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2015 Team Report: New England Patriots

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tom Brady
Backup(s): Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Flynn

Starting QB: We all know Tom Brady will be the starter here, once he's done with whatever his current suspension ends up looking like. As it stands, it's a four-game suspension to be served in the first month of the season. Brady's appeal to overturn the ruling was denied in late July so we'll see Garoppolo start the season for the first four games - unless Brady takes the issue to court. Brady back under center right after his suspension though, and when he's back in the saddle, you can expect more high-level play from Brady who, while aging, is still very sharp. He started out slowly in 2014, but found his feet and finished strong. He has the same receivers back for another year, Rob Gronkowski is healthy and the offensive line is solid. There's a lot of evidence to suggest he's in for another big year. Plus, with all the Ballghazi nonsense about deflated footballs, Brady is likely going to come into the season with a huge chip on his shoulder.

Backup QB: Garoppolo is an interesting player and it's going to be nice to have some extra insight into his development when we see him start early in the season. He looked solid during the 2014 preseason, completing 58.2 percent of his passes for 618 yards, five touchdowns and one interception, but he was a little less effective in his second-half appearance against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 when he struggled to move the chains. Garoppolo spent time this offseason adding muscle. He has a strong arm and has been working to improve his touch on shorter passes as he often overpowered receivers on those routes in college. After working out of the spread offense at Eastern Illinois, Garoppolo has adjusted well under center. Garrett Gilbert got dumped for Matt Flynn, who after somehow convincing various teams to give him massive contracts, has settled back into the spot he always was meant for—career backup. More than likely he’s there for Brady’s suspension in case Garoppolo implodes, and could be gone after Week 4 (assume Brady’s suspension holds). Since 2011, the Patriots have kept just two quarterbacks on the roster so it’s unlikely Flynn hangs around too long once Brady is back.

Running Backs

Starter: LeGarrette Blount
Backup(s): Travaris Cadet, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, James White, Dion Lewis, Tyler Gaffney
Fullback(s): James Develin

Starting RB: With Shane Vereen and and Stevan Ridley leaving for New Jersey, the Giants and the Jets, the New England Patriots backfield looks a lot different and a little less stable. Right now LeGarrette Blount is listed as the nominal starter but Blount is suspended for the first game of the season. Coupled with the suspension of Tom Brady, it will make for an odd look in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It actually works out in some ways, as Blount recently sprained his MCL in training camp. The week off for the suspension will give him enough time to be 100 percent in week two. In longer terms, Blount will get a heavy workload as a big, grinding back. He has scored a lot of touchdowns in short yardage for the Patriots, and has shown flashes of better than average ability overall. Consistency has forever been his issue elsewhere, but head coach Bill Belichick seems to be able to get the best out of him.

Backup RBs: Travaris Cadet was signed to a two-year contract and will likely get a long look as a third-down, passing back. He's a solid pass-blocker, and caught a lot of balls with the Saints last season (38 receptions for 296 yards) but had virtually no rushing yards. James White has also been mentioned as a potential passing-down back. The second-year player did well in OTAs as a rookie but fell apart when the fur started flying in preseason and didn't play much last season. He has some speed and can catch the ball, so on paper he seems as if he'd be a good replacement for Vereen, but White has to show he can compete when the lights come on. Brandon Bolden has seen a lot of use times over the last three years, though last season was a down year for him. Injuries have been an issue for him, but he can catch the ball well and has some speed. If he can stay healthy, he might have a shot at unseating Cadet for the third-down role. He also is heavily involved in special teams as well. Jonas Gray had one huge game last season, then ended up in Belichick's dog house. He duplicates what Blount does, so as long as Blount stays healthy and out of trouble, Gray is unlikely to see a lot of time on the field. Dion Lewis is an undersized back who a lot of people thought could make some noise with his speed when he entered the NFL in 2011 with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he's struggled to do more than flash on rare occasions. While he will be in the mix for a third down or receiving-back role, there is a lot of competition for that, and he seems a long shot to come out on top. The dark horse here could be Tyler Gaffney, who spent 2014 on Injured Reserve. The Patriots claimed him off waivers when the Carolina Panthers tried to waive/injured him. Gaffney has been diligent in his rehab and Belichick was effusive with praise for the second-year back's work ethic. While he can catch the ball well, he's not quite quick enough to fit in as a passing-down back, but is a solid grinder who can beat up defensive lines. While many thought he was a less-than-exciting pick by the Panthers, Belichick sees something in him, which is worth noting.

