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2017 Team Report: New England Patriots
Offensive PhilosophyThe first name people associate with New England's offense will always be Tom Brady, and rightfully so, but despite Brady's legendary quarterbacking the New England Patriots are probably more run-heavy than you'd think, especially around the end zone. In 2016, they called 24 more runs than passes in the red zone, a differential surpassed only by the most run-heavy team in the NFL, Buffalo, with 25. When New England does drop back, it's no surprise that the passing game runs through the tight end position, and given this offseason's acquisitions, that philosophy shows no sign of changing in 2017.
QuarterbacksStarter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Jimmy Garoppolo Starting QB: With no suspension to kick things off this season, there's no real drama heading into preseason. Tom Brady is back to start and barring injury, will be the starter all season long. While missing the first four games of the season hurt his overall production, Brady threw for over 300 yards five times, twice for more than 400 yards. He had his lowest interception total in any non-injury season since he became starter and had the second highest completion percentage of his career with 67.4 percent. While Brady isn't the force he was early in his career, the offense has been adjusted repeatedly to cover his declining ability, so much so that people rarely notice it. He wants to play for a few more years and we don't see that-or his ability to move the offense down the field-changing any time soon. Backup QB: It's clear the Patriots hold Jimmy Garoppolo in high esteem and do see him being a big part of their future. Multiple teams came for him, but New England refused every trade offer. It could be that nobody was offering enough, or that the Patriots' demands are unreasonable. However, despite Tom Brady's insistence he could play for another seven years, New England knows they have to plan for the future. Garoppolo played well in both games he started before getting hurt.
Running BacksStarter: Dion Lewis, James White, Mike Gillislee
Backup(s): Rex Burkhead
Fullback(s): James Develin Starting RB: We expect a lot of mixing and matching here in the backfield, so while Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and James White might be 1/1A/1B in the backfield, none will carry the whole load. Lewis seems back to 100 percent from his horrific knee injury in 2015, though he had a bad hamstring strain in the Super Bowl. Durability is always a bit of a concern, but if he's healthy, expect him to see a lot of work receiving out of the backfield. White is a very similar back, and was a huge part of the Patriots' comeback in the Super Bowl. Two of the three backs give the Patriots the ability to split an extra receiver out wide, or perhaps have one in the backfield while the other is off in the slot. The Patriots seem to have indicated that they will use Gillislee in lieu of LeGarrette Blount, which is a significant role. With a 5.7 yards per carry average last season on 101 carries, he's shown flashes, but at 5-11, 208 Gillislee is a lot shorter and lighter than the 6-1, 241 pound Blount. Backup RBs: While Dion Lewis and James White are 1/1A on the depth chart, expect Rex Burkhead to be in the mix as he is a little more versatile than other three backs. Burkhead does bring a lot of the same skills to the table that Lewis and White do, but he also can run between the tackles and has had some success in the past doing so. However we have very little history to go on, having touched the ball just 121 times in four years. He is coming off a year when the Cincinnati Bengals gave him 91 total touches, and he averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per catch. Still, he is relatively unproven. Fullback: Develin is an important part of the Patriots running game, and is known as one of the best run-blocking fullbacks in the game. The team brought him back in the offseason, which is good news for Mike Gillislee.
Wide ReceiversStarters: Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman (inj), Chris Hogan
Backups: Phillip Dorsett, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell Starting WRs: While it doesn't seem fair that a Super Bowl Championship team gets one of the best receivers in the NFL, that's what happened. We can expect Cooks to be the outside threat while the slot receiver role might be split among multiple players, along with tight end Rob Gronkowski. Cooks may not see the length of passes he did from Drew Brees, as Tom Brady's arm just isn't there, but he should still easily top 1,000 yards for the third straight season. We wouldn't be shocked if he finally found a way to break into double digit touchdowns either. Having a legitimate outside threat like Cooks should make the other receivers that much more dangerous inside. Chris Hogan was already in line to be a core part of the offense as the #3 receiver, Julian Edelman's injury would make him the #2 and a potential strong WR3 with WR2 upside. Backup WRs: Even with the addition of Cooks, Chris Hogan was a big success with Tom Brady in his first year with the team and should see significant snaps - enough to make Cooks a lower ceiling weekly plays. Malcolm Mitchell came on and his contribution was significant, especially for a rookie in a system that has been difficult for new wide receivers to pick up. Danny Amendola can reproduce a lot of what Julian Edelman does. He agreed to restructure his contract to stay with the team this offseason. Slater is purely a special teams contributor and Carr and Hollister will vie this summer with Lucien for a practice squad spot or to impress another team enough to earn a roster spot elsewhere.
