In what I consider the worst kept secret in NFL free agency, Brandon Lloyd finally signed with the New England Patriots.
Lloyd has posted two strong campaigns, going 77/1448/11 in 2010 (league leader in yardage that year), and 70/966/5 in 2011. He was with Denver for 1.5 seasons, and with the Rams for the latter portion of the 2011 season. However, one of the main constants in his big seasons has been the presence of Josh McDaniels, one of the more creative offensive minds in the NFL.
McDaniels is back with the Patriots as the offensive coordinator (in theory) after Bill O’Brien’s departure, and if history tells us anything, it’s that McDaniels’ offenses have been more creative than O’Brien’s.
Lloyd’s contract is a reported 3 years for $12 million, which is an absolute steal. Consider that Robert Meachem’s contract was 4 years for $26 million, so at the outset, it looks like the Patriots got amazing value.
Over the last two seasons, Lloyd has racked up 291 targets, caught about 50% of them with 16.4 yards per catch and 2.3 YAC per reception. No receiver has caught more balls thrown 20+ yards in the air than Lloyd (30 of said catches).
Lloyd projects as an outside receiver, and on paper, complements the other Patriots weapons perfectly. Wes Welker works short routes, Aaron Hernandez varies but generally runs short to intermediate routes, and Gronkowski runs routes such as seams/hitches that a big tight end needs to run.
Lloyd isn’t a deep threat like Randy Moss, but will get those intermediate to deeper ‘chunk’ plays 15 or so yards down the field, which is what the Patriots need. Lloyd will also be single-covered on most of his routes, assuming teams need to account for so many weapons on the field. As for comparisons to the Patriots wide receiver corps, one can immediately tell Lloyd will help the intermediate/deep game if his numbers from 2011 hold.
As for deep routes (20+ yards downfield), Patriots receivers had just 9 receptions for 348 yards last season. Lloyd had 13 receptions for 363 yards alone. Last year, he averaged one drop every 16 targets, which was about league average. He did average a target per every 5.29 snaps, which we can expect to go down. Lloyd has also had 30 redzone targets thrown his way over the last 2 years, and caught 9 of those for TDs. For comparison’s sake, in the same span, Greg Jennings (an arbitrary top-caliber WR) had 33 redzone targets for 11 TDs, so Lloyd’s percentages compare favorably.
Again, on paper, Lloyd is a perfect match for what the Patriots wanted, and taking less money than he was probably worth is a statement to his new teammates that he’s here to win. There’s no way he matches his 2010 numbers, and the pace he was on as the #1 guy in the passing attack in St. Louis isn’t happening either. That’s not because his skillset has diminished or anything, but rather, it’s simply competition for targets.
Assuming Welker doesn’t hold out, the Patriots top 4 receiving threats are Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd. Think about that for a minute. There’s only one football to go around for all those guys, and that’s not counting packages with guys like Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, Deion Branch (if he’s back), Shane Vereen, etc. This signing also obviously boosts Tom Brady’s value, but you were already taking him as a top-3 QB anyway, right?
Branch had a 51/702/5 line last year, and if Lloyd does in fact outright replace Branch’s snaps, a 60/900/6 type campaign isn’t unreasonable at all. Whether that’s a WR2 or not in your league obviously depends on settings, but he’s likely to have a solid year nonetheless. Just don’t be surprised if he’s more of an asset to the Patriots than your fantasy squad if he’s being drafted with top tier WRs.