New England Patriots: 2014 Outlook
 
 
 
 
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New England Patriots

By Daniel Kalles, Saturday, July 26, 2014

With a revolving door of receivers going in and out of the lineup, Tom Brady was forced to make the best of it last season. While the Pats won 12 games, his numbers did drop (especially his touchdown passes). Brady finished 2013 with 4,343 passing yards, but was only able to throw 25 TDs -- his lowest total in a full season since 2006. Despite not having his best season, he is still a Top 10 fantasy QB. The good news for Brady is that he has basically the same set of receivers back and he should be more comfortable with them. As long as the Patriots receivers can stay healthy, Brady should have another good season. Expect 4,000 or more passing yards and look for Brady to once again pass for at least 30 TDs.

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Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted in the second round as long term insurance for the Patriots. With Tom Brady healthy and still playing at a very high level, the Patriots hope they don't have to use Garoppolo anytime soon. He is not worth owning in standard leagues, but is worth a look in keeper & dynasty leagues (he has very high upside, just might take a few years to see if he can actually fulfill them).

IT'S REALLY HAPPENING: Look for Shane Vereen to be the leader in the Patriots' backfield this season. Despite only playing in eight games last season, he played almost as many snaps as Stevan Ridley. Vereen's value jumps up big time in PPR leagues as he caught 47 passes in eight contests (good enough for just under six receptions per game). The Patriots have a history of going with the hot hand at RB, but the offense moved much better when Vereen was healthy; as long as he stays healthy, the former Cal running back should be a Top 20 running back.

James White was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He was described by head coach Bill Belichick as "an elusive back, who is dynamic in the passing game, comparing him to Shane Vereen". Both Vereen and Ridley are ahead of White on the depth chart, so it will be tough for the rookie to get much playing time. That being said, Ridley has fumbling issues and Vereen has dealt with injuries. Make sure to see how White does in training camp and preseason; if he starts the season at third on the depth chart, he could end up seeing action sooner, rather than later. He is worth a look later in standard league drafts, especially in PPR leagues as a late-round flier or handcuff. He is also worth a serious look in dynasty leagues as Vereen and Ridley are both in the final year of their contracts.

HIGH VOLUME OR BUST: During the 2013 offseason, Julian Edelman had a hard time getting a new contract. He eventually signed a one year with the Patriots and wasn't even assured at cracking the final roster. He did crack the final roster and had an unbelievable season, playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career and setting career- highs in most categories -- 105 receptions for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns -- becoming Tom Brady's go-to guy. This led to a four-year contract and he goes into 2014 as the clear-cut number one option. While the Patriots hope to have Gronk and Amendola healthy for a full season to take some of the load off, Edelman should have no problem catching at least 85 passes (if not more) this season. His value is obviously significantly higher in PPR leagues, so draft accordingly.

Editor's note: The planets aligned for Edelman in 2013. Injuries were abound at the position and he was thrust to the forefront due to necessity, not overwhelming must-start talent. Without the benefit of high-volume targets and receptions, Edelman is just another average receiver. If the targets decline at all, they will go to the Patriots' younger and upside-rich receivers.

Danny Amendola was brought in to replace Wes Welker, but a Week 1 groin injury cost him playing time and he was never able to get fully healthy. This led to what became a very disappointing season. When the pads are off and the stakes are low, he has looked great during OTAs and the Patriots are crossing their fingers that he can stay healthy. A healthy Amendola would really do wonders for Brady and the passing game, but staying healthy has been a major obstacle for him his entire career. If healthy, he can definitely be a WR3 fantasy receiver in PPR formats, but that's a huge if.

For more fantasy insights, click here to read Miami Dolphins' team outlook.

Brandon LaFell was brought in from the Carolina Panthers, and like most free agent receivers brought in, it will take time for LaFell to understand New England's complicated schemes (which is why many receivers have trouble in their first year in New England and often don't make it). LaFell has plenty of time to get in sync with Brady, working out of every receiver spot. He will also get some looks at replacing Aaron Hernandez's old spot in the offense. It is hard to peg where LaFell will fit in, we are going to have to keep an eye out for him during training camp. LaFell couldn't hack it as a No. 2 receiver in Carolina, so it's tough to imagine him putting it together buried on the Pats' depth chart.

The Patriots drafted two receivers in the 2013 NFL Draft, but it was undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins who made the fast first impression. Thompkins started out the season real hot, but cooled quickly, even missing the last four games due to injury. Thompkins finished the season with 32 receptions for 466 yards and four touchdowns. He will be battling one of those aforementioned drafted rookies, Josh Boyce, for a roster spot. And like Boyce, Thompkins will need some things to fall his way to see the field.

Josh Boyce was drafted along with Aaron Dobson in the 2013 NFL Draft, but he wasn't as successful. Boyce dressed for only nine games and caught just nine passes for 121 yards. At this point, he is likely fighting Kenbrell Thompkins for a roster spot and whomever wins will go into the season as the fifth guy on the depth chart. For Boyce to be a fantasy factor, he will need to make the roster and have some guys ahead of him go down with injury. At this point, he is not worth a roster spot (unless you want to hang onto his potential in a deep dynasty league).

Rob Gronkowski is the premiere tight end when healthy, putting up numbers that can compare with any of the top wide receivers in the game. Needless to say, his biggest issue has been staying healthy (only played in 18 games over last two seasons). When healthy, Gronk can go toe-to-toe with TE Jimmy Graham. The word out of OTAs is that he looks great. He is running, cutting and catching everything thrown his way and playing without any restrictions. Keep a close on eye on how he progresses through training camp and preseason. If he is a full go to start the season, try and get him. He won't disappoint and will be locked-in as a starter all year. This all assumes Gronkowski is on the field though, which is quickly becoming the exception, not the rule.

Michael Hoomanawanui is battling for the second TE spot with DJ Williams. Regardless of whether he wins the battle, he isn't worthy of a fantasy roster spot. Last year with Aaron Hernandez in Jail and Gronk only playing seven games, Hoomanawanui only caught 12 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown. Once you're done reading this, you can forget his name.

Stephen Gostkowski was the highest scoring player in the NFL for the second season in a row. The Patriots are always one of the highest-scoring teams in the league, therefore their kicker will always be one of the highest scoring kickers. Nothing should change this season. Gostkowski should have no problem being one of the top kickers.

In 2013, the Patriots defense gave up the tenth-most points per game at 21.1; they ranked 26th in yards given up; they were fifth in the NFL with 48 sacks, twelfth in Interceptions with 17 and scored three defensive touchdowns. The Pats made some very solid additions to the defense that should easily allow them to put up at least the same amount of stats. They should be considered a Top 10 fantasy defense.