If it weren’t for his four game suspension (pending appeal) to open the season, we might be discussing the merits of Brady as a top five fantasy quarterback. However, his role in Deflategate ensures that discussion doesn’t need to take place. After incurring a rough patch to open the season with just 791 yards and four touchdown passes in his first four games, Brady caught fire, throwing for 3,318 yards and 29 touchdowns in his final 12 games (he threw just 16 passes in Week 17). With all of his key weapons returning other than pass catching running back Shane Vereen, Brady should rank as a mid to upper tier QB1 next season on a points-per-game basis. The issue is when do you draft him? With a Week 4 bye, Brady won’t be available to start for your fantasy team until Week 6 and if he has a slow start, your fantasy squad could be facing an uphill battle to secure a playoff spot. That means the safest strategy is drafting Brady as well as an upper tier QB2 unless Jimmy Garoppolo has an impressive preseason. Unless Brady comes at a bargain, we suggest looking elsewhere.
Taken in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Garoppolo played reasonably well in what was mostly mop up duty as a rookie, completing 19 of 27 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. With Tom Brady suspended to open the season, Garoppolo will be the Patriots starting quarterback for the first four games of the season (pending Brady’s appeal). While offseason reports indicate that Garoppolo performed well in OTA’s, the truth is that we have very little to go on in predicting how well he will perform when under center on opening day. Potential Brady owners should monitor Garoppolo’s progress in the preseason to determine if he is worth counting on until Brady returns to the line-up.
After flaming out at midseason in Pittsburgh, Blount rejoined the Patriots and led their rushing attack over the final five games of the regular season and during New England’s three playoff games. In those eight contests, he totaled 470 rushing yards with six touchdowns. With Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley having left via free agency, Blount is penciled in as the team’s opening day starter except he’s going to miss that one as a result of a one-game suspension. Of course, when it comes to Blount, nothing is ever cast in stone. However, while there are plenty of bodies competing for touches in the Patriots backfield, Blount rates as the team’s most proven commodity ahead of Jonas Gray, James White and Brandon Bolden. Consider him a mid-tier RB3 in standard s scoring leagues and a high end RB4 in PPR formats.
After rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns during the Patriots Week 11 blowout win over the Colts, Gray showed up late for practice, earning him a spot on the inactive list the following week and just three carries in the team’s next two games. Outside of an 11 carry game in Week 15, Gray never returned to head coach Bill Belichick’s good graces but he returns in 2015 in the hopes of earning a roster spot. While the Patriots hardly feature a stacked depth chart at running back, we don’t like Gray’s chances of carving out a meaningful role next season. He is only marginally talented and is worth a late round flier only if he impresses during the preseason.
Taken in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft, White failed to impress as a rookie, earning just 14 touches during the season. He will fight for touches with LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden in 2015. Whispers out of New England are that the team views White as the most likely candidate to replace the departed Shane Vereen as the team’s pass catching option out of the backfield. If he wins that role, he has potential as a flex option in PPR formats.
After a pair of middling performances in 2012 and 2013, Bolden returned to irrelevance last season, rushing the ball just 28 times for 89 yards and a touchdown. He is back in 2015 competing for a roster spot and he has a chance to carve out a role given the respectable skills he has shown as a pass catcher out of the backfield (21 receptions for 152 yards in 2013).
These two smurfs will fight with James White for the opportunity to replace Shane Vereen as the Patriots main threat catching passes out of the backfield. A bust for the Eagles after being taken in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Lewis hasn’t touched the ball in a regular season game in two years. After a solid season catching 38 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown, Cadet wasn’t tendered by the Saints even though they released Pierre Thomas in the offseason just one year after trading Darren Sproles. Monitor their progress in the preseason and draft accordingly.
It is time to believe, folks. After catching 197 of his 285 targets for 2,028 yards and ten touchdowns over the past two seasons, it is well past time to anoint Edelman as not only the Patriots leading wide receiver but also as one of the league’s premier slot receivers. While a concussion cost him two games and the opportunity to top 1,000 receiving for the second consecutive season, Edelman should be considered a rock solid mid-tier WR2 in standard scoring formats and an upper tier WR2 in PPR formats. Tom Brady’s four game suspension to open the season is a mild cause for concern but we think Jimmy Garoppolo will look Edelman’s way plenty early in the season. More quick than fast and lacking size, Edelman is never going to produce a ton of touchdowns but he always seems to come at a bargain. Don’t overlook Edelman for the third season in a row.
Proving once again that he is smarter than the rest of the league, Bill Belichick signed LaFell to a three-year, $9-million contract with a $3-million signing bonus prior to the 2014 season. Although LaFell’s signing was largely criticized considering his four mostly forgettable seasons in Carolina, he proved to be a free agent gem for the Patriots, finishing the season with career-highs in receptions (74), yards (953) and touchdowns (seven). While those numbers likely represent his ceiling, we don’t see why he can’t approach that production once gain in 2015 even taking into account quarterback Tom Brady’s four game suspension to open the season. LaFell emerged as a red zone favorite as the season progressed, catching all seven of his touchdowns in his final 13 games before adding a pair of touchdowns in New England’s three game playoff run to a Super Bowl Championship. We like him as a mid-tier WR3.
Two seasons into a five-year, $28.5-million contract that included $10-million in guarantees and paved the road for Wes Welker‘s exit, Amendola has done little to suggest that he will emerge as a consistent receiving threat for the Patriots. A solid receiver out of the slot when healthy for the Rams, he has been unable to get on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady and there is no reason to suggest that he will reclaim the slot receiving role that he lost to Julian Edelman. Barring an Edelman injury, Amendola isn’t worth owning.
While it’s always fun to get excited about deep threats in offenses that rank amongst the league best, we’re hedging our bets on these two burners entering the 2015 season. After a somewhat encouraging rookie season after being taken in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Dobson found himself in the doghouse for most of last season and he will be in a fight to retain his roster spot. Tyms flashed some playmaking ability last season but failed to earn a consistent role. Not helping matters for these two is that quarterback Tom Brady appears to have lost his deep ball accuracy as well as his willingness to take shots down the field. These two should only appear on fantasy rosters in deep leagues.
While injuries have interrupted Gronkowski’s stay as the league’s premier fantasy tight end, that issue won’t prevent him from being the consensus top pick in this year’s fantasy drafts. With Gronk coming off an 82 reception, 1,124 yard, 12 touchdown season and Jimmy Graham now plying his trade in Seattle’s heavily run based offseason, there won’t be any debate regarding which of the two talented tight ends should come off the fantasy board first. Tom Brady’s four game suspension (pending appeal) is a minor red flag as is Gronkowski’s injury history but he is a game breaking player who is remarkably consistent (nine or more fantasy points in 12 of 15 games last season) whose ability to find the end zone is not in doubt (55 touchdowns in 65 games). The only issue is where to take him and we don’t have any problem with him coming off the board in the mid to late portion of the 1st round.