After finding more fantasy feathers than chicken while reviewing several NFL teams, it's nice to finally find a team with some meat on their bones. Like the Yankees in MLB, or the Red Wings in the NHL, or the Lakers in the NBA, the Patriots don't rebuild - they just keep reloading. That will be the case again in 2012 as many pundits have New England as the co-favorite, with the Houston Texans, to win the AFC Championship. While I am not in that camp, (watch the Ravens) I do see several Patriots posied for a strong Fantasy season.
New England Patriots Quarterback Fantasy Options
Say what you want about the Patriots, the Hoodie, the Spygate scandal, or anything else New England related, but you have to give QB Tom Brady his due. Entering his 13th NFL season (12th if you count 2008 as an off year), Captain America continues to excel in Foxborough. In a world of "what have you done for me lately" Brady continuously rewards his fantasy owners with solid numbers every season – and it's usually without an all-star wide receiving crew.
Last season was no different as Tom was terrific with 42 total touchdowns to go along with just 11 interceptions. In the year of the QB, Brady joined Drew Brees (5,476) and Matthew Stafford (5,038) with 5,239 total passing yards of his own. That trio, along with Dan Marino and his 5,084 passing yards in 1984, are the only quarterbacks to throw for over 5,000 yards (Brees has done it twice now) in a single NFL season. Expect more of the same during the 2012 season.
Patriots QB Analysis: Beyond Brady, the QB situation in New England is murky at best. Both Ryan Mallett and Patriots third year backup Brian Hoyer have been mentioned as trade bait in recent weeks. Fantasy owners shouldn't be too concerned though. Apart from 2008, Brady hasn't missed a game since Week One of the 2001 NFL season. Bag him, find a suitable replacement for the Patriots bye in Week Nine, then sit back and watch the points pour in.
New England Patriots Running Back Fantasy Options
If there's ever been a team that utilizes the pass as their form of ball control, it's the Patriots. That point becomes even clearer when you consider that New England has had just three running backs rush for over 1,000 yards since the 2000 NFL season. BenJarvus Green-Ellis managed 1,008 rushing yards in 2010, but he has moved on to the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite the fact that Law Firm is out of the picture, the running back by committee system remains.
Remains? It may have gotten even stronger heading into the new season. While RB Stevan Ridley is expected to be the "primary" ball carrier, sophomore Shane Vereen , human bowling ball Danny Woodhead, as well as off-season acquisition Joseph Addai, are also in the picture in New England. Addai is the only one of the four who may struggle to stay with the club. This mix warrants paying attention to when the Patriots' open training camp on July 27, 2012.
Patriots RB Analysis: In 2011 Law Firm had 180 carries, Ridely rushed the ball 88 times and Woodhead subbed in with 77 backfield touches. Replace Ridley with Law Firm, move up Vereen, and expect similar results from Woodhead. Addai is a mentor/insurance policy at best. Speaking of best, it is best to move along and avoid this RBBC situation altogether.
New England Patriots Wide Receiver Fantasy Options
A classic example of the Patriots being able to reload, rather than rebuild, happens seemingly every year at the wide receiver position. Mainstay and all-world WR Wes Welker leads a crew of castoffs vying for looks from Brady. Mentioning that "The Natural" currently owns the four highest single-season reception totals in Patriots history basically says it all. With another 111 plus catch season, Welker will set a fifth benchmark in 2012. WR1 = Wes Welker.
Training camp and then some will be needed to sort out the other nine wider receivers currently under contract in New England. Entering his tenth season, and playing on his sixth team, WR Brandon Lloyd is hoping to retire as a Patriot. After catching 70 passes, for 966 yards and five TD, on a bad St. Louis Rams club in 2011, Lloyd is being reunited with his former head coach as Josh McDaniels is the new offensive coordinator in Foxborough.
Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Donte' Stallworth, and Jullien Edelmen will all be looking to stick with the club during training camp. Branch (33) is back for his seventh season in NE after he spent 2006-09 in Seattle. After leaving the Pats in 2009, Gaffney (31) spent two years trying to establish himself in Denver before setting personal bests in Washington last season (68 catches, 947 yards); why either of them left the Brady Bunch to begin with is beyond me.
Patriots WR Analysis: While Welker's contract is still up in the air, it will get done and he's a candidate to catch 100+ balls for the fifth time in six years. Lloyd is intriguing as an upper level WR2, while the rest the Pats wide receiver core should be left to someone else. Don't forget there are a couple of pretty decent tight ends looking for catches in New England.
New England Patriots Tight End Fantasy Options
Though he's sometimes referred to as a caveman, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick continues to re-invent the NFL wheel. Yours truly is not a Pats fan (far from it actually), but Billy Ball works and the Hoodie is a genius. Just look at what he has done with the TE position. I remember a day when some fantasy leagues just lumped the tight ends in with the wide receivers because the talent level was deemed too weak for a separate category.
Thanks to players like TE Rob Gronkowski and TE Aaron Hernandez , more and more teams are moving to a two-tight end offense in the NFL. Gronkowski, who just signed a six-year, $54 million extension through 2019, and Hernandez, who still has two-years on his existing contract, were lights out for the Pats in 2012. These "Twin Towers of Power " combined for an astounding 2237 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns to lead the Patriots last season.
Patriots TE Analysis: While the wide receiver core has been bolstered somewhat in New England, there's no reason to believe that Brady won't continue to look to his talented tight ends throughout the 2012 NFL campaign. Gronk will be the first TE drafted in most formats while Hernandez will serve as an adequate TE2 and should be considered as a top ten TE.
New England Patriots Fantasy Bottom Line: Some pundits have wondered how Tom Brady will react to "Crazy Josh" as his new offensive coordinator. I don't see it being a problem as McDaniels will be a part of the system, not the system itself. On top of that, Brady was just fine during McDaniels' first go-round in New England from 2006 to 2008. As mentioned in the opening, there will be far more chicken than feathers in Foxborough this season.