2020 Fantasy Preview: New England Patriots

New England Patriots

 

You might have heard about this already, but if you didn’t know, Tom Brady is no longer with the Patriots. He leaves in his absence a void at the most important position in football, the effects of which will ripple across this entire offense. Even last year, the Patriots ranked an uninspiring 18th in the league in net yards per pass attempt and 25th in yards per carry. With former 4th-round draft selection Jarrett Stidham the presumed starter at quarterback, no meaningful additions to the receiving corps, and the running back room from last year remaining intact, this offense is set to slide even further into fantasy irrelevancy…

…That’s what I wrote to introduce the team before the Cam Newton signing. Suddenly, this offense has a lot more intrigue. Newton has his detractors, but as I’ll discuss, the signing raises the ceiling of the entire offense, and could bode incredibly well for certain other skill position players in fantasy. I do expect Newton to immediately seize the starting job if in adequate health, potentially bringing a new versatility to the offense.

Sophomore wide receiver N’Keal Harry will hope to bounce back after an injury-riddled rookie campaign, and should challenge the aging Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu for targets. Former preseason darling Jakobi Meyers will also fight for snaps. In the running game, Sony Michel will likely take the lead once again on early downs in what may be a slow-paced, ball-control style offense. James White should retain his third-down role, and Damien Harris still lurks on the depth chart as a talented and versatile back. Rex Burkhead will mostly contribute on special teams. The tight end position will also likely be run by committee, with recent draft picks Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene joining Matt Lacosse.

 

Quarterbacks

 

Cam Newton

ADP: 118.3, QB14

For those who need a refresher, 2019 was a lost year for Cam Newton, as he aggravated a foot injury early on and missed the bulk of the season. The year before, in 2018, Newton suffered a shoulder injury in Week 7, played through it until Week 15, and was then shut down. This means the most recent sample of a truly healthy Cam was in 2018 before he sustained the injury. Over that span on a per-game basis, he averaged 237.8 passing yards, 1.8 passing TDs, 42.8 rushing yards, and 0.5 rushing touchdowns. This was good for the fantasy QB4, averaging 23.46 fantasy points per game up to this point. All of this was accomplished with Devin Funchess and a rookie D.J. Moore as the team’s top wide receivers.

Cam also boasted the best play-action completion percentage in the league in 2018, completing 75.7% of his attempts. Play-action has been widely demonstrated to increase passing efficiency and has caught on to an even greater degree around the league over the last two years. Tom Brady ranked just 27th in the league in the same metric last season. Newton’s skill in this facet of the game could be invaluable, adding an entirely new dimension to the Patriots’ offense. This potential upside combined with his rushing ability makes Newton an ideal late-round quarterback target. If he gets hurt, you can simply stream QBs off the waiver wire, but if he hits his ceiling, you’ll be rewarded nicely.

 

Best Case Scenario

Cam manages to stay somewhat healthy the entire season, starring in a revamped offense that features ample play-action and RPOs. The offense enjoys above-average productivity, and he supports multiple skill-position players that can be had at a value in fantasy drafts.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Injury strikes once again, forcing the team to turn to Stidham and flushing Newton’s career down the toilet along with the franchise.

 

2020 Projection: 312 Completions, 520 attempts, 3,744 passing yards, 25 passing touchdowns; 80 carries, 384 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns

 

 

Jarrett Stidham

ADP: 377, QB37

So the Jarrett Stidham era begins hopefully ends in Foxboro. Though largely an unknown commodity in the NFL, Stidham was thoroughly mediocre in his two years at Auburn at the college level, throwing for 18 touchdowns and clocking in above a 60% completion percentage each year. That said, fantasy gamers shouldn’t expect him to be much more than a game manager, and he also lacks the rushing ability we often look for in late-round quarterbacks. Most of the intrigue comes from how Stidham would ultimately distribute his passing attempts between the weapons in this passing game, and the possibility for him to fixate on a certain pass-catcher as mediocre quarterbacks often do.

 

Best Case Scenario

Stepping in for an injured Newton, Stidham funnels targets to Julian Edelman or N’Keal Harry, supporting strong fantasy seasons for one or both of them. The weapons help out enough to make Stidham worth weekly consideration in 2QB and Superflex formats, and the offensive efficiency does not take a massive nose-dive.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Stidham is incompetent, torpedoing the offense to the bottom of the league and sinking the fantasy prospects of every other player, as New England prepares to start up the QB carousel once more. The Patriots begin running a very slow-paced, ball control offense with limited fantasy appeal.

 

2020 Projection: 330 completions, 550 attempts, 3,575 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns; 30 carries, 65 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown

 

Note: Though I’ve provided projections for both quarterbacks in the event that they are the starter, the remaining projections will all assume that Cam Newton starts and keeps the job for the entire year

 

Running Backs

 

Sony Michel

ADP: 91.7, RB39

Though he received the lion’s share of the work on the ground last year, Sony Michel managed just 3.7 yards per carry and corralled just 20 targets in the passing game. He even managed to record 4 drops on those 20 targets! Even on the ground, Michel did not gain many yards beyond what was blocked, finishing outside the top 35 RBs in juke rate. This speaks to a lack of elusiveness and play-making ability. Last year’s 7 touchdowns were also underwhelming, but even that number can’t be counted on this year, as the offense may be making fewer trips to the red zone while Newton is likely to vulture a significant number of goal-line carries. Michel should once again take the lead on early downs, and rushing lanes may open up as a product of Newton’s presence, but he’ll be hard-pressed to deliver much more than low-end RB2 numbers on a consistent basis.

