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2019 Team Report: New England Patriots

Offensive Philosophy

Describing head coach Bill Belichick's offensive philosophy is a fraught exercise, because no coach in history has been more of a chameleon, changing his scheme to fit his personnel. (Similarly, no quarterback has proven as adept at learning new tricks as Brady.) Belichick's Patriots won a Super Bowl in 2005 with a ground-and-pound offense led by running back Corey Dillon and a high-percentage passing game. They set scoring records in 2007 with Randy Moss and an aggressive spread offense that stretched the field vertically. They made another Super Bowl in 2011 stretching the field horizontally with Wes Welker and two tight ends as their top three receivers. Then around 2015 they started using Gronkowski to attack the deep middle of the field; over the last four years only DeSean Jackson and T.Y. Hilton averaged more yards per reception than the 265-pound tight end. With Gronkowski now retired, it's hard to say what New England's offense will look like, though it will undoubtedly play to the strengths of its personnel, (which might mean 2019 sees a return to the offense running through the running backs).

Quarterbacks

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

Starting QB: The New England Patriots continue to be the class of the AFC East, and a big part of that is the continued excellence of Tom Brady. While the team is pondering what could happen after he retires, he's still finding new and amazing ways to adapt to his diminishing abilities. Brady is not nearly as prolific as he was at the height of his career, but he's still one of the sharpest football minds on the planet, as is Bill Belichick. Together, they will continue to find new ways to carve up defenses and put the offense in the best position to core points.

Backup QB: There's no replacement for Tom Brady. If he gets hurt, the best you can do is look for someone who can hold onto the steering wheel until he can return. Brian Hoyer could be that guy although since leaving New England for Arizona in 2012, he's had all of one decent season-back in 2015 when he was 224 for 369, totaling 3,326 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The team selected Jarrett Stidham with the No. 133rd overall pick this draft, a guy who before the 2018 college season, was considered a potential top pick at the position. He took a massive step back this past year in regards to confidence, ball placement and freezing in front of a pass rush. He's got work to do, but Josh McDaniels and Bill Belicheck could fix him and make him another Patriots steal. Danny Etling was a seventh-round pick who spent all of his rookie year on the practice squad. We're not even sure he'll make the roster, much less be put in a game in 2019.

Running Backs

Starter: Sony Michel, James White (3RB)
Backup(s): Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris [R]
Fullback(s): James Develin, Jakob Johnson

Starting RB: Sony Michel had a tremendous rookie campaign, capped with the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Michel was great between the tackles and proved to be reliable down the stretch and a monster in the playoffs where he totaled 336 yards on 71 carries with six touchdowns. His knee was problematic and he didn't always break off the big plays you'd hope for behind what was a good offensive line, but overall he earned the starting role. He'll be spelled by James White, who will primarily continue being used as a third-down back and receiver out of the backfield. White had a career year both running the ball on the ground where he totaled 425 yards on 94 carries with five touchdowns-all career bests. He also notched career bests receiving, snagging 87 catches on 123 targets for 751 yards and seven touchdowns. We may see some of his receiving totals go down with Julian Edelman not suspended and Demaryius Thomas now on the team, but the retirement of tight end Rob Gronkowski should balance that out a little.

Backup RBs: Rex Burkhead spent half the season on Injured Reserve with a neck injury, but had some good games when he returned and played well in the AFC Championship win over the Kansas City Chiefs. He'll see some work as the team continues to shift to the ground as Tom Brady ages, but Burkhead is still going to be third wheel behind Sony Michel and James White. Bolden managed to do even less in Miami than he did during his previous stint in New England. He's more of a special teams player than a running back. The Patriots selected Damien Harris in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and he can do it all-run, catch and pass block. He's not very fast but his versatility could endanger the roster prospects of several backs ahead of him.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: NKeal Harry [R], Julian Edelman (PR), Phillip Dorsett
Backups: Demaryius Thomas, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, Matt Slater, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson, Jakobi Meyers [R], Ryan Davis [R]

Starting WRs: The Patriots' first round pick, N'Keal Harry was a prolific pass-catcher at Arizona State, with speed, sure hands and an ability to run after the catch. He doesn't separate very well, but is a physical receiver. Julian Edelman's 2018 didn't start out well, given his suspension for PEDs, but once he got on the field he looked good. He was an absolute beast in the playoffs as well, where his connection to Tom Brady resulted in 26 catches and 388 yards. Edelman not only syncs up well with Brady, he continues to excel at getting open across the middle of the field and his sure hands make him a safe bet to continue to perform. Like Thomas, Phillip Dorsett signed a one-year deal. He saw a lot of high-percentage passes during the 2018 season, and snagged a lot of them, but the result wasn't a huge number of yards. He continues to be a safe starter for the Patriots though, and with Rob Gronkowski retired, could see more targets than last season.

