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2016 Team Report: New England Patriots

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Starting QB: Another season, another "Tom Brady might miss the first four games of the year" problem for the New England Patriots. After losing his appeal to the US Appeals Court in April, Brady is going to appeal the appeal of his appeal and if that gives you a headache it should. At the end of the day it appears like this time Brady will indeed miss the beginning of the season, likely with Jimmy Garoppolo getting the nod. That said, when he does come back, Brady is in no danger of losing his job to anyone, not after coming off a 4,700 yard, 36 touchdown, 7 interception season. While he's clearly on the downside of his career and the offense has basically been reduced to a dink and dunk affair, Brady's sharpness at the line, ability to read a defense and overall skills more than make up for any lack of a cannon arm. Brady also retains many of the weapons which have made him successful the last few seasons, including Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. The team added Nate Washington and drafted fourth round receiver Malcolm Mitchell to help provide some depth to the receiving corps as well, and the team and while the team doesn't dedicate themselves to the run, this backfield can provide some relief in keeping the defense honest against Brady. While his overall production will naturally go down due to missing games, his game-to-game production should remain solid.

Backup QB: Last season we thought we'd see what Jimmy Garoppolo had to offer but Tom Brady ended up avoiding suspension. Once again we seem faced with the prospect of Garoppolo getting the starting job for the first four games of the season and the Patriots might have a reason to want Garoppolo to show the league what he can do, as they might look to trade him sometime this season or next offseason according to Kevin Duffy of Masslive.com. With Garoppolo having just two years left on his deal and with the team drafting rookie Jacoby Brissett in the third round, one of the two will be expendable and if Garoppolo looks good this season, the Patriots might be able to get something for him while they groom Brissett. In preseason action, Garoppolo has looked solid and his accuracy and decision-making seemed to have improved.

Running Backs

Starter: LeGarrette Blount, James White
Backup(s): Dion Lewis, James Devlin, Brandon Bolden, Donald Brown, Tyler Gaffney, Joey Iosefa, DJ Foster [R]
Fullback(s): James Develin

Starting RB: The Patriots didn't add any running backs in the draft and only added one as a UDFA, so we expect the backfield to be focused on LeGarrette Blount on the early downs. Blount is a big, bruising back who will run over people as he grinds for yards on early downs. He ended up on injured reserve last season because of a hip injury, but is reportedly fully healthy and ready for this season. We had expected Dion Lewis to pick up the work on passing downs, but as of August 22, he is back in surgery, which means James White gets the nod. Lewis will start the season on the PUP James White filled in pretty well for Lewis when the latter was placed on injured reserve last season, but wasn't as dynamic and was never really a huge part of the gameplan. That should change this season, as he takes over for Lewis. He'll see plenty of targets, though less than Lewis did and always second fiddle to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Still, with a healthy Gronkowski and Edelman clearing out defenses from the line, White could do a lot of damage.

Backup RBs: Lewis was already coming off an injury, having torn his ACL last November, and now he is slated for more surgery in late August. Lewis had been very effective in the Patriots offense, running the ball well and being very effective when catching the ball. The surgery has been termed "cleanup" which may mean he has a shot at coming back this season, though what shape he'll be in and how effective is hard to say. Brandon Bolden is more of a special teams ace than a vital part of the run game. Donald Brown had two lackluster seasons in San Diego and is likely to see competition from both starter Dion Lewis and James White. Tyler Gaffney spent last season on the waived/injured list and has had injury issues which, along with a limited skillset, could keep him from making the final roster. It won't be any easier for Joey Iosefa, as he's a slow and limited back, though head coach Bill Belichick is rumored to like the guy's effort.

Fullback: James Develin missed last season with a broken leg but is really effective opening holes for Patriots running backs when he is healthy. If he's there, the run game will be that much more effective.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan,
Backups: Danny Amendola (INJ), Malcolm Mitchell [R], Matt Slater, Keshawn Martin, Aaron Dobson, Devin Lucien [R], D.J. Foster, DeAndre Carter

Starting WRs: The team is hoping that Julian Edelman will be recovered enough from his foot injury to be ready for camp. Edelman has led the receivers in targets the last three years (and trailed behind Rob Gronkowski for the team lead) and we expect him to be in the mix for it again this year, along with a bounce back to his normal production level. Tom Brady looks for his reliable target early and often and that won't change. Chris Hogan, who lined up both in the slot and outside as well, both at X and Z. Doug Kyed of NESN.com thinks he could see a lot of time in the Z role, with Julian Edelman at X and Danny Amendola in the slot, but we think it's entirely possible they could move him anywhere along the three positions. Hogan is set up to be the second receiver in two wide sets entering the season.

