(Photo by Icon Sportswire)
Since the year 2000, the New England Patriots have been a local darling, rolling to the tune of five Super Bowl titles. That said, any of us who watch the Patriots avidly knows that they can almost be maddeningly similar on a year to year basis, as they struggle to find a single consistent wide receiver that can be useful at the pro level that also played the position in college, with the assortment of wide-outs they’ve drafted being about as useful as a pair of roller-blades since the year their championships started rolling in. They often will not use their picks for players locally we all “want” (I recall vividly the party of us bemoaning the Patriots passing on Dez Bryant the year he was drafted, same with Lamar Jackson this year). That said, the pair of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick (their lauded head coach) is a well-oiled machine like none other, the football Mercedes, finely tuned, purring like a kitten since the end of 2000/2001, regardless of what we as fans think. But what can this team have in store for us in 2018, with many more mysteries than ever before in their backfield, with an elder leader at Quarterback (Brady), and their best wide receiver (Julian Edelman)suspended through week 4? Let’s take a look!
(QB1) Tom Brady
Is there an easier, no-brainer, rinse and repeat situation than Tom Brady as a quarterback one in your drafts? The only caveat is that the age of the man puts all of us for a brief second at a pause, wondering if it makes sense to draft the 41-year-old Brady as of August 3rd, to our teams, and even that doesn’t really hold a flame to the production that you get from him when he’s on the field. Since 2009 (removing 2008 from that fluke injury that put him out for the season), this fella has averaged 15.5 games per season behind center, and the only reason it’s not 16 is due to the four-game suspension. He’s not “sexy” pick, we’ll agree on that, but in drafts with so much depth like this one at Quarterback, I would still take him around his average at fifty in my leagues, his current ADP from trusted sites. Don’t let us stat-minded drafters forget, barring that one shortened output season due to suspension, in only one of those 9 seasons did he not pass for over 4,000 yards. He’s a rock, folks! A rock!
(RB3) Rex Burkhead
And after Brady, this is where it gets muddy. There is a lot of guessing for us to do, as we attempt to figure out what this Patriots season can be, but I should suggest we attempt to do our best Detective work here ( you can choose Sherlock Holmes, Veronica Mars, Clousseau, whichever strikes your fancy). Rex Burkhead signed a 3-year deal just shy of 10 million dollars in the offseason. He both ran and caught passes for a combined 1,181 yards last year, showing that he can not only move the chains as a force type back, charging ahead, but he can also catch passes and move just a touch around the field, not with much speed, but good vision and gain yardage. The flaws for drafting him stand with the drafting of Sony Michel out of Georgia at the end of the first round (The first time since Laurence Maroney in 2006 the Patriots took an RB in the first round), and bringing in the elusive and somewhat enigmatic Jeremy Hill from the Bengals (someone who prototypes to be like the lost Dion Lewis). Burkhead can truck stick some folks, but there are two solid running backs behind him if Sony can get healthy, so at best, to me, Burkhead is an 8th/9th round dart throw. Below, is the upside Burkhead can offer you if he is given the run, and steals the backfield. I’m not as sold on Burkhead as others and would be hard pressed to take him at his current 7th round projection.
(RB4/Rb2?) Sony Michel
Oh, Sony, sweet Sony. Please be alright! This was one of my favorite sleepers coming into this season, as the Patriots don’t draft players without gameplans already in mind. Sony was going to be what many thought was the newer, younger version of Dion Lewis, as they realized that using a shifty running back who could catch passes, while also being able to be on the field for three downs in a row was a luxury they hadn’t had for a long time before Dion. So, they bucked their trends and took him in the first round of this draft. And I high-fived a million angels! But, alas, Sony is on the shelf, like a dusty Playstation 2, hoping someone will use him in the weeks to come.