 

Best Case Scenario

Due to other injuries at the position, Michel manages to capture a legitimate role in the passing game, finally delivering on the explosiveness he showed while at Georgia. This in combination with the Patriots implementing a more run-heavy offense in Tom Brady’s absence supports Michel running for over 1000 yards and contributing in all phases.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Michel remains in his strictly two-down role, once again failing to eclipse 1000 yards rushing and providing only marginal flex appeal. Frustrated with Michel’s lacking efficiency, New England decides to see what they have in Damien Harris.

 

2020 Projection: 250 carries, 1,000 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns; 11 targets, 6 receptions, 51 receiving yards

 

James White

ADP: 73.3, RB32

Ranking second on the team in both targets and receiving yards last year, James White seems fairly entrenched in his receiving role out of the backfield. However, his lighter frame at 5’9”, 204 pounds, and his lack of top-end speed and explosiveness caps his rushing ceiling. A workhorse role for White is hard to imagine under any circumstances. Whether White will retain his floor in PPR leagues depends largely on Newton’s tendencies in the check-down game – don’t be baited into thinking White is Christian McCaffrey just because he’s now playing with his former quarterback.

 

Best Case Scenario

The Pats suffer in the win column and face more negative game scripts, allowing White to rack up targets in garbage time and become a viable RB2 option in PPR leagues. Newton enjoys using White as a weapon in the middle of the field on short routes.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Newton does not throw to the running back very often, instead preferring to force the ball to his first read on the outside. The Patriots actually win nearly as many games as last year, robbing White of the negative game scripts he thrives on. White misses his rapport with Tom Brady and succeeds only in cannibalizing the target shares of other players without offering much fantasy value of his own.

 

2020 Projection: 60 carries, 246 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown; 85 targets, 64 receptions, 560 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns

 

Rex Burkhead

ADP: 194, RB68

Though capable in both the running and receiving game, most of Rex Burkhead‘s value to the Patriots comes as a depth option and on special teams. He is a potential candidate to take on a bigger role should Michel or White get injured, and should have no trouble replicating either player’s production if given the opportunity. He will be active on game day throughout the season if healthy.

 

Best Case Scenario

An injury in front of him on the depth chart allows Burkhead to deliver stop-gap fantasy production off the waiver wire to RB-needy owners.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Burkhead never gets much of an opportunity this year and remains the third piece of this backfield, either due to the good health of his teammates or being supplanted on the depth chart by Damien Harris.

 

2020 Projection: 25 carries, 110 rushing yards; 16 targets, 12 receptions, 112 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

 

Damien Harris

ADP: 133.1, RB54

Damien Harris is a bit of a wildcard this season. Though he was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft last year, he has yet to get a real opportunity at the next level, only being activated on game day twice during all of last season and receiving just 4 carries. Harris is a comparable athlete to Michel, and tested well at the NFL Combine in the broad jump and vertical, but it’s worth wondering whether he’s truly part of the team’s plans at the position given the lack of chances he was afforded as a rookie. Harris was never much more than a committee back during his time at Alabama, sharing the backfield with Josh Jacobs. His medical history is much cleaner than Michel’s, on the other hand, so he’s a viable candidate to capture a role in this committee one way or another. If Michel continues to perform poorly, doors could certainly open for Harris in this backfield regardless.

 

Best Case Scenario

Harris shows why the Patriots ignored other needs to draft him, stepping in for an injured Michel and carving out a workhorse role.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Harris goes the way of so many other rookie running backs that fail to produce early on in their careers, languishing at the back of the depth chart and piling up another string of inactive weeks.

 

2020 Projection: 50 carries, 225 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns; 21 targets, 14 receptions, 110 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

 

Wide Receivers

 

Julian Edelman

ADP: 73.6, WR30

Julian Edelman represents a tricky conundrum. To what extent have his massive target shares historically been a product of his individual rapport with Tom Brady? Coming off an impressive 153 targets from last year, Edelman would be hard-pressed to improve on his production. Though Edelman was 4th among wide receivers last year in receptions, he was outside the top 60 in yards per reception, 49th in air yards per target, and tied for 64th in end zone targets. This all suggests that Edelman relies almost entirely on volume for his fantasy production, a more uncertain proposition given the change at quarterback. On the bright side, no pass-catchers of consequence have been added, and the departure of Phillip Dorsett leaves even more targets up for grabs. Edelman’s ceiling remains a WR1 target-hog in PPR leagues, but the floor is incredibly low for him at 34 years old and without his best friend at quarterback.

