2016 fantasy football depth charts: New England Patriots
With the cloud of Deflategate still lingering, the Patriots enter 2016 likely to be without their best player for the first four games of the season. Tom Brady is trying to get his suspension overturned, but that looks unlikely, with the U.S. Supreme Court now his last option.
The Patriots are coming off an impressive statistical season, where they ranked fifth in passing yards per game, third in points per game and tied for first in touchdown passes. With Jimmy Garoppolo under center for the first month of the season, the offense is unlikely to repeat this level of productivity. However, Brady’s suspension shouldn’t scare anyone away from drafting a piece or two of this offense in fantasy leagues.
That includes Brady, who should still be considered a mid-range QB1 even with the suspension. Brady finished last season as fantasy’s No. 3 quarterback behind only Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. He’s entering his age-38 season, but Brady showed no signs of slowing down last year. His off-field workout regimen and strict diet have Brady in great physical condition. Brady plus a replacement level quarterback isn’t a bad route to take if you can get him as the seventh or eighth quarterback off the board.
New England Patriots projected 2016 offense with 2015 grades:
Rob Gronkowski remains solidified atop the tight end rankings following his second straight season as fantasy’s top option at the position. He posted his third 1,000-yard season and fifth year with double-digit touchdowns. Gronkowski will continue to roll regardless of who is throwing him the ball, and he gets the added benefit of the Patriots being relatively thin at wide receiver.
New England also signed free agent TE Martellus Bennett in the offseason, leading to widespread speculation that the Patriots would run more two-tight-end sets in 2016. That’s unlikely given the fact that only the Titans ran 12 personnel more frequently than New England did last year. That means Bennett should be on the field a lot, and is reportedly already in Brady’s inner circle. He has impressed through offseason practices and is expected to be a “big factor” in the offense. That being said, there are only so many balls to go around. Our projections have Bennett penciled in for 85 targets, which isn’t likely to net him better than TE2 production.
The Patriots have been without their top two wide receivers throughout the offseason, with both Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola sidelined due to injury. Edelman underwent a second surgery on the broken foot that kept him out for seven games last season. He’s expected to be ready for camp, but Edelman carries risk as a WR2 option. Amendola’s outlook is even more murky after having knee and ankle surgeries in the offseason. He’s unlikely to suit up for the preseason.
Amendola’s injuries could potentially open the door for free agent signee – and former Hard Knocks star – Chris Hogan, who shined in offseason practices. Hogan hasn’t done much in his pro career, but we’ve seen other lackluster wide receivers step into a Patriots uniform and onto the fantasy radar. Wes Welker is the prime example, but even Brandon LaFell posted WR2 numbers in his first year with the team. The secret isn’t quite out on Hogan yet – he’s currently the No. 64 wide receiver in ADP – but a strong preseason could certainly grab the attention of the drafting public.
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Beyond Hogan, the Patriots have incumbent Keshawn Martin, veteran journeyman Nate Washington, and rookie Malcolm Mitchell. Martin is a pedestrian talent and Washington reportedly struggled in the offseason. However, Mitchell was impressive during offseason practices, especially when it came to grasping the Patriots’ complex playbook. Mitchell enters the league via Georgia, where uneven quarterback play held him back. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine and flashed good run-after-catch ability with 13 forced missed tackles last season. Mitchell is a name to know in dynasty leagues, but he isn’t likely to make much of an impact this season.
At running back, Dion Lewis tops the depth chart following a breakout season that was cut short by a torn ACL that he sustained in Week 9. Lewis was back in practice at OTAs and was able to make cuts and run without a brace. Entering last year, the Patriots had a bit of a logjam at running back, but Lewis took the lead job and ran with it. He proved to be one of the most elusive backs in the league, forcing 43 missed tackles on just 85 touches. Effective as both as runner and a receiver, Lewis is worth RB2 consideration.
LeGarrette Blount was re-signed to help carry some of the early-down load, but he missed all of spring practices with the hip injury that ended his 2015 season. Along with Blount, Brandon Bolden and James White are penciled in on the 53-man roster, leaving veteran Donald Brown on the outside looking in. Brown will need a strong preseason and a little help if he’s going to make the team.
On the defensive side of the ball, IDP mainstay Rob Ninkovich remains on the fantasy radar with no threat of being designated as a linebacker. With Chandler Jones traded to the Cardinals in the offseason, Jabaal Sheard slides into the starting role and is a prime breakout candidate. He posted eight sacks in a rotational role last year. Jamie Collins remains in the LB1 conversation, offering solid sack upside to go along with a reasonably high tackle floor. Dont’a Hightower has flashed massive upside in the past, but injuries and inconsistency have made him an unreliable option. Hightower has LB2 potential, but he’s better viewed as a risk-reward LB3. Patrick Chung is also on the IDP radar at defensive back following a solid season where he finished 32nd in fantasy scoring. Consider him a DB3 with weekly upside.