2015 Fantasy Football Team Preview: New England Patriots
The reigning Super Bowl Champions come into the season with a number of question marks and none bigger than the pending federal court appeal of Tom Brady’s four-game suspension. After Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the four-game suspension on July 28th, the NFLPA and Brady filed an appeal in federal court which could be handed down before the season but realistically will probably stretch into the season. It goes without saying that the fantasy outlook for the Patriots is heavily dependent on the expediency of the federal court decision on the Brady suspension.
On the field, outside of the loss of running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, Brady returns the same weapons at wide receiver. The Patriots offense once again cracked the top five in points scored in 2014. The Patriots have been in the top five in points scored in four of the last five years.
After a slow start to his 2014 campaign, Brady took the league by storm in the second half of the season and once again topped the 30 TD mark. A big part of his success in the latter half of the 2014 season could be contributed to his offensive line as he was sacked just 21 times last year. He finished the year with a total average passer rating of 97.4 and ranked as the ninth fantasy quarterback in standard leagues. Projecting Brady’s average draft position is impossible right now because of the pending federal court decision but should his suspension be wiped out or the decision be delayed until after the season, Brady could be a steal in the 7-8th round in 10-team leagues.
Jimmy Garropolo will serve as the Patriots starting QB if Brady ends up missing time because of his suspension. Garropolo was taken in the second round by the Patriots in 2014 and only passed the ball 27 times last year. With that said, he may be an a good option because of the weapons around him for teams looking for QB help very early in the season.
After losing Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in free agency to the Jets and Giants respectively, the Patriots have a confusing running back situation going into the 2015 season. LeGarette Blount is currently slotted in as the starting running back. Blount will not be available for the first game of the season as he serves a one-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Blount started 2014 with the Steelers but walked away from the team after 11 games and was immediately signed by the Patriots. Blount played a critical role in spots during the Patriots’ title run but cannot be looked at as a feature back in this offense.
It’s more likely that the Patriots will use a running back by committee that will feature some combination of Blount, Jonas Gray and 2014 fourth-round pick James White. White was not a factor at all in the Patriots’ offense last year but after the losses of Ridley and Vereen in the offseason could emerge as being fantasy relevant. Travaris Cadet, signed from New Orleans in the offseason, will likely factor in as a third-down back.
While the Patriots do not have any true fantasy stars at the wide receiver position, their depth at the position is one of the best in the league. Julian Edelman has been Tom Brady’s go-to wide receiver over the past two seasons hauling in a total of 197 receptions. While Edelman is not going to find the end zone frequently, he is a great asset in PPR leagues.
Brady’s connection to Brandon LaFell continued to grow as the season went on as LaFell played a critical role in the Patriots’ playoff victory over the Ravens in the divisional round. In his first season with the Patriots, LaFell finished 2014 with the best stats of his career with seven touchdowns and 953 yards. With a full season under his belt in the Patriots’ offense, LaFell could be a strong breakout candidate and a great value at his ADP at No. 38.
Another receiver who finished the season with a strong playoff run was Danny Amendola. However, Amendola’s inconsistency throughout the regular season rightfully leaves him off of most 2014 draft boards.
What more can be said about Rob Gronkowski than has already been said? When Gronkowski is healthy, he is almost impossible to cover and finds the endzone at an alarming rate. Gronkowski is currently being drafted at the beginning of the second round and it’s probably not a stretch if you want to start looking at him at the end of the first round. At a position that is always thin and is even thinner this year, Gronkowski is coming off a 2014 campaign where he was eased back into the lineup at the beginning of the season and still topped 1,000 yards receiving and had 11 touchdowns. The Patriots drafted A.J. Derby out of Arkansas in the sixth-round to compete with Michael Hoomanawanui for additional tight end reps.
SELL. Most feel that the loss of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner will be too much for the secondary to handle. The Patriots also lost their best run defender in Vince Wilfork. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower should continue to improve but Hightower will be returning from a shoulder surgery and may not be ready for the start of training camp. There biggest problem remains the secondary which will be relying on Super Bowl hero Malcom Butler and third-year corner Logan Ryan to play much bigger roles than they did last year. Combine that with the fact that they are likely to be leading by a wide margin at the end of games and could be passed on a lot, the Patriots defense is a risky pick going into 2015.
Player to Watch
If Aaron Dobson is able to stay on the field in 2015, he should be able to have a big impact on the Patriots’ offense. Coming off an injury-plagued season where he surrendered nearly all of his playing time to Brandon LaFell, Dobson will be playing with something to prove right at the start of training camp. As a rookie in 2013, Dobson had 519 yards and four TDs. Dobson possesses the size and ability as a deep-threat that no other Patriot receiver has right now. He should be able to crack the roster as a fourth wide receiver out of training camp and playing time should open up for him as the season goes on.
For the Patriots to repeat the offensive success of 2014, their offensive line will have to not give up many more than the 26 sacks they gave up last year. Those 26 sacks were the fourth-lowest in the NFL. The Patriots may be relying on two rookie guards, Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason, to start Week 1. Considering the strength of the defensive line position in the AFC East, it will be critical for the Patriots to protect Brady (or possibly Garropolo) from the outset of the season if they want to have success in their high octane passing offense.