The Most Underrated Team in Fantasy Is …
Have we not learned anything from watching the San Antonio Spurs this season? Dynastic teams don’t just go away. The Patriots win a ton of games, and while they aren’t as fantasy-friendly as they used to be, there is value to be had at their skill positions.
Consider that no team in the NFL has scored more points over the last five regular seasons than the Patriots … and fantasy football is all about scoring points, right? New England has tallied 2,459 points over the last five seasons, ranking among the Top 3 scoring offenses in the league in back-to-back-to-back-to-back seasons.
Some other notable point totals since 2009: New Orleans Saints (2,316), Green Bay Packers (2,259), Denver Broncos (2,066), Indianapolis Colts (on pace for 1,999 points if you exclude the “lost” season of 2011) and Philadelphia Eagles (1,986). How about the fact that over those five years, the Pats have averaged 276.5 passing yards and 120.8 yards? Let me quantify that for you: the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, and Cincinnati Bengals all boasted Top 5 scoring offenses in 2013 (if you subtract the Patriots) and they all failed to reach either one of those yardage plateaus. Not one. And New England has averaged those numbers for half a decade!
If that doesn’t do it for you, how about the fact that some guy named Adrian Peterson, arguably the best back of this generation, plays for Minnesota, yet the Vikings have not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven … but eight fewer rushing touchdowns than the Pats over the last five seasons. Still not sold? Tommy Terrific’s career touchdown to interception ratio is 17 percent better than Tony Romo’s best season.
Quarterback: Tom Brady
ESPN: 111th overall, 12th quarterback
Yahoo: 65th overall, 9th quarterback
PFF’s Sam Monson detailed why Brady is no longer a Top 5 Quarterback, but we’ve learned over the years that overall skill set and fantasy value are not always directly correlated (Andy Dalton, anyone?). Obviously Brady has the resume and equity earned to deserve our faith, but let’s ignore the 50-touchdown season and the prior MVP awards for the sake of argument. The Patriots “play-makers” tried as hard as they could last season to sap the fantasy value from the future hall-of-famer …
Stevan Ridley battled injuries, missing two games and carrying the rock 12 or fewer times eight other times.
Shane Vereen, a premier pass-catching back, missed half of the season.
Julian Edelman had the surest hands of this receiving corps … he ranked 65th among players with at least 45 targets in drop rate.
Danny Amendola, like Ridley, was constantly hurt, making only 12 appearances and catching four or fewer passes in two-thirds of those games.
Aaron Dobson had a 19.57 drop rate, the third highest of receivers with at least 60 targets. He wasn’t the only Pat with slippery hands, as Amendola (12.90 drop rate) and Kenbrell Thompkins (11.11) ranked 13th and 18th in the league respectively.
Rob Gronkowski played in just seven games and that includes the game in which he blew out his ACL.
All of those things happened in 2013, and yet Brady (who had his worst QB rating in a decade) was one fantasy point per week away from ranking among the Top 10 scoring quarterbacks (4,343 passing yards with 25 passing touchdowns and 11 picks).
Running Back: Stevan Ridley
ESPN: 66th overall, 28th running back
Yahoo: 67th overall, 26th running back
He doesn’t have any one skill that jumps out at you, but at 25 years of age, he has shown us more than enough to require optimism. First of all, he has only touched the ball 632 times in his career, a workload that would indicate that his body should be in as good a shape as any back his age. In his 51 career games, Ridley has recorded a “red” grade on PFF’s grading scale just six times, and given the Patriots’ willingness to run the rock, that’s an impressive feat.
Speaking of running the ball, Tom Brady gets the commercials and supermodels, but the Pats offense is often built on devotion to the ground game. Even with Brady’s ability to dominate and New England’s tendency to use pass-catching backs on third down, the leading rusher has averaged 985 total yards and 10.4 touchdowns over the last five seasons. If you narrow the study to running backs that have recorded at least 220 touches (we are projecting Ridley to get his hands on the ball 242 times this season), you’re looking at average production of 1,204 yards and 12.5 touchdowns. Those numbers may not sound overwhelming in this age of 2,000-plus yard tailbacks, but if you’re drafting in the sixth/seventh round the statistical production of a 2013 second rounder (Frank Gore), those numbers are quite appealing.
Come back tomorrow for the pass-catchers and why they are also vastly underrated heading into the 2014 season.