 

Best Case Scenario

The younger options in the passing game fail to progress, leaving Edelman to once again vacuum up an obscene amount of targets due to the lack of talent around him. Newton tries to focus on quick releases and fixates on him in the slot. Edelman outperforms his ADP once again.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Edelman finally hits the wall at age 34, contributing to a massive downturn in production spurred on by decreased offensive efficiency. Younger players like N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers step in to fill the void, leaving Jules to contemplate retirement.

 

2020 Projection: 127 targets, 84 receptions, 924 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns

 

N’Keal Harry

ADP: 140, WR54

One year ago, the Patriots selected N’Keal Harry with the last pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, an ankle injury forced him to miss the majority of his rookie year, and Harry only exceeded a 60% snap share once in his seven games after returning. As a college prospect, Harry was a monster producer who broke out at the early age of 18, a combination of traits that is often highly predictive of NFL success. The draft capital the team spent on him ensures Harry will continue to receive the opportunity to compete for playing time and targets even after the disappointing rookie year. Standing at 6’2”, 228 pounds, Harry has a chance to be a force both in the slot and outside at X, as well as the team’s biggest viable weapon in the red zone. It wouldn’t be crazy for his talent to win out among this underwhelming group of receivers. He’s got to be better than Kelvin Benjamin, right?

 

Best Case Scenario

Harry overcomes his separation issues and becomes Newton’s favorite target, overtaking the aging Edelman and breaking out like crazy for over 1200 yards and double-digit touchdowns. There’s a new alpha dog in New England.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Harry joins the long list of first-round wide receiver busts in recent years, again failing to consistently stay on the field due to injury, or otherwise failing to make a dent in the offense’s target distribution. He becomes a rarely-used decoy on the outside.

 

2020 Projection: 101 targets, 60 receptions, 785 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns

 

Mohamed Sanu

ADP: 187, WR76

Mohammed Sanu will be turning 31 before the start of the season and just had surgery on a high ankle sprain he suffered last year. He’s likely a safe bet to see snaps, but he lacks explosiveness in an offense that’s unlikely to be doing him many favors. The departure of Phillip Dorsett could lead to more targets, but this isn’t an outcome likely to provide much fantasy value. He may look great in the workout videos with Cam Newton on Twitter, but don’t expect too much from an aging player who hasn’t surpassed a 16% target share in either of the last two seasons and has cracked the top 60 in yards per reception just once in the last three years.

 

Best Case Scenario

A consolidated target share results from the failure of the second-year receivers, letting Sanu rack up over 100 targets and be an underwhelming fantasy WR3.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Sanu falls off a cliff and is overtaken by both Harry and Meyers. He can’t shake his ankle injury and fails to develop any on-field rapport with Newton, becoming an afterthought.

 

2020 Projection: 80 targets, 48 receptions, 525 yards, 3 touchdowns

 

Jakobi Meyers

ADP: 253, WR116

Though Jakobi Meyers does not possess the draft pedigree, college production, or athleticism of his fellow sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry, he does hold one key advantage: Meyers actually got on the field more last year, mostly due to superior health. The coaching staff seems to like him, so it wouldn’t be that crazy for Meyers to outproduce Harry once again this year. Not much really pops about Meyers’ profile or play, and I wouldn’t bet on a breakout, but he’s a name to watch in an offense with targets up for grabs. He could conceivably overtake Sanu to see the field in three-receiver sets. Meyers is best equipped to play from the slot, however, meaning Edelman is the most significant barrier to his progression.

 

Best Case Scenario

The undrafted Meyers overtakes those in front of him on the depth chart in typical unheralded Patriots wide receiver form, producing passably for fantasy players who pick him up off the waiver wire during the season.

 

Worst Case Scenario

The logical thing happens, where Meyers is blown to the back of the depth chart by more dynamic and experienced players. He can’t even be held in the deepest of leagues.

 

2020 Projection: 37 targets, 24 receptions, 332 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

 

Tight Ends

 

Matt Lacosse

ADP: 390, TE45

Ben Watson‘s retirement vacates 24 targets at the tight end position. This should not get anybody very excited. Though the Patriots love to run 12-personnel, it has not recently translated to much tight end production in the passing game, unless the tight end’s name is Rob Gronkowski. Matt Lacosse himself has never shown much dynamism as a pass-catcher, and he’s unlikely to be much more than a blocker and situational weapon in the red zone. With the additions of Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene also unlikely to make much of a fantasy impact in their rookie years, look to other teams for cheap tight end production.

 

Best Case Scenario

Incredibly desperate tight end streamers talk themselves into Lacosse against Arizona in Week 12, and he puts up 35 yards on 4 catches.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Lacosse is overtaken in snaps by one or both of the rookies, and this team provides no tight end production all year.

 

2020 Projection: 32 targets, 22 receptions, 216 receiving yards, 1 touchdown

 

 

Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Ryan Heath

Ryan was once a high-school kid who thought he was smarter than all the fantasy football analysts that gave him terrible advice. When he tried writing content himself, he discovered that he was not. Now Ryan keeps busy writing for QB List, hounding all his league-mates to read his articles, and complaining when they inevitably follow his advice at his own expense.

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