Backup WRs: Demaryius Thomas signed a one-year contract with the Patriots on April 16, with up to $6 million. A 31-year old receiver who is now returning from the second torn Achilles of his career and whose production has been in decline the last two years, Thomas could see a rebound season if he is healthy, as he also has the best quarterback he's had since Peyton Manning. He could start the season on the PUP, and isn't a sure thing to make the team. The backups to the main starters at the position are, as always, similar to when people throw ideas around hoping one will stick. A big-bodied slot receiver who spent the first three seasons of his NFL career in Washington, Maurice Harris could see some use as an alternative to the departed rob Gronkowski, as he is a size mismatch, though he lacks Gronk's athleticism and speed. Matt Slater is a special teams guy and is not expected to do anything in the offense. Braxton Berrios was a sixth-round pick last season and spent the year on injured reserve. Damoun Patterson was signed by the New England Patriots to the practice squad last November and could very well end up back there again.

Tight Ends

Starters: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Backups: Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck [R}

Rob Gronkowski has retired, which leaves a massive hole for the New England Patriots passing offense. Expect them to mix and match as many options as they can to find a formula that works, but we don't expect one guy to step up like Gronk did, because there are few Gronks out there. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is still trying to find a good spot to land in, and comes to the Patriots after a bad year for Jacksonville though he reportedly had a pair of hernia tears which he played through. He has good hands but gets very little after the catch. Matt LaCosse has been around since 2015, but last year was the first time he did much of anything, but he didn't do enough for Denver to keep him. LaCosse is nothing more than depth. Stephen Anderson spent 2018 as a practice squad player, but does have some pass-catching ability, though he is a poor blocker which might limit his chances to be on the field. Ryan Izzo was drafted in the seventh-round last year but never found his way onto the field. An intriguing player, Izzo was productive at Florida State, and could get an opportunity to prove he can do it at the pro level considering the lack of surefire talent ahead of him.

Place Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski: Stephen Gostkowski was exposed in free agency for a month and the 49ers reportedly showed interest, but the Patriots ended up re-signing him to a two-year, $8.5 million dollar deal. His distance accuracy fell off in 2018, with Gostkowski making only 6-of-11 from 40 yards or more. The Patriots attempted as few field goals as they had in any year since 2009, and Gostkowski's production fell off a bit to 2017 levels after a resurgence in 2018. He still finished fifth in overall kicker scoring, but finished around 10th in leagues that reward bonus points for distance kicks. He's still worth a pick, and his draft cost has dropped to reflect his diminishing production. Gostkowski might be a value if he falls outside of the top 6-7 picks.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Sony Michel, James Develin

Last year, the Patriots were blessed with arguably the best kickoff returner in league history in Cordarrelle Patterson. This year, they have no such luxury. With Patterson on board there wasn't much chance for anyone else to return kicks, but Sony Michel and James Develin both received opportunities. It remains to be seen whether New England opts to expand their role in 2019 or look for a new candidate entirely.

Punt Returners: Julian Edelman

The Patriots would probably rather not use Julian Edelman as much on special teams as they do, but with some of the surest hands in the league and one of the highest per-return averages in history, Edelman keeps making it difficult for them to move on.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon
Key Backups: Ted Karras, Yodny Cajuste [R], Brian Schwenke, Cole Croston, James Ferentz

The Patriots have perhaps the best offensive line coach in the league in Dante Scarneccia. The team drafted Isaiah Wynn in the first round prior to last season with the intention of starting him at left tackle after Trent Brown departed. Wynn is essentially a "redshirt rookie" and will look to join a line unchanged at the other spots. Center David Andrews is undersized while right guard Shaq Mason makes an impact in the run game. Left guard Joe Thuney does a good job but he and Andrews will be pushed by Ted Karras again. Right tackle Marcus Cannon is 31 and the team drafted Yodny Cajuste from West Virginia in the third round to eventually replace Cannon. Overall, this is a mid-tier line but their grade can improve if Wynn lives up to his draft selection.

