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New England Patriots fantasy football team preview

Who to target and avoid in fantasy football from the New England Patriots.   

New England Patriots Practice Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Cam Newton completely changes to the New England Patriots offense. Plenty question what Newton is capable of, coming off of shoulder and foot surgeries over the last couple of years but this is more a case of overthinking it than anything else. Cam Newton is a decorated quarterback — a league MVP title, an All-Pro nod, multiple trips to the Pro Bowl — and he was having perhaps the best season of his career in 2018, the last time he was truly healthy. Trying to play with a Lisfranc injury for two games in 2019 aside, Newton’s had more than a year to get his 31-year old body right. The Patriots wouldn’t have signed him if they didn’t think he had a chance to return to league-dominant form. And for those wondering if Bill Belichick will actually use him as Newton deserves to be used, let’s be clear; Cam Newton is on a one-year “prove it” deal. The Patriots are going to give him every chance to prove it — to prove that the team should sign him to a long term deal, something that should be of little issue as the Patriots have mountains of available cash over the next four years.

Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule:

  • 9th toughest overall schedule
  • Mid-tier in terms of the opponent’s overall defensive efficiency
  • Mid-tier blend of pass defense
  • Mid-tier in terms of the opponent’s pass defense efficiency
  • 11th softest blend of run defenses
  • 11th softest in terms of the opponent’s run defense efficiency
  • 12th softest in terms of the opponent’s overall offensive efficiency
  • Mid-tier in terms of the opponent’s offensive passing efficiency
  • 8th softest in terms of the opponent’s offensive rushing efficiency

Quarterback

It might be tough for the Patriots to win games this year, according to Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule metrics (listed above). But for fantasy purposes, we’re really looking at quite a good schedule for Cam Newton. A number of teams offer either a weak defense or a good offense. The latter of which, even when paired with a strong defense, will still push the game pace, giving Cam and his pass catchers more opportunities to go to work. Cam could rumble for multiple touchdowns scores in Weeks 1-3 with no problem. The Dolphins’ defensive front won’t slow him (Week 1), the Seattle D-Line may be the worst in the league (Week 2), and the Raiders defense struggles in all phases of the game (Week 3). A shootout in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs helps Newton keep serious QB1 numbers firmly in his range of outcomes for the first month of the season. If he’s firing on all cylinders through those first four games, you’ve got a year-long QB1 on your hands. His 12th Round ADP is exactly the kind of ADP-obliterating opportunity that Lamar Jackson-drafters had last year.

It’s possible for Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer to see some relief duty but they aren’t rosterable right now.

Running Back

The most easily translatable aspect of running back usage from Cam’s Carolina team to New England is that the quarterback loved throwing to Christian McCaffrey. While there’s certainly no running back comparable to CMC on a one-to-one level, James White is one of the NFL’s most talented pass catching backs and a severely underrated rusher. With Sony Michel healing from another surgery (but possibly available) and Damien Harris, who had a great camp, missing at least three weeks on Injured Reserve (broken pinky finger), the runway is clear for an RB2 season out of James White in .5PPR and PPR leagues. His late 7th Round ADP is an outstanding value.

The sneaky add of the bunch is Rex Burkhead. Burkhead produced one 500+ yard, eight touchdown season in 2017 in which he missed a decent amount of time with injuries. Burkhead was a true dual threat running back, frequently taking snaps lined up as a slot receiver. For those skeptical of Michel’s availability (like this writer), Burkhead is absolutely worth a waiver wire add right now as he’s very much in play to be the Patriots No. 2 back this week who should see a decent amount of clock-killing work.

J.J. Taylor has been kept around by the Patriots for some time but is unlikely to trouble Rex Burkhead much.

Wide Receiver

The projected three-receiver sets include de facto No. 1, slot receiver Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Damiere Byrd.

Even at age-34, Edelman is still the top dog in the passing game. He’s perennially banged up but has reportedly established a “strong connection” with Newton through training camp. Pre-Newton’s signing, Edelman was just a Stidham-connected flex but with Newton, he returns to solid WR2 form with PPR upside in the right matchup. His mid-7th round ADP is a fine place to take him.

N’Keal Harry has seemingly been given the No. 2 WR job despite a ho-hum training camp. Perhaps the most apt comp for Harry is that of Newton’s formerly bloated receiver, Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin flamed out of the NFL after his preposterous weight issues. Although Harry is nowhere near Benjamin’s size, his speed has been a severe liability throughout training camp. The best we can likely hope for is a possession receiver role out of Harry. He does not have a high ceiling though and can be left off of rosters for now.

Byrd may be the most interesting of the bunch, having been on Cam’s Panthers roster from 2016-2018. Byrd had close to no box score production during that time but it’s fair to call attention to the fact that the duo has some type of established rapport — a valuable commodity in the COVID-stunted training camp/preseason. Byrd has almost no competition for downfield targets and could be a serious flex option for the first month of the season with the aforementioned strength of schedule in the Quarterback section of this piece. Monitor Byrd’s availability on your waiver wire.

Gunner Olszewski has reportedly had a great camp. Although he’s not likely to crack the 3-wide group initially. If Harry struggles, that could change.

Matthew Slater is one of the best special teamers of the last decade. He will not have a prominent role on the offense.

Tight End

After Matt LaCosse did not pay the cost to be the boss, opting out of the 2020 NFL season for COVID reasons, the Pats’ No. 1 pass catching tight end role was vacant.

Rookie tight ends Dalton Keane and Devin Asiasi both made waves in training camp this offseason, although each one got a little nicked up. Asiasi’s blocking was complimented which may have given him the edge for playing time over Keane, who performed as well as Asiasi as a pass catcher. The fact that Keane is also still nursing a knee injury gives Asiasi the inside track to be the team’s Week 1 pass catching tight end but both of them are worth a final roster spot to see which one really steals the job. New England’s tight ends are often fruitful and Cam Newton loved peppering Greg Olsen with targets in Carolina.

Ryan Izzo has primary blocking duties sewn up but is not likely to be a fantasy factor.

Kicker

Whichever kicker ends up with the starting gig, they will be a solid fantasy option as a member of a great, high-scoring offense.

Defense/Special Teams

The Patriots lost a few defensive players via COVID opt outs but it’s still a top notch unit that will oftentimes get to beat up on lesser offenses, like in Week 1 against Miami. They’re a sold fantasy defense.