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2017 Team Report: New England Patriots

Quarterbacks

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

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 and looked better than rookie Jacoby Brissett, who took over when Garoppolo went down. There's always a chance the Patriots could move one of these two this summer or even during the season, but Brissett is still raw for them to truly depend on, so we expect them both to remain Patriots for the foreseeable future.

Running Backs

Starter: Dion Lewis, James White, Mike Gillislee
Backup(s): Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, DJ Foster, LeShun Daniels Jr [R]
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. Brandon Bolden is now in a precarious position in terms of keeping his roster spot. Mostly a special teams player, it's going to be tough to find footing enough to last past the final cuts. D.J. Foster spent last season on the practice squad,surfacing just briefly in the first half of the season. A receiving back who is more of a wide receiver, he's also in danger of not making the final round of cuts. UDFA Leshun Daniels Jr. has the build to make it in the NFL, who can be a bit inconsistent. He's another guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield, but his struggles in pass protection could make it hard for him to make the roster in a crowded backfield.

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 Receivers

Starters: Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman
Backups: Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Devin Street, Matthew Slater, Devin Lucien, Austin Carr [R], Cody Hollister [R]

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 Edelman works inside, 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 Edelman that much more dangerous inside. Adding Cooks might cap Edelman's production back under 1000 yards again, after he topped it last season, but it will pull some attention away from him and that-along with what Gronkowski attracts inside-could ultimately make Edelman more effective.

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 and Edelman 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 if Edelman misses time. 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 Ends

Starters: Rob Gronkowski
Backups: Dwayne Allen, James O'Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Rob Housler, 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. James O'Shaughnessy was stuck behind Travis Kelce in Kansas City and provides good depth as a 'move' tight end. Matt Lengel was an exclusive rights free agent who appeared in just a handful of games last season with the Patriots and is no more than depth. Ditto Rob Housler, who didn't even play a snap for anyone in 2016 and was nothing special in Arizona before that. Rookie Jacob Hollister (twin of wide receiver and fellow rookie Cody Hollister) is useless as a blocker but has intriguing athleticism and could be a mismatch for defenses. He needs an excellent camp to remain with the team, however.

Place Kicker

Stephen 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 Returners

Kick Returners: Cyrus Jones, 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. (Cyrus Jones led the team with 8.) The one thing worth betting on is that everyone will once again get a shot and everyone will play a role.

Punt Returners: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Cyrus Jones

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. To avoid overworking Edelman, New England also uses the versatile Danny Amendola and last year's explosive rookie Cyrus Jones.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Nate Solder, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon
Key Backups: Antonio Garcia [R], Jamil Douglas, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Michael Williams

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 Defense

A 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 Line

Starters: DE Rob Ninkovich, DE Trey Flowers, DT Malcolm Brown, DT Alan Branch
Backups: DE Kony Ealy, DE Derek Rivers [R], DT Lawrence Guy, DT Vincent Valentine

Starting DL: The Patriots have seen a lot of turnover at defensive end in recent years, but Rob Ninkovich remains. At 33 years old, however, he may not have much left as his production showed a steep decline last year. 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: Kony Ealy was a solid player in Carolina who didn't quite live up to the high expectations many had for him. The Patriots obviously liked what they saw enough to trade for him, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Bill Belichick can unlock his potential. Derek Rivers was the first pick for the Patriots in this year's class, and he has some intriguing potential as a pass rusher. 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.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Kyle Van Noy, MLB Dont'a Hightower, SLB Shea McClellin
Backups: ILB Elandon Roberts, OLB Jonathan Freeny, 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. Dont'a Hightower is the leader of this group, but 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 good as just about any other LB in the league. 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 figures to slot in as the strongside linebacker when they use a 4-3 front.

Backup LBs: 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 Backs

Starters: CB Stephon Gilmore, SS Patrick Chung, FS Devin McCourty, CB Malcolm Butler
Backups: CB Eric Rowe, CB Justin Coleman, S Duron Harmon

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. Justin Coleman has started a few games in his 20-game career, but is mainly a depth player. Duron Harmon is technically considered a backup but he sees regular time as part of the team's big nickel package.

Last modified: 2017-05-17 11:36:44