The New England Patriots have always been a frustrating team for fantasy owners. Outside of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and maybe Julian Edelman (especially in PPR leagues), the Patriots don’t offer any reliable fantasy players simply because the offense is too crowded. They have too many players at the skill positions and love to spread the ball amongst them. While this is great for real football, it’s a nightmare scenario for fantasy.
This is especially true with the running backs.
The Patriots operate by the dreaded “running back by committee”, which means you can never be sure of which running back will get the workload from week to week. One week it’s Dion Lewis being featured in the passing attack and the next week it’s LeGarrette Blount grinding out yards on the ground. The backfield became even more crowded Tuesday when the Patriots signed former Cincinnati Bengals Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead came on everyone’s fantasy radar in Week 17 last year when he racked up 119 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries against the Baltimore Ravens. He finished the season with 344 yards on 74 carries and those two touchdowns. Not bad for a third-string running back that was called into duty once Giovani Bernard when down with a torn ACL.
On the right team, Burkhead could easily be a fantasy sleeper and worth a late round pick. He displayed the ability to run between the tackles and also good hands out of the backfield. However, on the Patriots, there’s no guessing what his role could be. He could just play special teams for them. He could suddenly become the next Danny Woodhead. He could contribute absolutely nothing until Week 14 and then completely disappear, never to be seen again.
This move also doesn’t help the fantasy values of Lewis or James White. All three running backs have similar skill sets and would most likely play similar roles in the Patriots offense. And this is still not considering Blount (if the Patriots choose to re-sign him) or any other running back the team might bring in.
The signing of Burkhead is just our annual reminder that—no matter how much we wish it to be true—the Patriots’ backfield cannot be trusted.