I just want all of us to take a deep breath and fully realize what just transpired. Whether you’re a Patriots fan, an Antonio Brown fantasy owner, a disgruntled Raiders fan, or a pissed off NFL fan because somehow the Patriots now have Antonio Brown on their roster, you have to admit Saturday was one of the most absurd days the NFL has ever seen.
The morning involved Brown demanding the Raiders release him after they voided his guaranteed money (all done on Instagram because, of course). Then news dropped in the afternoon while I was getting sunburnt at the Michigan vs Army game that the Raiders had indeed cut him. Then the whole football world wondered with bated breath where Brown would end up, with the most common answer being a snarky “with the Patriots obviously”. Well snarky answer, you nailed it.
And so, in the middle of the newest episode of the Great British Baking Show, my phone blew up telling me Antonio Brown indeed became a New England Patriot.
The Patriots receiving core easily becomes now one of, if not the, best unit in the NFL and possibly the best Tom Brady has ever had, with Brown, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Demaryius Thomas. And that’s not including Phillip Dorsett and breakout undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers plus James White who’s basically a receiver in the Patriots offense. With so many talented pass catchers, it’s fair to wonder what exactly this offense will look like in 2019. And for fantasy purposes, it’s fair to want to figure out just how the Brown signing might impact guys like Edelman and Gordon, both of whom I was anticipating having big years.
Before we get into projected individual receiver stat lines, let’s fist figure out how many passes there likely will be in the Patriots offense this year. Last year Brady had 570 passing attempts, in 2017 he had 581 and in 2016 he would have had 576 across 16 games (he was suspended first four games because of “Deflategate”). Given the weapons on this roster, I’ll go on the higher end of his recent years and say Brady likely has 580 pass attempts in 2019. I know they’ve claimed that they want to emphasis the run, but come on, you don’t go giving Brown $15 million if you want a run first offense.
Let’s start predicting!
I’m starting with Edelman because he’s the easiest guy to project in this offense because he’s been in Foxborough the longest. Since becoming a full time starter in 2013, Edelman has averaged 13 games a season and 128 targets, 86 catches, 935 yards and 5.2 touchdowns. I feel confident in saying Edelman is a lock for 130 targets this year. That may seem low for a man who’s regularly on a 150 target pace, but I also think it’s a lock for Edelman to miss at least two games this season; he’s a 32-year-old receiver who plays with no regard for his body. He’ll miss a couple of games middle of the season because he tried diving 10 yards from the end zone while three defenders hurl themselves at him. Mark my words.
Projected 2019 stats: 130 targets, 85 catches, 969 yards, 5 touchdowns
Brown hasn’t seen less than 150 targets since 2012. Over that time he’s averaged 171 targets. That’s insane. I feel like, in all this AB craziness, we’ve kind of forgotten not only just how good Brown is, but how instrumental he was in the Steelers offense. I mean, who am I kidding, he was the Steelers offense. You don’t average 170+ targets a season FOR SIX SEASON and not be the vital part of that team’s success. But anyways, I digress. I had a hard time thinking up a target number for Brown that I felt good about. He certainly isn’t going to get 170 and even 150 feels wrong. I’m not sold that—assuming he manages to play all 16 games with the Patriots and doesn’t get shipped off in the next month or so—Brown is going to plug into this offense and it’ll be smooth sailing. I think it’ll take some time for him and Brady to build a connection and for him to get on the same page with a quarterback who’s notorious for being a stickler about what page you’re reading. A similar 130 targets going Brown’s way makes sense to me.
Projected 2019 stats: 130 targets, 80 catches, 1,080 yards, 8 touchdowns
So initially I thought the Brown signing was going to be a big hit on Gordon’s 2019 production and fantasy value. While it certainly puts a bit of a ceiling on it, it also opens him up to fully becoming the truly dominate deep threat we’ve seen from him in the past. As the number three receiver in this offense, Gordon will now face basically the defense’s third cornerback will likely no safety help because they’ll be too preoccupied with Brown. Moral of the story: Gordon about to FEAST! Don’t expect a big target load heading his way, but he more than make every target count. After all, he was averaging 18 yards per catch in his 10 games with the Patriots last year and I dare think that might rise in this offense this year.
Projected 2019 stats: 80 targets, 48 catches, 912 yards, 7 touchdowns
From Brady’s total 580 pass attempts, this leaves 240 targets to get spread around the rest of the offense. Depending on his health, I’d lock Thomas in for 40 of those, Dorsett maybe another 25 to 30, maybe 50 or so for Benjamin Watson and the tight ends? The biggest loser in the Brown signing is James White, who certainly is not going to follow up his 123 target season last year with a high workload in 2019. He still might be in line for 60 or so targets, but fantasy wise, that doesn’t bring him anywhere near what he was last year (he had 72 targets in 2017 and finished the RB48 that year just as a point of reference). I think that is far more what you can expect from White now with Brown in the mix.
Finally, Mr. Thomas Brady
The biggest winner out of all this of course Brady. If you drafted Brady in any of your fantasy leagues, you are a happy camper right now. He goes from a mid to high-end QB2 to now easily a QB1 and with the distinct possibility of finishing inside the top 5 at the position. I’m kicking myself for at the very least not buying him in one of my leagues.
But then again, I didn’t know Antonio Brown would wind up joining the Patriots 24 hours before kickoff.