Tight EndsStarters: Rob Gronkowski
Backups: Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister [R] For the fifth season in a row, Rob Gronkowski missed at least a portion of the regular season, in this case eight games in 2016. Part of the length of time was likely because the team wasn't rushing him back with Tom Brady out at the start of the season. And he does say he will be ready for training camp and if he can stay healthy, he could be back to over 1000 yards again. Tom Brady will look hard towards Gronkowski as he always does, and he continues to be a mismatch nightmare for linebackers and defensive backs. Dwayne Allen has been disappointing so far in his first five years, but if he can bounce back and reach his potential, Allen could be a nice companion to Gronkowski on the field. He can block and he can catch the ball on the move, although he hasn't done it consistently.
Place KickerStephen Gostkowski: After Stephen Gostkowski's missed extra point spelled doom for the Patriots Super Bowl chances in 2015, his confidence seemed to take a small hit. He missed three extra points last year, his first regular season misses since his rookie year. Gostkowski only made 27 of 32 field goal attempts, for his lowest conversion rate since 2012. He only made two of four attempts from 50+ and missed two attempts from under 40 yards. All of these developments made Gostkowski finish well outside of the range of top kickers in leagues of all scoring formats. He is still going off of the board in the first 3-4 kickers taken, but his 2016 campaign demonstrated that he isn't worth that draft capital this year.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola New England's depth chart is littered with players with a little bit of return experience, and they're not afraid to use it. Nine different players returned a kickoff in 2016, with seven of them finishing with between 2 and 5 attempts. The one thing worth betting on is that everyone will once again get a shot and everyone will play a role. Punt Returners: Danny Amendola Unlike the "share-the-wealth" approach on kickoffs, New England has a clear preferred returner on punts in Julian Edelman, who has the 9th-best punt return average in NFL history, in the same neighborhood as legends like Devin Hester, Billy Johnson, and Rick Upchurch, but he is now out for the season with an ACL tear, and Cyrus Jones, who was the next best option, is also out. Danny Amendola is the best bet to lead the team in punt returns this year.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Nate Solder, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon
Key Backups: Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle, Cole Croston The Patriots' offensive line returns all five players in the same positions as last season, which is great from a cohesion perspective. The line is led by left tackle Nate Solder, who has become an above average pass protector in the league, when healthy. The team lost Sebastian Vollmer to retirement but he was injured most of last season and Marcus Cannon did a decent job at right tackle in his place. The interior is solid with Joe Thuney ascending at left guard, he could be really good one day. David Andrews is undersized at center but the team loves his intangibles. Shaq Mason is a bulky right guard behind whom the team can grind out tough rushing yards. Tackle depth appears to be a competition between Cameron Flemming and LaAdrian Waddle on the right side, and the team drafted Antonio Garcia to develop behind Solder on the left. Overall this is an extremely decent offensive line and they will likely rank among the top third in the league when the season opens.