Backup WRs: Danny Amendola seems to be wearing down health-wise again, and his targets and production have been a bit inconsistent the last few years. There's nobody behind him who is a lock to take over, so we see him staying as the No. 2 in this offense, but he's often a distant third to Edelman and Gronkowski in terms of targets and production. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell is unlikely to see a ton of work, as The Boston Herald points out that rookie receivers don't tend to catch many passes due to the complexity of the offense they have to learn. It just takes too long for most guys to get up to speed. Mitchell is a good route-runner with nice ball skills who showed speed at the Combine. If he can get his head around the offense, it's possible he could end up in the Z position across from Julian Edelman, but the likelihood is thin. Matthew Slater is mostly a special teams player who rarely plays on offense, while Keshawn Martin doesn't even have that going for him and was a non-factor after arriving in New England last season and then being hurt for part of the year with a hamstring injury. Injuries have also been a factor for Aaron Dobson, who is not in a secure roster spot after three shaky years with the team and with other outside options in the group, it appears like he won't make the final cut. Seventh round pick Devin Lucien has great hands and runs sharp routes, while also being adept on fade routes. His size is a concern but we're not ruling him out given how hard he fights on tape. DJ Foster was signed off the street and could end up as a running back, just like he did the first three years in college before converting to receiver. He's a bit slow and not a great runner though, so he might not have a fit at either position. DeAndre Carter is an undersized small-school player who nearly made the Baltimore Ravens last year, but got cut and never found a place. His speed and quickness is attractive but his size has made teams hesitate and we're seeing him as a camp body more than anything else.

Tight Ends

Starters: Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett
Backups: Clay Harbor, Michael Williams, A.J. Derby

Of course, Madden cover boy Rob Gronkowski didn't quite make it through the whole season in 2015, but missed just one game for the second year in a row and naturally topped 1,100 yards again, adding 11 touchdowns to his production. He continues to be a big target for Tom Brady and with Julian Edelman out for part of the season, led the team in them for 2015. That's despite catching less balls than he had in 2014 (down to 120 from 131). We expect him to put up great numbers again this year as the Patriots will keep feeding him. Martellus Bennett and the Chicago Bears had a parting of ways and Bennett is determined to prove their concerns about his effort wrong. Like Gronkowski, Bennett can be impossible to get down after he catches the ball and if he isn't quite as dynamic as Gronkowski, he will make an appealing target across from the other tight end and make it hard for defenses to blanket Gronkowski. Clay Harbor is more of an H-back type and he may not find room to work with Bennett and Gronkowski in the unit. Michael Williams will probably be moved to tackle but could be kept on as an extra blocking tight end as well. AJ Derby was waived/injured last season early in camp with a knee issue. While his athleticism is intriguing, he's a long-term project and could struggle to make the roster.

Place Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski: Another year, another perch atop the kicker rankings for Stephen Gostkowski. He has led the league in scoring for each of the last four years, with over 150 points in each season. Gostkowski had no problem with the longer extra point, going 52-for-52, and he was still tied for fifth in field goal attempts at 36, making 33 of them. Gostkowski going 12-for-14 from 40-49 and 4-for-5 from 50-59 only enhances his value in leagues that score field goals based on distance. If you're inclined to break the seal on kickers in your draft, Gostkowski's ridiculous consistency as the #1 kickers makes it an easier call, despite the looming possibility of a four-game suspension for Tom Brady.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Danny Amendola, Keyshawn Martin

The only two players with meaningful kickoff returns in 2015, both Danny Amendola and Keyshawn Martin return to the Patriots in 2016 as likely choices to earn the primary duties again in 2016.

Punt Returners: Danny Amendola, Keyshawn Martin, Julian Edelman

Returners first and offensive players second, Danny Amendola and Keyshawn Martin fielded most of New England's punts in 2015. Julian Edelman is one of the best punt returners in history-- Rick Upchurch and Devin Hester are the only other players with 130+ returns and 12+ yards per return-- but given his importance to the offense, his special teams involvement has been on the wane recently.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Nate Solder, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason (inj), RT Marcus Cannon
Key Backups: Jonathan Cooper, LaAdrian Waddle, Josh Kline

The Patriots' offensive line is undergoing serious change, especially at the interior positions. Guard Shaq Mason is recovering from a broken hand, so Josh Kline will likely start in his place until he can play. Rookie Joe Thuney has been a strong performer and will start at left guard. The Patriots will be happy to get Nate Solder back at left tackle after missing all of last season with an ACL injury. Sebastian Vollmer is likely heading to injured reserve with a hip issue, leaving his 2015 replacement Marcus Cannon to speed. The Patriots offensive line is often overrated because of the speed which their QB gets rid of the ball, but make no mistake, this is a line with only two settled starting positions. While they have interesting prospects, there is a clear lack of elite talent, compared to other teams. Tier Ranking: Low Tier.

