Patriots regain health and fantasy firepower
The further we get from the 2015 season, the foggier its week-to-week minutiae become. Analyzing seasons through a prism of year-end data often glosses over instructive details. In the case of the 2015 Patriots, we mainly remember a typically strong offense that scored the third-most points and lost fantasy viability due to injuries. While that’s true, it does a disservice to just how potent they initially were, how debilitating their injuries became, and how early they began dragging down the offense.
After Week 5 in Dallas, when the Patriots lost left tackle Nate Solder for the season, Tom Brady was averaging the most fantasy points per game of any quarterback (26.5) and Rob Gronkowski was doing the same among tight ends (20.5). Both Dion Lewis (20.5) and Julian Edelman (23.5) ranked fourth at their respective positions in PPR points per game. New England’s 37.3-point average was 0.7 shy of the league-leading Cardinals, and their no-huddle rate was 24.2 percent (fifth-highest).
From Week 6 on, the Patriots averaged 26.3 points per game and went to the hurry-up on only 7.5 percent of snaps. Things got worse Week 9 when they lost Lewis for the season, and their book-end tackle, Sebastian Vollmer, for all or parts of three games. After that, their points-per-game dropped to 23.6 and they scrapped the no-huddle (3.7 percent). With Edelman going down for the rest of the regular season the following week, and Gronkowski hurting his knee two games later, the New England offense cratered (for them, anyway).
Following Brady’s 26.5 point-per-game average through five weeks, he dropped to 25.5 from Week 6 through when they lost Lewis and Vollmer in Week 9 (third-highest). From Week 10 (Edelman) through Gronkowski’s injury in Week 12, Brady averaged 19.7 points (11th). Over the last five games he scored 16.8 points per game (15th). While it’s not news the New England offense was shredded by injuries, their incremental decline as they absorbed each blow is noteworthy. As is how they’re being priced so far this offseason.
Calling Brady undervalued is tricky, especially when using MFL10 average draft position. It’s a format that lends itself to compiling two or three mid-range passers to take advantage of the best-ball feature. Brady is getting drafted as the fifth quarterback (mid-eighth round), just ahead of Ben Roethlisberger and roughly three rounds after the first passer off the board, Cam Newton (early-fifth round). While a case can be made for Brady, with a fully-functional offense behind him, as a top-three fantasy quarterback, it’s tough to argue too hard considering a potential four-game suspension is still mind-numbingly possible. His weapons, however, are another story.
Lewis scored the sixth-most PPR points of any running back through eight weeks, despite playing six games. On a per-game basis, he ranked fourth (18.7 points) – behind only Devonta Freeman, Jamaal Charles, and Arian Foster. In MFL10s, he is currently the 18th running back selected (mid/late-fourth round), according to the RotoViz Best Ball App. He comes with injury concerns, but reports have so far been positive — and subsequent bits of encouraging news will likely push his ADP higher.
Lingering injury concerns for Edelman, who made it back for both playoff games and averaged 16.5 PPR points while playing 88 and 96 percent of snaps, are unwarranted. Yet he is being drafted as the 19th wideout, in the late-third round of MFL10s. He was the sixth-highest-scoring fantasy wideout through the nine regular season weeks in which he was healthy, after finishing 2013 and 2014 as the 17th- and 16th-best PPR receiver on a per-game basis, respectively. His cost isn’t egregiously cheap, but Edelman’s upside is not baked into his current price.
LeGarrette Blount doesn’t have an ADP, or even a roster spot. Yet there’s a good chance he winds up back in New England and will again be a valuable asset – especially in best-ball leagues, where we mercifully don’t need to call a “Blount Game.” The Patriots seemingly always have a role for a mauling running back, and it involves a lot of scoring. Since 2003, they have 34 more rushing touchdowns from inside the six yard line than any other team (hat-tip to the encyclopedic Rich Hribar). Last year Blount had three fantasy RB1 weeks, one RB2, and two RB3s among his 12 games. Pick your first defense a round earlier and give Blount a 20th-round MFL10 dart-throw.
While visions of Aaron Hernandez’s 2011 season (TE3) are more hallucination than prophecy, Martellus Bennett’s current MFL10 cost (TE17) is still attractive. After his ADP rose slightly following the March 16th trade, Bennett is being picked nearly a round later (early/mid-11th) than where he peaked (mid/late-10th). Considering what we know now, drafting Jimmy Graham — who might not suit up until mid-season — before Bennett is fantasy malpractice. The Patriots want to major in versatile two-tight-end sets (Hernandez’s snap percentages his last two seasons were 86 and 77 percent), and even if they didn’t, a shallow wideout depth chart essentially necessitates it.
Bennett is now a key to New England’s offense, which finally has a viable combo tight end to pair with Gronkowski — allowing them to run with power or spread and pick apart heavy defensive personnel, without allowing opponents to substitute freely due to a quick tempo. And just as the Patriots’ no-huddle rate was the canary in the coal mine in 2015, as they descended from the most fruitful fantasy offense in the NFL to just a very good one, the New England hurry-up will again help to elevate their offensive pieces above their current draft costs.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman