2017 Fantasy Football: New England Patriots Team Outlook
New England Patriots
The Patriots have a great history over the last 16 seasons under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They've won the AFC East in each of the last eight seasons, 13 out of the last 14 years, and 14 of the 16 seasons while winning 10 games or more in each of the last 14 years. New England has five Super Bowl titles in seven trips under Belichick. Both of their last two wins were improbable based on game situation and game score late in the game. The Patriots finished first in the NFL in points allowed (250), which was the second time in franchise history. They ranked 8th in the league in yards allowed. Matt Patricia returns for his 5th season. He has 13 seasons of NFL experience while being part of three Super Bowl titles. New England scored 441 points in 2016, which was the third-highest total in the league. It was their lowest scoring output since 2009 (427). They've finished in the top four in the league in scoring in the last seven seasons. The Patriots ended up fourth in yards gained offensively. Josh McDaniels decided to stay another season as he looks positioned to take over as head coach when Bill Belichick retires. McDaniels has worked in New England's system for 13 seasons after a brief two-year run as head coach for the Broncos (11-17) and one season as the offensive coordinator for the Rams. Belichick has a 201-71 record with the Patriots over 17 seasons and a 237-115 record all time. He needs 14 wins to pass Tom Landry to rank third in wins over the history of the NFL. Bill has the most Super Bowl wins (5) and playoff wins (26) in the history of the league.
In the offseason, the Patriots made multiple moves to improve their team. Mike Gillislee was brought in to take over the lead power back role after New England decided to part ways with LeGarrette Blount. They like what they've seen from Rex Burkhead in Cinci, so he was added to back up Gillislee on early downs while also offering value in the passing game.
New England was unable to secure Martellus Bennett. They signed TE Dwayne Allen to take over his role in the offense. Allen has talent, but he was never able to develop into a viable top TE in the Fantasy market with Indy, but he did offer value scoring TDs in the red zone.
The biggest move for the Patriots in this offseason came via a trade with Saints for WR Brandin Cooks. He fell out of favor with New Orleans at some point in 2016. At age 22, Cooks already has 215 catches for 2861 yards and 20 TDs on 315 targets, which includes back-to-back seasons with over 1000 yards receiving. New England gave up their first-round pick in 2017 plus a third rounder while gaining back a fourth-round selection.
The key to New England improving on defense has been better play from the cornerback position. They signed Stephon Gilmore to start at CB while losing CB Logan Ryan to the Titans. This should be a big win for the Patriots while also putting the future of CB Malcolm Butler at risk. Butler is looking to get paid, but New England controls his rights for a couple of more seasons. The Saints tried their best to acquire him, but they were unwilling to give up the 10th pick in this year's draft.
They did a nice job adding a pair of defensive linemen – Lawrence Guy and Kony Ealy. Ealy cost New England a second-round pick in 2017 while getting back a third rounder. He is the type player that the Patriots tend to get more out of as he's underachieved his skill set with the Panthers after being selected in the second round in 2014. Lawrence looks more like a rotational player with minimal upside rushing the QB.
New England lost LB Barkevious Mingo and DE Jabaal Sheard to free agency. Sheard has 13 sacks for the Patriots over 28 games over the last two seasons as a part-time player. Mingo was unable to secure a starting gig while fading for the third straight season. The Browns invested a first-round draft pick in his in 2013.
The draft wasn't a lot of fun for New England fans in 2017. Their first pick didn't come until the 19th selection in the third round, which was DE Derek Rivers. He lit up the NFL combine by winning multiple categories in the skills competitions. Rivers will offer a nice combination of strength, power, speed, and quickness to the defensive line. He was disruptive in college leading to many tackles behind the line of scrimmage and sacks. The Patriots will need to coach up his awareness when asked to be a run defender. Derek needs to prove he can beat double teams plus finish his attacking moves when matched up with an offensive lineman. I believe he will be a factor in some way in 2017.
With the second pick in the third round, the Patriots selected OT Antonio Garcia. His best asset will be his feet while also being athletic. Garcia will be challenged by power rushers until he adds more strength to his lower body. He tends to cheat toward the outside in the pass rush while letting the defensive man dictate the action. This will lead to him getting beat inside on counter moves by better pass rushers. New England will coach him up, but Garcia will need to add more bulk and play as though he wants to deliver the fight.
It was back to the defensive line for the Patriots in the fourth round with DE Deatrich Wise. His resume is underwhelming despite some traits that point to more upside. His best skill will be his power, but his feet hurt his ability to play defensive end in the pros. When reading his scoring report, I get the feeling he should add more bulk to play on the interior of the line. This will allow him to clog the line of scrimmage while using his power to rush the QB. His first step is his biggest downside while lacking short area quickness. I sense he'll struggle to defend running backs outside his window of reach, which he has a lot.
With their last pick in the sixth round, New England added OT Conor McDermott. A left tackle in college, but Conor doesn't have the strength and quickness to man that position in the NFL. His feet grade well in the quickness area, but McDermott needs more power in his frame to control and beat defenders. Will attack in the run game while a lacking the talent to make a difference at the second level of the defense. Overall, his shortfalls can be improved with hard work and coaching.
Last year New England finished 7th in rushing yards (1872) with 19 rushing TDs, but they gained only 3.9 yards per rush with only eight runs of 20 yards or more. Their success in rushing yards was due to the 3rd most rushing attempts (482) in the league created by game score. They had 41 rushes for a loss and 43 runs over 10 yards.
Their offensive line allowed 24 sacks and 73 QB hits, which was the 5th lowest total in the league. This number is helped greatly by Brady's ability to get the ball out quickly or dump the ball when a play breaks down. Their sack percentage on their 550 pass attempts was 4.4 percent.
LT Nate Solder remains a solid asset at his position after getting drafted 17th overall in 2011. Last season he missed the first game of the year with a hamstring injury. Nate is a contract year.
LG Joe Thuney was drafted in the 3rd round in 2016. His best asset will come in the run game while offering upside in vision and anticipation. His challenge will be a move to the inside where his ability to dig in and hold his ground will be in question. His game is built on attacking quickly with an edge in speed and quickness. Joe started all 16 games last year while finishing as league average player at his position. With a year's experience under his belt, growth should be expected.
C David Andrews was asked to fill at center in 2015 due to some injuries to Bryan Stork. His game didn't offer an edge, but he did have a nice year of growth in 2016, which allowed him to play every snap for New England. Andrews was an undrafted free agent out of Georgia. He'll enter this season as a solid asset at his position.
RG Shaquille Mason started 2016 with limited snaps due to a hand injury. He started the last 14 games while playing at a high level. Mason tends to play well as run blocker while improving in his second season in pass protection. The Pats added him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft.
RT Marcus Cannon signed a five-year $32.5 million extension in the offseason, which is impressive considering someone though he would be cut in 2016. He may have played his best ball in 2016 leading to a high grade in both run and pass blocking.
Brady makes his line look better than they are, but an impactful running back would go a long way in improving the rushing stats as well. Overall, this line just gets the job done while creating enough windows in both the run and pass game.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2014.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
The Patriots look to have six below average matchups for their rushing offense (NYJ X 2, PIT, LAC, CAR, and HOU). I don't consider any of these as a game to avoid if playing a New England back. It appears they have a great schedule for the run game from Week 12 to Week 16 (MIA X 2 and BUF X 2).
They face two teams with strength in their pass defense (DEN and HOU) based on last year. Their best three matchups (NO, CAR, and ATL) all come over the first seven weeks of the season.
The passing attempts (551) were down for the Patriots in 2016 due to Brady missing four games. In four of the previous five seasons before 2016, Tom attempted over 610 passes each year. Game score was also a factor. New England will run the ball a lot, and they tend to score close to 20 rushing TDs per season.
The Bills will offer the toughest challenge for the Patriots' run defense. The rest of their matchups look to be neutral with two teams having weakness in the run game (LAC and DEN). The Chargers will be a better team with healthy Melvin Gordon in the starting run up.
Other than the Saints and Falcons, the Patriots will have a favorable schedule for their pass defense. They face eight teams with risk in the passing game.
New England allowed the third lowest number of rushing yards (1417) and only six TDs on the ground. The most impressive stats from 2016 was the low total rushes (3) over 20 yards. Ball carriers gained 3.9 yards per rush.
Their pass defense ranked 12th in the NFL in yards allowed (3806) with 21 TDs and 13 Ints. Their defense had 34 sacks with receivers having 53 catches of 20 yards or more.
DT Malcom Brown worked as a rotational player in his second season. He had six sacks over two seasons with his best value coming in run support. DT Alan Branch will be used most of the time against the run at well. Last year he graded as an asset while delivering only 1.5 sacks. DT Vincent Valentine will compete for playing time as well after seeing limited action in his rookie season after the Patriots took him in the 3rd round. Vincent has value as a run clogger with occasional success attacking the QB. This season he may only be a rotational player in running situation.
DE Kony Ealy will try to reinvent his career playing his way out of playing time in 2016. Over his three years, Kony has 14 sacks in 47 games. DE Trey Flowers had seven sacks last year with all of them coming over the last nine games of the season. Trey is in his third year in the league after New England added him in the fourth round in 2015.
LB Dont'a Hightower signed a four-year $43.5 million contract in the offseason. His game offers an edge against the run with upside in pass coverage. Hightower took a step back in sacks (2.5) in 2016. LB Rob Ninkovich is in the twilight of his career with some fade in his ability to rush the QB in 2016 after missing four games due to failing a drug test. He'll start the year at age 33. The rest of linebacking core looks mediocre at best.