Fullback: The Pats use fullbacks as blockers only so expect nothing more from James Develin.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola
Backups: Reggie Wayne, Brian Tyms, Matt Slater, Greg Orton, Aaron Dobson, Jonathan Krause, Brandon Gibson, Chris Harper [R], Devin Gardner [R]

Starting WRs: After a few seasons of chaos, it appears as if the New England Patriots have settled into a consistent group of receivers. Julian Edelman has had two tremendous seasons in a row, though he did sustain a concussion in Week 15 and that's always worth noting. Barring injury, we can expect quarterback Tom Brady to use Edelman often again this season and his sure-handedness and ability after the catch make him a dangerous option. After years of mediocrity and disappointing totals, Brandon LaFell seemed to finally get his groove with the Patriots. Whether the coaching staff used him better than the Carolina Panthers did, or Tom Brady made a huge difference, or the light simply came on finally, LaFell actually looked like the guy we thought he could be when he entered the NFL. His 957 yards on 74 catches were by far the best totals of his career, as were his seven touchdowns. As an integral part of the Super Bowl win last February, LaFell will continue to find himself frequently targeted by Brady. Here's the problem with Edelman and LaFell though - neither has been practicing this August. Reports have been widely varied on LaFell, but mum's the word on Edelman. With Reggie Wayne recently signed, fans might have valid concerns about one or both of the players. As usual, the Patriots aren't saying what is up. Danny Amendola restructured his deal with the Patriots after two very disappointing seasons with them, including an injury-plagued 2013. By the time he got healthy, Edelman and LaFell had taken over most of the receiving duties. Amendola had just one decent game last season—Week 16 against the Jets—and a solid game in the Super Bowl. He's going to have to work hard to see the end of his current contract given how he has struggled but if he can stay healthy, the Patriots clearly have a role in mind or he wouldn't be there.

Backup WRs: Reggie Wayne feels like he has another year left in the tank, even if he looked a bit slow last season. You can chalk part of that to advancing age, but also a nagging triceps injury and the usual difficult return from an ACL injury. We're not sure whether he will really have a big role in this offense, but if there is fired where there is smoke regarding the absence of Edelman and LaFell from training camp practices, he might be around longer than one would expect, and have a much bigger job. Aaron Dobson spent a lot of 2014 hurt, squandering some momentum he had built in 2013 as a rookie. New England didn't draft any receivers this year (though they signed a few street free agents), so there is a little less competition for Dobson. He needs to stay healthy though, and he has to have a good preseason to stick around in the future. Brian Tyms had a huge preseason opener and then was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 season for failing a drug test. He didn't play much after that, but was talked up by Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels a few times. Tyms has good size and speed and looked great in the preseason, so he clearly has upside. It may take a while for him to get his chance to show it though. Josh Boyce fell behind Kenbrell Thompkins last August and given that Thompkins is gone, you would be right to think that doesn't bode well for Boyce. He makes too many mental mistakes and only came off the practice squad when Edelman and LaFell were both banged up. Boyce has a lot of speed and was productive at TCU, but that has never translated to the pro game. Brandon Gibson was doing some good things for the Miami Dolphins before tearing his patellar tendon in 2013, but he hasn't been the same since. Gibson made some nice catches out of the slot for Miami, but he's going to have a hard time sticking in New England unless he can return to his old form. Jonathan Krause has been a practice squad dweller since entering the NFL last season and while he was quick off the snap in college, he was only a part-timer at Vanderbilt, runs sloppy routes and doesn't contribute much on special teams. Matt Slater is only a special teams player and has caught exactly one pass in his NFL career. Greg Orton was out last season with an Achilles tear and was waived/injured by the Patriots last season. He also suffered an ankle injury in Denver and at 28, he's a longshot to make the roster against younger, healthier and more productive players. Undrafted free agent Chris Harper is an outside receiver, who doesn't have the build to hack it there and will probably have to move inside to the slot. Fellow rookie Devin Gardner was a quarterback at Michigan, and has a long way to go before being ready to hit the field. Expect him to end up on the practice squad.

Tight Ends

Starters: Rob Gronkowski
Backups: Michael Hoomanawanui, Scott Chandler, Fred Davis, A.J. Derby [R]

Rob Gronkowski was mostly healthy in 2014 and was rewarded with a hugely productive season and a Comeback Player of the Year Award. Oh, and a Super Bowl ring. This season will see Gronkowski as the centerpiece and second favorite target of Tom Brady again (Julian Edelman being the only player with more targets). His high athleticism and brutal play-style might shorten his career over the long haul, but it makes him a nightmare to match up with on defense. There are a lot of question marks behind Gronkowski. Michael Hoomanawanui is a blocker, and that's it. Nobody is going to ask him to catch the ball more than on rare occasions. The Patriots brought in former Buffalo Bill Scott Chandler, a big-bodied tight end who isn't a terribly special player overall. He can catch the ball well and use his body to block out defenders but he's a low-ceiling guy. They also added Fred Davis, who was suspended for last season after issues with failed drug tests, a DUI and domestic violence charges. It's been so long since Davis' really good 2011 that it's hard to imagine him making the roster. Finally there is rookie A.J. Derby, an athletic, tough, pass-catching tight end who is a little raw having played as a backup quarterback his first year in Arkansas before moving to tight end. He's got good hands and speed, so while he doesn't have the highest ceiling, he could become a contributor down the line.