Team Defense

The Patriots were just inside the D/ST1 ranks last year, with a small bump in leagues that have weight points allowed more heavily. They lost their best pass rusher in Chandler Jones when they traded him for Jonathan Cooper and a second round pick, and as of right now are slated to be without Tom Brady for the first four games of the season. Players like Jabaal Sheard, Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins could help pick up the slack, but it is hard to picture the Patriots defense being more productive than they were last year. A tougher schedule and possible slow start to open the season are good reasons to avoid the Patriots as the D/ST you draft, although they could fit into a streaming approach later in the season once Brady returns.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Rob Ninkovich, DE Jabaal Sheard, DT Malcolm Brown, DT Terrance Knighton
Backups: DE Chris Long, DE Geneo Grissom, DT Alan Branch, DT Vincent Valentine [R]

Starting DL: The Patriots lost one of their best players when they traded DE Chandler Jones to the Cardinals. They should still be in good hands with Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard though. Ninkovich is not a prototypical pass rusher, but he's very active and typically ranks among the leaders at his position in tackles. Jabaal Sheard was very effective in a part-time role last year and could have DE1 upside with a boost in playing time. The team figures to rely heavily on last year's 1st round pick Malcolm Brown. While he may not become an elite playmaker, he should serve as a reliable everyweek starter in DT-required leagues. Terrance Knighton is a strong 2-down run defender, but if he doesn't play in clear passing situations his fantasy upside is limited.

Backup DL: Chris Long has battled injuries the last couple years, but he could find new motivation while playing for a team with Super Bowl aspirations after spending his entire career on the lowly Rams. The top-3 defensive ends figure to get most of the playing time in a rotation, but 2nd year pro Geneo Grissom will get a chance to compete for playing time and has some upside. Alan Branch provides experienced depth inside, but has just 1 sack over the last 3 years. Vincent Valentine was a 3rd round pick in this year's draft, but he likely will need some time to develop.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Jamie Collins, MLB Donta Hightower, SLB Shea McClellin
Backups: ILB Jonathan Freeny, OLB Ramon Humber

Starting LBs: Jamie Collins has quickly emerged as one of the best all-around linebackers in the league. He's extremely athletic and holds up well in coverage, but is also physical enough to be a force against the run. Donta Hightower is also a very valuable member of the defense thanks to his strength against the run, but he stays on the field in passing situations because he's so valuable as a blitzer. Shea McClellin could be the latest in a long line of Patriot reclamation projects that include the likes of Mike Vrabel. He never found a perfect fit with the Bears, but is a former 1st round pick who can line up inside or outside depending on team needs.

Backup LBs: Due to a rash of injuries, Jonathan Freeny wound up seeing extensive playing time last year. He doesn't do anything great, but is a reliable option who can produce if called upon. Ramon Humber provides additional depth, but he's expected to contribute primarily on special teams.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Malcolm Butler, CB Logan Ryan, SS Patrick Chung, FS Devin McCourty
Backups: CB Justin Coleman, CB Cyrus Jones [R], CB Darryl Roberts, S Duron Harmon, S Brock Vereen

Starting DBs: The Patriots were expected to struggle in the secondary last year, but the strong play of Malcolm Butler helped turn it into a strength. He often wound up shadowing the opposing team's #2 WR, which allowed the Patriots to double team the #1 WR. Logan Ryan held up well at the other corner position, although he has been inconsistent at times. Patrick Chung used to be a liability in coverage, which kept him off the field in certain subpackages early in his career. He improved so much in that area, however, that the Patriots used him to cover slot receivers last year and rewarded him with a contract extension so he seems to be trending upward. Devin McCourty made a successful transition from corner to safety, and signed a lucrative long-term contract to remain the Patriots free safety for the foreseeable future. His fantasy value has been pretty limited of late though with just 4 interceptions over the last 3 seasons.

Backup DBs: The Patriots have a group of inexperienced corners who will compete for playing time behind their starters. Justin Coleman was an undrafted free agent who wound up starting several games for the Patriots in 2015. Cyrus Jones was a 2nd round pick this year out of a big-time program in Alabama, so he figures to be NFL ready. Darryl Roberts was a 7th round pick a year ago who flashed great potential in training camp before suffering a wrist injury that landed him on IR. Duron Harmon is a capable reserve who posted 3 interceptions in a part-time role last year. Brock Vereen never really lived up to expectations in Chicago, but could find a role as a special teams and part-time player here.

Last modified: 2016-08-30 23:00:46