Here’s what Michel can be. A back of Lewis’ mold, however, he is 3 inches taller, and 30 pounds heavier, someone who in college averaged 7.9 yards per carry in his final college season (highest in the SEC), 6.1 average per season overall, and averaged over his college career just shy of 10 yards per reception out of the backfield. Can’t help but see a grab in the first for a replacement back to slide right into the backfield where Lewis was, not skipping a beat. The four year Georgia back was reliable, consistent, and can throw on the jets where need be. I would worry about him at his current ADP of middle of the 5th round, but if this speedster drops anywhere between the 6th and 7th, I would absolutely look for him over backs like Dion Lewis (in Tennesee, drafted behind him), Tevin Coleman, or Marshawn Lynch.
(End of bench RB) Jeremy Hill
I know, I know, you’re probably like me, spouting off curses and recalling last year where you thought Jeremy Hill was just set to break out in Cincinnati, only to become a resigned to the bench player, as Marvin Lewis (head coach, Bengals), attempted to retool their backfield, as Hill went from a 1000 plus all-purpose yard back in 2016 to a just barely over 100 yard all-purpose back in 2017. So, I get it. I’m with you. I’ll allow you the cursing at me if this doesn’t work out. But Hill looked like a new back in the Patriots game plans in the first preseason game, as he outshined and left Mike Gilislee in the dust, showcasing that if given opportunity, he may still have some juice left in that carton. I won’t say you should break the bank for him, but he could offer you a solid end of the draft dart throw, and if Burkhead plays without Michel for an extended period of time, or Burkhead suffers, Hill could be in line for a revised, and revitalized role in New England. Trust me, we’ve seen this before. I’ll include his preseason highlights below to marinate in. He’s currently not even being drafted in the top 250, averaged.
(WR3) Chris Hogan/Julian Edelman
Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan go toe in toe with me in this year’s draft, as there may be actual value in queuing up both of these guys in your draft boards and seeing if either falls a bit from their average draft position. Before Edelman was changed over from a Quarterback out of Kent State, Brady cobbled together elite numbers with almost only “no-name” wide receivers ( Randy Moss being a standout from the cornucopia of options). Edelman quickly became the apple of Brady’s eye starting in 2013, and the years he’s been healthy, there is always production! Any season he’s been healthy and on the field (105 in 2013, 92 in 2014, 61 in an injury-shortened season in 2015, and 98 in 2016). As can be seen, Edelman has become the bake to Brady’s shake. We should be inclined to believe that due to everything but that one season where Edelman was injured, he produced around a hundred catches, that Hogan will fill in as the “chain moving” person in Edelman’s steed, and that when Edelman returns, both Edelman and Hogan will reek havoc on secondaries, being used as short threats, for gadget plays, and whatever else can be dreamed up via Belichick. Hogan is being valued around the high end of the 7th round, Edelman at the back of the 7th, and I would absolutely take the value of these two making up 7th round value and beyond if this offense can keep Brady healthy.
(TE1) Rob Gronkowski
Not much needs to be said about Rob Gronkowski that hasn’t often been discussed, but I will throw a little bit of a monkey wrench in this coverage. He’s a freak of a physical specimen, cannot be covered in speed by the linebackers that can match him in size, and he towers over secondary players. Your problem here is consistent play due to health. Gronkowski has been the definition of a perennial first round pick since his inception into the league, but we all sit with baited breath watching him play, hoping he doesn’t lose limbs on the field. Food for thought for us to chew on is the fact that since his league debut, he’s never averaged under 13 yards per reception, and his average yards per game sits at 70.4 per game, including an outlier of a rookie season. So where’s that wrench? I got it for ya. This year’s draft class gets real weak at running back quickly, so if you’re feeling risky, I think there’s a possibility Gronkowski can surpass his current average draft position at 23, and with the fall off of what I see to be the top ten backs, I’d take Gronkowski at 23, and if you’re worried end of second round, I’d take him there too. His injury concerns are absolutely there, but I find his upside higher than a few above him.