Team Defense

The Patriots team defense was a strong producer in points allowed leagues, with six games of 13 points allowed or fewer. They also picked off 18 passes, but posted only a modest 30 sacks. Big games against the Bears, Bills, and Jets punctuated their schedule and they didn't have too many letdowns despite having few top level front seven talents. One of those - Trey Flowers - is gone to Detroit in free agency, but the team traded for Michael Bennett to replace him. The rest of the defense is intact, although the team lost Brian Flores and other members of the defensive staff. It is believed Belichick himself will coordinate the defense. The schedule opens with the Steelers in a down matchup, but the next four games pit New England against their AFC East rivals and Washington, so it's worth drafting them in the last round and absorbing the Week 1 dud to get a potentially hot unit in the first month of the season.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Michael Bennett, DT Lawrence Guy, DT Mike Pennel, DE Deatrich Wise
Backups: DE John Simon, DE Chase Winovich [R], DE Derek Rivers, DT Adam Butler

Starting DL: The Patriots had a lot of turnover at this position with Trey Flowers and Malcolm Brown leaving in free agency. Michael Bennett was released by the Eagles and should help offset the loss of Flowers to some extent. While he likely has lost a step from his days in Seattle, he can still be tough for offenses to handle and his snap count should get a slight boost. Lawrence Guy has been a nice fit as a 3-technique and can put up enough tackles to be viable in deeper fantasy leagues, but he also has just 3 sacks over his last 3 seasons combined. Mike Pennel has starting experience from his time with the Jets and Packers but is little more than a 2-down run stopper. Deatrich Wise Jr didn't take full advantage of the opportunity he was given last year, but he can be an effective edge rusher and may have the most upside in this group. The one thing holding him back, however, is that he's not very active against the run so his tackle numbers tend to be underwhelming.

Backup DL: John Simon has bounced around the league and is undersized for a full-time role but he can certainly be effective as a pass-rush specialist. Chase Winovich is a promising rookie who has a profile that is similar to Simon now but has more long-term upside. Derek Rivers hasn't developed as expected but has also been plagued by injuries during his brief career. Adam Butler has been a productive backup with 5 career sacks in two years and could be in line for a bigger role.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Kyle Van Noy, MLB Donta Hightower, SLB JaWhaun Bentley
Backups: LB Jamie Collins, LB Elandon Roberts, LB Calvin Munson, LB Christian Sam, LB Brandon King

Starting LBs: Kyle Van Noy has been the only reliable Patriots linebacker over the past two seasons and that figures to continue in 2019. His all-around game allows him to stay on the field in all situations. Donta Hightower is a better NFL player than fantasy option and has had a difficult time avoiding injuries of late. Even when healthy and playing a full-time role, his production has often been underwhelming. The one potential breakout candidate here is JaWhaun Bentley, who earned a large role as a rookie last year before suffering a season-ending injury in week 3.

Backup LBs: Elandon Roberts has been a versatile player over the past few years but his role seems to change on a weekly basis. Jamie Collins was brought back to the team after the draft and should be a pass rush specialist at worst with room for a much larger role. Calvin Munson filled in as an injury replacement for the Giants and will compete for a depth spot. Christian Sam is a second-year pro who offers additional depth and competition at the inside linebacker spots. Brandon King is a special teams standout who doesn't see much time on defense.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Stephon Gilmore, SS Patrick Chung, FS Devin McCourty, CB J.C. Jackson
Backups: CB Jason McCourty, CB Joejuan Williams [R], CB Jonathan Jones, S Duron Harmon, S Obi Melifonwu

Starting DBs: Stephon Gilmore finally established himself as one of the league's elite shutdown corners last year. He shadows the top receiver on opposing teams in most weeks and that should give him enough targets to remain a viable fantasy option. Patrick Chung is a good player whose counting stats haven't quite risen high enough to make him a fantasy starter. At 32 years of age, it also makes sense that the team may start looking to replace him soon. Devin McCourty has been a starter here since 2010 and has been extremely consistent of late. He offers limited upside with just 7 interceptions over the last 6 seasons but is a high volume tackler from the free safety position. J.C. Jackson is a former undrafted free agent who emerged as a quality starter last year and figures to maintain his role, although his production was very inconsistent.

Backup DBs: Jason McCourty was outplayed by others last year but still carved out a key role as the team's nickel corner and finished with 50+ solo tackles. Joejuan Williams was taken in the 2nd round and has intriguing potential due to his 6'4" height and ability to match up against bigger receivers and tight ends. Jonathan Jones has seen plenty of time as a nickel back the past two seasons and offers quality depth in the slot. Duron Harmon is another sub-package player who gets regular playing time and makes plays as evidenced by his 8 interceptions over the past two seasons. Obi Melifonwu is the latest Patriots reclamation project after the Raiders cut the 2017 2nd-round pick last year.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:47:37