Underrated Patriot Pass-Catchers
Continuing an earlier post where I detailed Tom Brady and Stevan Ridley, it is now time to discuss the Patriot pass-catchers, and why they are vastly underrated early in the 2014 season.
Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman
ESPN: 61st overall, 24th wide receiver
Yahoo: 57th overall, 24th wide receiver
Edelman’s 2013 numbers were outstanding (105 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 touchdowns), but moving forward, I am most encouraged by the fashion in which he ended last season. Following New England’s disappointing Week 11 loss to Carolina, Edelman was on the field much more often (94.1 percent of snaps, up from 80.8 percent over the first nine weeks) and responded with elite fantasy production (69 catches for 729 yards and five touchdowns in eight games). That late season surge has made Edelman the favorite to assume the top receiver role in New England, a roster spot that has been very advantageous over the years for fantasy owners. Over the last five seasons, a sample size that I have chosen for most of this article as it represents the return of Brady off of his 2008 ACL tear, the average WR1 under Brady’s tutelage has caught 110.8 passes for 1,235 yards and 6.4 touchdowns. In 2013, that production would have outpaced a career year from DeSean Jackson in PPR formats.
Wide Receiver: Danny Amendola
ESPN: 97th overall, 42nd wide receiver
Yahoo: 113th overall, 46th wide receiver
The risk is obvious here: health. To say it is a roll of the dice simply does not do drafting Amendola justice, but if you believe he can stay healthy (maybe you’re a medical professional or a psychic), there are signs of growth that are worth buying into. He has shown the ability to be more than a dink-and-dunk possession receiver by increasing his yards per catch with every passing year. He has also managed to improve his scoring ability, as he has found paydirt five times on his last 117 receptions (four scores on his first 133 catches). I’m not suggesting you use a high pick on such a risky option, but I’m not betting against Tom Brady, and I trust the skill set of Amendola enough to project a strong per-game season from the former Ram.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski
ESPN: 35th overall, 3rd tight end
Yahoo: 58th overall, 5th tight end
As was the case with Amendola, health and not talent in the major concern here. Yes, Gronk has missed 14 games over the last two seasons and yes, his 6’6”, 265 pound frame has endured more surgeries than Vegas vacations with Johnny Football, but there is no denying the talent. His per 16 game averages are cartoonish (72.3 catches for 1,041.6 yards and 13.4 touchdowns) and the majority of those numbers were produced with Wes Welker occupying the slot and Aaron Hernandez also being targeted frequently. He was setting records in a loaded offense, what is to say that he can’t top those numbers (assuming health) now that he is the unquestioned best pass-catcher in New England. Drafting him early is obviously a leap of faith, but what’s the worst case here? If you take a flier on Gronk and it fails, you join the majority of your league with a mediocre tight end (players like Martellus Bennett, Charles Clay, Delanie Walker, and Coby Fleener) and have the ability to compete at the position. Should he stay healthy, you’re talking about a major advantage over the rest of the league, one that could land you a top seed in the playoffs. Based on site rankings, you’d have to select Gronkowski instead of a Toby Gerhart/Michael Floyd at Yahoo! or a Ben Tate/DeSean Jackson at ESPN. Worth the risk? Trust your own ability to draft RB/WR later in the draft and take this flier, as the potential reward far surpasses the risk.
Many of the Patriots are being dropped down fantasy draft boards as analysts fear the end is near of this dynastic run. They may not be as dominant as they once were, but their value in terms of fantasy has never been greater.