The strength of this defense will be their CBs and safeties. S Devin McCourty is one of the best players at him position in the game while S Patrick Chung didn't play as well as previous seasons. He maintained a high total in tackles (91) with his risk coming in pass coverage. Both Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore will rank highly in pass coverage plus the Patriots have other options worthy of helping in coverage.
If this defense has a stronger pass rush, they will create a lot more turnovers leading to possible upside in defensive scoring. Overall, I like the talent of seven players on defense, and they will play from the lead in most games. Viable top 12 Fantasy option with an eye on playing them in favorable matchups.
QB Tom Brady, NE - Stud (low risk)
Over 17 seasons in the NFL, Brady has an 183-52 record with five Super Bowl rings. He ranks 4th all-time in passing yards (61,582) with his eyes dead set on passing Peyton Manning (71,940). This would require two great seasons. Tom also needs 83 TDs to beat Manning. Even if he does make these two milestones, it appears Drew Brees will end up first in both stat categories as Brady is two years older. Last season Brady has his highest completion rate (67.4) since his great 2007 year (68.9). He threw a career-low two interceptions while gaining 8.2 yards per passing attempt. In his career in the playoffs, he has 25 wins and 9 losses with 63 TDs. Over the last seven games of 2016, Tom threw for fewer than 300 yards in six games while averaging only 31 pass attempts per game in his last three games of the year. New England added a dynamic WR this offseason plus Malcolm Mitchell flashed exciting upside. Overall, this old man will have more tricks in his bag pointing to 5000+ yards passing with a floor of 40+ TDs. He'll start the year at age 40, so insurance is a must. His downside would be growth by the Patriots' defense leading to more rushes late in games.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo, NE - Dynasty Only
Over his two starts in 2016, Jimmy threw for 496 yards with four TDs and no Ints while completing 71.2 percent of his passes. This will be his fourth season the Patriot's system, and many expected him to be traded in the offseason. I believe New England kept him as they felt they still had a chance to win a Super Bowl with his right arm if Brady had an injury. Jimmy needs to prove he can stay healthy after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2.
RB Mike Gillislee, NE - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over the last two seasons with the Bills, Gillislee averaged 5.7 yards per rush with nine TDs while securing 148 rushes for 844 yards. His skill set offered minimal value in the passing game (15/79/1). In his best season a Florida, Mike rushed for 1152 yards with 10 TDs on 244 carries. He also caught 16 passes for 159 yards and a TD. Last season the Patriots gave LeGarrette Blount 299 rushes for 1161 yards and 18 TDs. Gillislee will have a similar role in the offense, but he must prove he can handle a high volume of rushes over a long season. He's never had over 260 touches in a season. My feeling is that Gillislee's opportunity will be closers to Blount's 2013 (153/772/7) and 2015 (165/703/6) seasons. Let's set his bar at 225 touches for 950 yards and low double-digit TDs.
RB James White, NE - Quality Backup
Even with Dion Lewis getting in his way over the last half of the season, White caught 60 passes for 551 yards and five TDs on 86 targets. His value on early downs remains an afterthought (39/166). The Patriots completed 90 of 128 passes to the RB position for 718 yards and five TDs. His biggest game of his career came in last year's Super Bowl when he 14 of 16 targets for 110 yards and three TDs plus 29 yards rushing. His game has progressed enough where 80+ catches is a reasonable possibly. His skill set does overlap with Lewis, but James is the player with best pass catching opportunity on this roster. Borderline RB2 with a continued progression, but he still makes an RB3 with rotational value. His best games will come when New England chases on the scoreboard.
RB Rex Burkhead, NE - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Wow. This guy just could be Brady's new security blanket catching three passes a game with red zone opportunities. He went in the 12th round most recently. (Updated: 08/22//17) New England will pay Burkhead about the same money in 2017 as Mike Gillislee. Last year Rex has the best opportunity over four seasons with the Bengals after Gio Bernard went down with an injury. He outplayed Jeremy Hill on early downs (74/344/2 - 4.6 yards per rush) while being viable in the passing game (17/145). In his best season in college, Burkhead had 1534 combined yards with 17 TDs and 21 catches. Unknown possible dual threat who is expected to be the backup RB on early downs. (Updated: 06/17/17)
RB Dion Lewis, NE - Bye Week Fill-in
Lewis didn't have the same burst in the passing game (17/94 - 5.5 yards per rush) after his recovery from a torn ACL. The Patriots were more content to use him as a chance of pace option for Blount in 2016. Over the last three games last year, Dion had 45 rushes for 195 yards plus five catches for 18 yards. Last year in the playoffs, he caught five passes for 33 yards and a TD plus 25 runs for 79 yards and a TD. With a full offseason to recover, Lewis should be more explosive especially in the open field. I can't ignore his value as a pass catcher in 2015 (36/388/2 - 10.8 yards per catch). More insurance for White than an investment as a starter for my Fantasy team in 2017.