The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Matt Waldman
Chad Johnson. Brandon Lloyd. Kellen Winslow II. Danny Amendola. Brandon LaFell. When it comes to the fantasy hype of free agent acquisitions by New England my buddy Jason Wood has heard wolf cried one too many times and he’s staying at home. I get it, the Patriots have not seen sustained success from a free agent passing game weapon since Randy Moss.
The problem with Wood’s conclusion is the growing assumption that these free agents were good before they arrived in New England and the offensive system ruined them. True, the Perkins/Erhardt system relies on receivers with strong diagnostic skills of coverage and a strong rapport with Tom Brady. But with the exception of LaFell, who was never a top-tier receiver, the rest of the list above were players past their prime, unwilling workers, had difficulty staying healthy, or all three.
Martellus Bennett arrives in his athletic prime and averaged 4.8 catches, 49 yards, and 0.33 TDs per contest during his past 43 games. In PPR leagues, that’s TE11 or TE12 fantasy production during the past three years. Unless you’re counting on an exceptional rookie season from Malcolm Mitchell or another surprising year from Nate Washington, Bennett is the offensive free agent of note.
New England is the only team in recent history that has supported two fantasy TE1s and it has been seeking a player like Bennett to confound opposing defenses with a multiple attack since it lost Aaron Hernandez. The former Bear lacks Hernandez’s special skills after the catch, but Bennett has proven skilled enough to deliver TE1 production in his own right when the main act at the position. According to ESPN, Only Rob Gronkowski has earned more yards after contact than Bennett since 2013.
Working with Rob Gronkowski will actually raise the quality of Bennett’s targets and there isn't a proven receiver in this offense that has developed years of rapport with Tom Brady and remained durable other than Julian Edelman. And Edelman is more slot receiver than a perimeter player. When Gronkowski and Hernandez ruled the Patriots passing game as rookies, Wes Welker had a few years of WR1 fantasy play that the duo interrupted and health wasn’t an issue.
Belichick finally obtained that multiple 12-personnel (two tight ends) set he had been trying to build since drafting Daniel Graham and Ben Watson within a few years of the other. When Belichick can run this scheme, Brady can move Gronkowski and Bennett into one of five different positions on the field based on the defense. Belichick knows that Brady's strength is short and intermediate passing and scrambling the defense with pre-snap shifts and formation conundrums will give Brady a higher volume of easy targets despite lacking a quality vertical passing game.
I expect Edelman to remain a quality fantasy starter but not a borderline WR1 if Gronkowski and Bennett remain healthy. This should mean Bennett thrives as a PPR option with 5-7 scores and 700-900 yards. Hernandez was the No.3 fantasy TE in 2011 when he was the "TE2" option in this Gronkowski-led duo. His totals were 79-910-7 and Gronkowski’s were 90-1327-17.
I think Bennett has 79-910-7 upside. A more realistic figure is 60-70 catches, 750-900 yards, and 4-6 touches. It's easily low-end TE1 territory at the price of the No.14 TE off fantasy boards. That's value.
Low Side by Jason Wood
I get the hype; truly I do. The Patriots seemingly find ways of fielding a potent offense every year in spite of constantly re-inventing themselves and rotating new pieces into the offensive puzzle. The Patriots addition of Martellus Bennett this offseason has analysts hearkening back to the days when Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski were both dynamic options. In particular, fantasy owners wonder if we could be seeing a repeat of the 2011 season when Gronkowski finished as the #1 fantasy tight end (90 receptions, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns) and Hernandez finished #3 (79 receptions, 910 yards, 7 touchdowns).
I acknowledge that such an outcome is entirely possible. Bennett is – like Hernandez – a freakish athlete (6’7”, 248 lbs.) and has been a fantasy commodity, at times, through his first eight seasons. Specifically, Bennett finished TE10 and TE5, respectively, in his first two seasons with Chicago (2013-2014). If a Top 5 finish is within the realm of possibility, why shouldn’t you draft Bennett at his current ADP (TE14, 127th overall)? Because I put very little stock in Bennett delivering on that upside scenario.
The Patriots constantly bring in new blood, and are particularly fond of adding veterans to the roster during the offseason. While some of them pan out, most don’t. Bill Belichick understands that and counts on it, in fact. Let’s remember that Bennett is now playing for his fourth team. The Cowboys were constantly frustrated with his immaturity. The Giants were done with him after one season. The Bears were happy to let him go in spite of signing him to a $20mm contract extension. In fact, Chicago Tribune reporter Dan Widerer said it was widely understood that Bennett’s season-ending rib injury was a sham born out of frustration by the coaching staff. Attitude risks aside, let’s also remember that New England is the hardest team to model (outside of Tom Brady being elite) because they reinvent themselves each season. The Patriots also added Chris Hogan – signing him as a restricted free agent. The last time that happened was when New England brought in a small, possession receiver named Wes Welker. Look at how that worked out. As if that weren’t enough, the Patriots also added Nate Washington, who should play a key role as a deep threat. Bennett could be good, but right now the hype train has started chugging along too quickly.