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2018 Team Report: New England Patriots

Offensive Philosophy

One of the biggest offensive chameleons the league has ever seen, Bill Belichick has overseen at least three major offensive systems since joining the Patriots, from a run-heavy offense through 2006, to a college short-passing spread through 2011, and now to a more vertical spread that attacks the deep middle of the field. 122 players have at least 100 receptions over the last three years, but none of those players averages more yards per reception than tight end Rob Gronkowski over that span. Outside of a brief run with Corey Dillon, Belichick has always preferred to run a committee out of the backfield, and has always involved his backs fairly heavily in the passing game.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling (R)

Starting QB: After a suspension shortened 2016 where Brady tore the league up, he had an equally tremendous 2017, with 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. While Brady's physical talents aren't what they once were, he, coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels continue to adapt the offense in a way which highlights what Brady can do while minimizing what he cannot. While the cast around him continues to change - gone are Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola - Brady keeps on moving forward. It helps that Rob Gronkowski is back as well, but expect Brady to be very good again this season.

Backup QB: When you have a guy who is rarely hurt and mostly effective, you can have an aging and middle of the road backup like Brian Hoyer. Nobody wants to have to break glass in case of emergency, but the Patriots could not roll into the season without a vet behind Brady. Behind him is Danny Etling, the 219th overall pick out of LSU and probably not the heir apparent to Brady. He's a smart player with limited arm strength and a penchant for collapse under pressure who will have to hold a clipboard for some time before he sees the field.

Running Backs

Starter: Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel (R)
Backup(s): James White, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, Brandon Bolden, Ralph Webb (R)
Fullback(s): James Develin

Starting RB: Rex Burkhead spent much of 2017 hurt, and it certainly limited what he could contribute to the Patriots. They still liked him enough to sign him to a three-year contract when there were really no other takers, so they must still believe in the big back. He can do a little of everything and runs the ball well, if he can stay healthy he may be what passes for a starting running back in New England, which is to say the first in a line of RBBC guys in the backfield. His chief competition may come from rookie Sony Michel. Selected with the 31st pick in the draft, Michel was the highest selected back by the Patriots since Laurence Maroney. As a committee back in Georgia, he's actually a perfect fit for this offense, and while his speed and burst are good, the hard way he finishes his runs is what should make the coaching staff happy. He may be much better catching the ball than people think as well, though he was rarely used by Georgia in that capacity.

Backup RBs: James White might end up as the Patriots chief passing down back, but it will be interesting to see if he builds off a nice playoff run where he scored four touchdowns in three games. Then again, White hada great 2016 Super Bowl and then underwhelmed last season. Reports have Mike Gillislee on the roster bubble this spring, and it's no surprise considering how little he did at the end of last year. And with guys like rookie Sony Michel, a healthy Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill in the fold, there's very little room for him. Hill, by the way, has his own 'hill' to climb after several uninspiring seasons in a row in Cincinnati, but he could end up as a red zone weapon if he is healthy after last year's ankle injury. Brandon Bolden is primarily a special teams player these days, and should stay that way barring massive injury issues. Undrafted rookie Ralph Webb had some good measurables at Vanderbilt's Pro Day and is a hard worker, something which could endear him to the staff and help him stay on the roster.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Julian Edelman (susp), Chris Hogan
Backups: Jordan Matthews, Malcolm Mitchell, Cordarrelle Patterson (KR), Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Braxton Berrios (R), Matt Slater, Riley McCarron, Chris Lacy

Starting WRs: Edelman's 2017 took a bad turn when he tore his ACL and had surgery in September, but he is expected to be ready for training camp. One of Tom Brady's security blankets, Edelman is facing a four-game suspension for PED usage that will allow at least one additional receiver to make the final roster. After that, Edelman should be in the mix often, but at 31, how will the ACL injury impact his game? Never the fastest guy on the field, will he still be able to cut and break sharply? Former Monmouth receiver Chris Hogan was a little banged up last season, but he capped the year off with a fantastic 128 yard, one touchdown performance in a losing cause last Super Bowl. As Edelman's star could be setting, perhaps Hogan's will overtake it this season.

