Patriots Sign Brandon LaFell
In Brandon LaFell’s case, it’s unlikely to work out that way.
In Carolina, LaFell was always Cam Newton’s No. 2 or No. 3 option when the team called pass. In 2013, LaFell was the target on a career-high 20 percent of Newton’s aimed throws. That’s far off the league lead, but still a pretty generous portion of any team’s looks. The 85 targets were enough to help LaFell to a Top 50 finish among wide receivers in fantasy points.
Opportunity hasn’t been an issue for LaFell thus far in his career. Drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft, LaFell has been on the field for at least 51 percent of the Panthers’ snaps each of his four pro seasons. He’s racked up 286 targets in 61 career games.
The problem is execution. Since 2008, only 17 wide receivers who have run at least 1,000 pass routes have a worse fantasy points per route mark than LaFell’s 0.18. He’s put up at least 36 receptions, 613 yards, and three scores each of the last seasons. Of course, he’s never exceeded 49 receptions, 677 yards, and five touchdowns.
On Saturday, the 27-year-old LaFell signed a three-year, $11 million deal with the Patriots.
In New England, 6’2/210 LaFell adds depth to a crowded, but injury-plagued and/or inexperienced wide receiver unit. A clear-cut starter in Carolina, LaFell will spend a lot of time on the bench in New England if everything goes according to plan. Consider that LaFell will need to compete for targets with Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins (likely in that order). With Kenny Britt visiting on Sunday and the draft still yet to come, the team may not be done adding players to the mix.
Taking a deeper look at LaFell’s competition, we can safely assume Edelman, Gronkowski, and Vereen are all but guaranteed a generous portion of the targets as long as they’re healthy. Gronkowski, of course, missed a large chunk of the last two seasons due to multiple injuries. Vereen broke his wrist and missed eight games last season. Entering their second season in the pros, Dobson, Boyce, and Thompkins were impressive (at times), but inconsistent as rookies. Dobson – a second round pick – has the highest probability of starting as soon as Week 1, but he may not be ready due to a stress fracture in his left foot. Boyce figures to focus primarily on special teams, leaving Thompkins on the roster bubble. Amendola has missed 24 games over the last three seasons, including four with the Patriots last season. He signed a five-year deal last offseason and most of his 2014 salary is guaranteed, but it’s a possibility he’s on the roster bubble.
I mention all of the players involved in the Patriots’ passing game because it should make it clear that LaFell is far down the list in terms of ability. Ideally, New England’s base passing package will include Vereen, Gronkowski, Edelman, Dobson, and Amendola. That puts LaFell in a situational role, which means fantasy football irrelevance.
Considering all the question marks surrounding New England’s skill position players, there’s a chance LaFell plays quite a bit for New England this season. But when you consider his underwhelming performance in Carolina, how deep the wide receiver position is in fantasy, and the fact that his playing time is likely to be very inconsistent, he’s worth nothing more than a late-round flier.
Projection: 23 receptions, 306 yards, 2 touchdowns
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