 50 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. In 2010, he was merely redinkulous. 34 TD's against just 4 picks, a 111 QB rating, and 3900 yards. Brady doesn't have bad seasons unless he gets knocked out for the year after 11 passes. Otherwise, he's the safest bet in football next to Peyton Manning and I ranked him as the top QB in fantasy for that reason. He makes things happen even when he doesn't have a #1 WR and now he's got Chad Ochocinco, who I'll get to later. He'll throw more picks than he did last year, because he has to (right?), he'll toss 30 scores at least, and he'll top 4,000 yards.
Just a note on Brady's backup, a non-option in any league unless something happens to Brady. Hoyer is getting buzz as a potential trade candidate down the line as a guy who could start on some other teams. If anything happens to Brady, keep an eye on Hoyer for a potential Matt Cassel-like season.
If you name your son BenJarvus, do us all a favor and don't make him run around with a hyphenated last name. It's just confusing. And BJGE just doesn't roll off the tongue in any context.
BJ Green-E came out of nowhere in his third year to 1008 yards and 13 touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry. The Patriots are built around sharing the load and hooking up Brady, so it's hard to know what to expect from any "featured" back. The Pats drafted two running backs in the first 3 rounds this year, making any leash on BenJ G-Ellis even shorter.
Woodhead doesn't have a funny last name (teehee) but he did become a league favorite last year after making a name for himself on Hard Knocks. That wasn't good enough for the Jets and they let him slip away to the hated Patriots for nothing. He has some of the most amazing records in college football history, even if it was at Division II Chadron State, rushing for 2,756 yards in 2006. Nope, not a typo. You can read all about it in his Wikipedia if you don't believe me. He rushed for 547 yards and 5 TD's with the Patriots on 5.6 ypc and added another 379 yards receiving. Woodhead is a good late-round sleeper who could rack up sneaky yards and TD's if you play him on the right week.
The first running back the Pats selected this year was Cal back Shane Vereen. He comes from a long line of successful Cal running backs, backing up speedster Jahvid Best before getting the full-time gig. He rushed for 1,167 yards last year and was selected 56th overall. He's an interesting long-term name to keep an eye on, but a strict deep-sleeper for 2011.
In the next round the Pats took LSU RB Stevan Ridley. He rushed for 1,147 yards last year and 15 TD's. He got into camp ahead of Vereen and got the bulk of carries in the teams first preseason game while Vereen could only watch from the sideline. He had 16 carries for 64 yards and 2 scores. His opportunity to be a featured back will only come after a couple of injuries or disappointments come first.
(I'll be happy when I get to teams that don't have 4 interesting running backs! I didn't even mention Kevin Faulk or Sammy Morris!)
He hasn't topped 70 yards per game since 2007, but Carson Palmer wasn't exactly lighting it up during that time either. Expect better things from Chad now that he's in a real offense with an elite quarterback and a rejuvenated Chad now that he knows he's playing for a contender. He's played in just 2 career playoff games and he has always seemed like the type of player who does better when there's more on the line. (Though he didn't have 2 great playoff games.) I'd expect him to get back around 1,000 yards and perhaps 6-8 touchdowns. Non-Welker Patriots WR's combined for 11 scores.
He went from obscurity to a PPR dominator when he averaged 115 catches per season between 2007 and 2009. A knee injury at the end of the 2009 season that seemed career threatening at the time slowed him down last year but he still caught 86 balls in 15 games (11 starts) Though scrappy white guys always seem really old, Welker is only 30 and he should be Brady's favorite target again and could top 100 catches and be an amazing #2 wideout in PPR leagues.
As a Seahawks fan I had the displeasure of seeing us trade away a high draft pick to sign Branch and then watch him never live up to the hype of giving up that pick by having constant injuries and inconsistencies. And then the worst part, seeing him go back to New England and start to show that potential again. Lesson: I don't trust those damn Patriots.
He is 32 now and I'm not sure that a player with that much of an injury history could be much of a threat this year. But these are the Patriots and you never know. Most likely he'll have a couple of good games, but isn't much of an option in fantasy leagues except for really deep ones.
Tate's got all of the open field ball skills and speed you could hope for and the 2nd year player returned 2 kicks for scores. A must own in leagues that include kick return yardage, especially considering Tate still has big potential as a wideout. He caught 24 balls for 432 yards last year. He is an interesting sleeper candidate in non-kick return leagues.
A player potentially moving ahead of Tate and Branch is sleeper surprise Taylor Price. Belicheck had some really nice words for Price in this article that came out before he went out and caught 5 balls for 105 yards and a score in the first preseason game. He caught only 3 passes last season, but the Patriots invested a third-round pick in him last year so they believe there's some talent in there and while he's probably undraftable, he's definitely one to keep an eye on.
As a 2nd-round rookie going to the tight end happy Patriots, I shouldn't be surprised by the breakout season by Gronkowski, but I still am. He caught 42 passes for 546 yards and 10 TD's, making him a top scoring option for tight ends in fantasy last year. I'm always wary of repeat performances based on touchdowns, but as a rookie, there seems to be room to grow in the catches and yardage department. He's definitely a #1 tight end option for fantasy owners.
If I expected little out of a 2nd round TE rookie, what would I expect out of a 4th round TE rookie on the same team? He had 3 more catches and 17 more yards than Gronkowski, it was just the 4 touchdowns that made all the scoring difference. What's to say that Hernandez won't be the 10 TD guy this year? He might be the better option a few rounds later. Might.
The Patriots have some other interesting tight ends because they are the Patriots, but none I would recommend you draft.
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