Backup WRs: Jordan Matthews was a discount buy for the Patriots, given he was coming off a bad and injury-riddled season with AFC East rival Buffalo. If he can rebound with a solid campaign - something the Patriots seem to magically produce each year for one player - Matthews could be a huge part of this offense. Malcolm Mitchell is also looking to rebound from an injury-plagued 2017, though his knee injury cost him all of it. He reportedly feels really healthy, but it has to be remembered that knee issues have plagued him since college. Cordarrelle Patterson will mostly be a kick returner, but don't be shocked if the Patriots finally figure out how to make him the receiver he always seemed he could be but never was in Minnesota. There will likely be some interesting packages for him. Phillip Dorsett is going to have to really stand out, especially given he didn't have his 2019 option picked up. The Patriots did pick up Kenny Britt's 2018 team option, though, and are hoping he can have a much improved 2018. He didn't do well last season, though, and Britt has a history of not living up to his potential. Day three rookie Braxton Berrios spent most of his collegiate career as a punt returner and while he might emerge as a legitimate starter down the road, as he did in his final year of college, it won't be where he has his early impact. He's going to challenge guys like Matt Slater, Riley McCarron, and UDFA Chris Lacy for one of the last roster spots.

Tight Ends

Starters: Rob Gronkowski
Backups: Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo (R), Will Tye

While some were wondering if Rob Gronkowski would come back again this year, it seemed like it was never really in doubt. The biggest issue for Gronkowski s health, as he has not played a complete season since 2011, but he will still be one of the top tight ends in the league again this year despite that. Dwayne Allen is just a blocker, and had no real impact in the passing game last year, and will likely lose the second spot to Troy Niklas, if Niklas can stay healthy, something which has been an issue. UDFA Jacob Hollister is an athletic pass catcher but can't block, which might cost him a roster spot, as is the case with late round rookie Ryan Izzo. Will Tye spent most of last season on the practice squad, which does not bode well for this year's prospects.

Place Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski: Stephen Gostkowski bounced back to his best field goal attempt and make numbers since 2013 and his best field goal conversion percentage since 2014. He was the second-highest scoring kicker in the league and didn't miss a field goal attempt under 40 yards - although he did miss two extra point attempts. His 8-11 performance from 40-49 yards was one of the worst in the league, conversion percentage-wise, and he only had four attempts from 50+ (making all four) but Gostkowski is still a worthy choice as the first kicker off of the board.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Cordarrelle Patterson

When one of the most special teams obsessed teams in the league trades for Cordarrelle Patterson, owner of the second-best kickoff return average in NFL history, it's a safe bet that he'll be returning their kickoffs.

Punt Returners: Julian Edelman, Cordarrelle Patterson

In NFL history, only Rick Upchurch, Desmond Howard, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, and Devin Hester have more punt returns than Julian Edelman with a higher average per return. Edelman, however, is 32, has a history of injuries, and is vitally important in the passing game, which means New England will likely look to minimize his special teams work. Several coaches have talked about getting Cordarrelle Patterson involved on punt returns; perhaps Bill Belichick will be the first to commit.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT LaAdrian Waddle, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon
Key Backups: Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn (R), Luke Bowanko, Ted Karras, Antonio Garcia

Left guard Joe Thuney is the leader of this unit, which lost it's long time left tackle to free agency last offseason. The team selected Isaiah Wynn in the first round of the NFL draft and Wynn played his college ball at left tackle. Still, LaAdrian Waddle may be able to fend him off at least for the start of the season. Center David Andrews is undersized but effective. The right side of guard Shaq Mason and tackle Marcus Cannon are absolute maulers in the run game. Trent Brown arrived from San Francisco via trade this offseason, and he could also factor into the starting tackle conversation. Overall the Patriots' offensive line enters the season as a low-tier option.

Team Defense

For such a successful team, the Patriots D/ST has been a laggard in fantasy leagues. Trading away Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins and manning Super Bowl defenses with one-year rentals is part of the reason, and the team also lost defensive coordinator Matt Patricia this offseason when he became the Lions new head coach. There's some hope for improvement with the return of 2017 third-rounder Derek Rivers from a knee surgery to upgrade the defensive line, and the acquisition of Danny Shelton will certainly help the run defense. Jason McCourty should be an adequate replacement for Malcolm Butler in the secondary and second-round pick Duke Dawson can help in a variety of roles. Better health from Dont'a Hightower, who only played in five games last year and hasn't played in more than 13 games since 2013, would be the best development for this unit. They're still only a matchup play, and one that has been disappointing for the last two years even when the deck is stacked in their favor.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Trey Flowers, DT Malcolm Brown, DT Danny Shelton, DE Deatrich Wise
Backups: DE Eric Lee, DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Derek Rivers, DT Lawrence Guy, DT Vincent Valentine

