2011 Team Outlook: New England
Despite the fact that there is a NFL lockout and there is so much uncertainty surrounding the possible upcoming NFL season, we will try and provide you with some information about each of the NFL teams and what might be in store for their players if and when the season starts. Please note that it's quite possible that some of the players we mention might not be with their current teams when the season begins (whenever that may be), but we will be going based on team rosters at the time this article was written. Despite not having a true #1 running back to start the season (and trading Randy Moss mid season), the Patriots were still able to finish 8th in total yards and were fairly balanced, finishing in the top 12 in both passing (#11) and rushing (#9). While the Patriots run the ball very well, they often do it with a running back committee, which is great for them and keeps all their guys fresh, but sucks for fantasy owners. By the 2nd half of the season they were leaning more often on BenJarvus Green-Ellis to carry the ball, who despite rushing for 1008 yards and 13 TDs, wasn't your regular workhorse only carrying the ball 229 yards. While there aren't any studs at running back, they still have the man -- Tom Brady -- at quarterback, who passed for 3900 yards with his 2nd most TD passes in his career -- 36 -- with only 4 ints. Where did all those passes go you might ask (without Randy Moss)? Well (like at running back) the Patriots spread out, using the point per reception stud Wes Welker and mid season acquisition Deion Branch to go along with 2 fantastic rookie tight ends. While the Pats will most likely add some help at WR (say Ochocinco), as well as a veteran running back, they already have a number of players worth drafting in fantasy leagues.July 31; The Patriots added Chad Ochocinco and that should help an already above average offense. Chad will be the deep threat that the Patriots lost when they traded Moss away.
QB Tom Brady, NE - Stud (low risk)
If you think of the receivers for the Patriots last year (not one with over 1000 yards), you would think Brady might have had trouble putting up big numbers. Moss was traded in the middle of the season, Welker was coming off serious off-season surgery, Deion Branch (who hadn't done anything since leaving New England) was brought in, and the rest of the bunch were rookie receivers and tight ends. Despite all that, Brady put up massive numbers and proved that no matter who he is throwing to, he will put up big numbers. He might not be worthy of being the first or second QB drafted anymore, but he is still a top 5-6 QB and will be picked accordingly. Expect much of the same with Brady, one of the safer fantasy picks out there.July 31; The addition of Ochocinco will only make Brady's job that much easier, a deep threat to go along with all of his other weapons.
RB Shane Vereen, NYG - Deep-league Only
Shane Vereen was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL draft from the University of California. He might be the most talented all around back the Patriots have on the roster. At this point in the off season it's really too early to see how the Patriots plan on using him, but most likely he will go into the season as one of the many rotation backs on the team. Obviously being drafted in the 2nd round means the Patriots have high hopes for him, so keep an eye on him throughout training camp.
RB Danny Woodhead, BAL - Deep-league Only
Woodhead gained fame with the Jets during the off-season HBO show Hard Knocks, where we all got to see up close how hard this small running back plays, but no one could have predicted the big effect he would eventually have on the Patriots offense. After getting cut by the Jets early in the season, the Pats picked him up and watched him finish 2nd on the team in rush attempts and yards (97 rushes for 547 yards and 5 TDs), not to mention being a big help coming out of the backfield to catch 34 passes for 379 yards. While he was a great story last year (and he will be back this season to help out in any way he can), I don't see him as a viable fantasy player this year.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, --- - Quality Backup
BenJarvus Green-Ellis came somewhat out of nowhere last year in his 3rd season to set career highs in all categories: 229 carries for 1008 yards and 13 TDs. Logical thinking might dictate that the 'Law Firm' would be in line for an even bigger season, but this is the Patriots. As mentioned, they often like to use a committee of running backs, and they drafted 2 more running backs early in the 2011 NFL draft. While I think the Law Firm has a place on people's fantasy teams, I'm just not sure what it is at this point in the off-season. Most likely he will be leaned on early while the Pats try and get the rookies up to speed, but until some guys get cut or injured, don't think of him as anything more than a bye questionable #2 fantasy running back or #3, ranked somewhere around #30
RB Stevan Ridley, --- - Dynasty Only
Despite taking a back in the 2nd round, the Pats took another back in the 3rd round -- Stevan Ridley. Ridley isn't the all around back that Vereen is supposed to be, but he is more of a bruiser. Don't expect much out of him, as with all the other backs he will just be one of many and probably pretty low on the depth chart. Obviously a lot could change during training camp, but at this point don't expect much out of him.