Team DefenseA front seven filled with retreads on a team that willingly traded away their best edge rusher before the season and best all-around linebacker during the season was still good enough to win a championship. An NFL championship, that is. While their strong scoring defense helped them to a top ten finish in leagues that heavily weighted that statistic, the defense otherwise failed to make enough turnovers or sacks to be a reliable option in more typical scoring leagues. They are still going in the top 6-8 of 2017 drafts on reputation. They lost top slot corner Logan Ryan, but Stephon Gilmore was signed to a big contract in free agency and the team retained top outside corner Malcolm Butler after a drama that saw him nearly traded to the Saints. The Patriots added Kony Ealy in a trade to bolster their pass rush after losing Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency. While they have quality players at all three levels of the defense and a propensity for playing from ahead, the Patriots disappointed many who depended on them last year and probably aren't worth taking at ADP.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Trey Flowers, DT Malcolm Brown, DT Alan Branch, DE Deatrich Wise [R]
Backups: DT Lawrence Guy, DT Vincent Valentine, DL Adam Butler, DE Cassius Marsh Starting DL: The Patriots have seen a lot of turnover at defensive end in recent years, and Kony Ealy will be the newest name, replacing Rob Ninkovich, who retired at the beginning of camp. The Patriots acquired Ealy in exchange for moving from the late second to early third round. Like many other castoffs, don't be surprised if the Patriots get the best football of Ealy's career out of him. Trey Flowers emerged last year as perhaps the team's best pass rusher, and he added 2.5 sacks in the Super Bowl. Malcolm Brown was drafted to replace Vince Wilfork, and he has put together two strong seasons thus far. Alan Branch is a solid run-stopper whose main role is tying up blockers to make things easier for the players around him. Backup DL: Derek Rivers was the first pick for the Patriots in this year's class, and he has some intriguing potential as a pass rusher. Unfortunately he tore his ACL during the preseason and will miss the entire season. Lawrence Guy was an under the radar signing, but he could make significant contributions here as a DE on early downs who kicks inside to DT in passing situations. Vincent Valentine is a 2nd year pro who is likely to be the primary backup inside. Geneo Grissom has not shown much during his first two years in the league, but worked with the starters in camp and could be in line for a much bigger role this year. Deatrich Wise had a strong training camp before suffering a concussion that slowed his momentum, but he could contribute more than expected as a rookie.
LinebackersStarters: WLB Kyle Van Noy, MLB Davis Harris, SLB Dont'a Hightower
Backups: LB Shea McClellin, ILB Elandon Roberts, OLB Harvey Langi [R] Starting LBs: The Patriots traded away Jamie Collins before the deadline last year and proved that they can win without a star. This is a workmanlike group, and the Patriots like to use frequent rotations of players so it might be tough to count on any for consistent fantasy production. Kyle Van Noy was a castoff of the Lions, but is a former 2nd round pick who took on a big role late in the year with the Patriots. David Harris was cut by the Jets this offseason, but it appears he will enter the season as the Patriots starting MLB. He's most likely a 2-down linebacker at this point in his career, but his leadership and durability should give him an edge. Dont'a Hightower has been a key player for some time, although it often feels like he should be more productive than he has been. Health is the main concern for him as he can defend the run and rush the passer as well as just about any other LB in the league. Backup LBs: Shea McClellin is another reclamation project since he flopped as a 1st round pick with the Bears. He's versatile enough to play inside or outside, but may see time as an OLB/DE hybrid similar to the way the Patriots used Rob Ninkovich. Elandon Roberts was a late round pick in 2016 who flashed potential and could be headed for a bigger role. Jonathan Freeny has been a starter in the past, but missed most of 2016 after undergoing shoulder surgery. Harvey Langi is a developmental prospect who converted from RB and posted great workout numbers.
Defensive BacksStarters: CB Stephon Gilmore, SS Patrick Chung, FS Devin McCourty, CB Malcolm Butler
Backups: CB Eric Rowe, S Duron Harmon, CB Jonathan Jones, CB Jonathan Bademosi, DB Nate Ebner, DB Jordan Richards, DB Brandon King Starting DBs: The Patriots made a big splash in free agency by signing one of the top players available from a division rival. Stephon Gilmore was often given difficult assignments during his time in Buffalo, and figures to play even better with an upgrade in coaching. Malcolm Butler was reported to be on the trade block this offseason, but has certainly earned a reputation for playing shutdown defense himself. These two corners should give the Patriots one of the best tandems in the league. Patrick Chung has improved considerably in his cover skills and often matches up against slot receivers and opposing tight ends. Devin McCourty is an elite deep safety, but his interception totals have been disappointing over the past 4 seasons. Neither safety is particularly valuable from a fantasy perspective. Backup DBs: Eric Rowe was picked up via a preseason trade with the Eagles last year and wound up playing nearly half the defensive snaps. Duron Harmon is technically considered a backup but he sees regular time as part of the team's big nickel package. Last modified: 2017-09-05 12:51:42