Starting DL: Trey Flowers is the standout player in this group due to his great motor and solid 2-way play. While his sack numbers have been underwhelming since joining the starting lineup in 2016, he generates a lot of tackles and that makes him a pretty solid DE2 in most scoring systems. Malcolm Brown is an above-average player who is still coming into his own. The addition of a pure run-stuffer like Danny Shelton next to him should help free up Brown to get after the quarterback more this year. Shelton was a high pick of the Browns just a few years ago and the Patriots gave up a 3rd round pick in 2019 to acquire him. Deatrich Wise picked up 5 sacks as a rookie but actually played better than those numbers indicate as he was very effective at generating pressure. He probably has the most upside as a pure pass rusher in this unit, but there is solid depth behind him so he'll need to compete for playing time.

Backup DL: Eric Lee was picked up off the practice squad from the Bills and made some huge contributions late in the year. The veteran Adrian Clayborn is not as good as his 6-sack game last year suggests but he can be an effective piece of a defensive end rotation. Derek Rivers missed his rookie season with an ACL injury but has a lot of promise as a 2-way defensive end. Lawrence Guy is a versatile player with plenty of experience who figures to see plenty of time as the team's #3 defensive tackle. Vincent Valentine was a 3rd round pick a year ago who didn't get a chance to show much thus far.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Kyle Van Noy, MLB Donta Hightower, OLB Elandon Roberts
Backups: OLB Marquis Flowers, ILB Nicholas Grigsby, ILB Christian Sam (R), ILB Ja'Whaun Bentley

Starting LBs: This group could have used some reinforcements but the Patriots decided to stick with what they had a year ago. Kyle Van Noy is the only player that seems likely to handle a 3-down role. His tackle numbers in 2017 were disappointing, but he made up for it with 5.5 sacks and stands out as the best of a poor group. Donta Hightower has had a lot of trouble staying healthy through most of his career and missed most of 2017 to a pectoral injury. Even when healthy, he doesn't produce enough to be helpful to fantasy owners. Elandon Roberts often filled in after Hightower went down, but didn't do much with the opportunity. The Patriots like to use extra defensive backs since they are often playing with a lead, which tends to limit the upside for their linebackers.

Backup LBs: Marquis Flowers is a good athlete who got a chance to play a key role down the stretch last year and posted impressive numbers. Nicholas Grigsby was signed off the Ravens practice squad late last year and is mainly a special teams contributor. Christian Sam is a very interesting late round pick with the potential to develop into a starter at inside linebacker and fellow 2018 third-day pick Ja'Whaun Bentley projects as a limited role run stuffing linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Stephon Gilmore, SS Patrick Chung, FS Devin McCourty, CB Jason McCourty
Backups: CB Eric Rowe, CB Jonathan Jones, CB Duke Dawson [R], S Duron Harmon, S Jordan Richards

Starting DBs: Stephon Gilmore needed some time to get comfortable in a new defense after joining the Patriots last year, but he was excellent late in the season. He is capable of shadowing some of the best receivers in the league, which helps the Patriots devote more attention elsewhere. Patrick Chung has improved his cover skills and worked to establish himself as a key piece in the secondary. He topped 70 solo tackles last year for the first time since 2010 and should continue to benefit playing behind one of the weakest linebacker groups in the league. Devin McCourty has been one of the most productive free safeties in the league for some time. Unfortunately, he's only put up 1 interception in each of the past 3 seasons and the lack of big plays limits his fantasy value. Jason McCourty was one of the only bright spots for the Browns last year so it was surprising when they traded him to New England to join his twin brother. He will help offset the loss of Malcolm Butler in free agency and give the Patriots a very strong starting tandem once again.

Backup DBs: Eric Rowe is a former 2nd round pick who has potential even though he's struggled as the team's nickel corner. Jonathan Jones is a former undrafted free agent who had to play a bigger role than expected last year. Duke Dawson was one of the only early picks the Patriots spent on the defensive side of the ball and he will get a chance to compete for slot duties right away. As the #3 safety, Duron Harmon gets nearly as much playing time as the starters and has good playmaking instincts. Jordan Richards was a 2nd round pick who hasn't really been able to carve out a role for himself thus far.

Last modified: 2018-06-17 12:03:45