Place Kicker

Stephen Gostkowski: Kicker top 10 lists tend to have a lot of turnover year to year, but don't tell that to Gostkowski. He finished as the highest scoring kicker for the third straight year, making 35 of 37 field goal attempts. In 2011, the last season the Gostkowski didn't finish #1, he was #3. The early season suspension of Tom Brady could give Gostkowski a few extra field goal attempts. He had at least eight points scored in 12 of his 16 games, which illustrates why Gostkowski is well-deserving of his annual perch of #1 fantasy kicker drafted.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Patrick Chung, Danny Amendola, Keshawn Martin, Brandon LaFell

The Patriots often bounce from one kick returner to another early in the season before finally settling on a returner. In 2013 it was LaGarrette Blount who ended up as the primary returner, while last season it was receiver Danny Amendola. Blount spent time on Pittsburgh's roster last season, but was released and re-signed in New England. Though Amendola held on to the returns, both could be in play as returners this year. Patrick Chung and Matthew Slater have also seen a few returns in the past, but never been the team's primary returner. The Patriots traded to acquire Jalen Saunders from the Saints late in the preseason but then released him. After Week 1 the Patriots added Keshawn Martin via trade and may use him to limit special teams wear and tear on their already banged up receiver core. As injuries have mounted, the Patriots have mostly used Danny Amendola and Patrick Chung for kick returns.

Punt Returners: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Keshawn Martin

In contrast to the uncertainty each year at kick returner, on punts the Patriots seem to quickly settle down to just one or two options. Julian Edelman handled all but one of New England's punt returns in 2013, and split the duties with Danny Amendola last season. Edelman suffered a broken bone in his foot halfway through the year, and may miss much of the remaining regular season.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Nate Solder, LG Tre Jackson [R], C Bryan Stork, RG Ryan Wendell, RT Sebastian Vollmer
Key Backups: T Cameron Fleming, T Marcus Cannon, G Josh Kline, G Jordan Devey, G Chris Barker, G Shaquille Mason [R]

The Patriots' line has interesting players but none that can be classified as elite at this time. The highlights are likely at the tackle positions; on the left side, Nate Solder is a physically gifted player who lacks consistency. He can look like a Pro Bowler one game and be be overpowered the next. When healthy, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is probably the line's best player. When he isn't healthy, the team has a decent backup in Marcus Cannon. On the interior, the team hopes that mid round draft pick Tre' Jackson beats out Jordan Devey at the left guard spot. If Jackson joins the lineup he will be next to his former college teammate in center Bryan Stork and that would be great for cohesion. Both Jackson and Stork are good young players, with the potential to be better. Ryan Wendell is a steady and versatile starter at right guard (he can also snap) but he isn't notable in any phase of the game. Overall this line can rise up the rankings if Solder gets more consistent as a pass protector and if Jackson can win (and hold) a starting job out of camp.

Team Defense

The Patriots have been enduring an offseason of bad news, starting with losing all-world corner Darrelle Revis to the Jets, and most recently losing their starting QB for the first four games if Tom Brady's suspension holds up on appeal. The team lost Jared Mayo during the season, but there are no guarantees that he'll look like his old self, nor should we feel assured that Donta' Hightower will be 100% coming off of a serious shoulder surgery. The team also released slot corner Kyle Arrington in an odd move, and currently sport one of the worst CB corps in the league. Playmakers like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins remain, and 2014 first-round Dominique Easley is another year removed from ACL tear #2, so the front seven will have to step up to keep this unit in the top 10, where it was last year in most formats. A big drop could be coming.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, DT Malcolm Brown (R), DT Dominique Easley
Backups: DE Jabaal Sheard, DT Chris Jones, DT Sealver Silga, DT Alan Branch, DE Geneo Grissom (R), DE Trey Flowers (R)

Starting DL: Chandler Jones didn't enjoy the breakout season in 2014 that was expected of him, due in part to injuries and also to the way that he was used. He's a versatile player who can play as either an edge rusher or as a linebacker who drops into coverage at times, and that can limit his fantasy value somewhat. Rob Ninkovich remains probably the team's best pure edge rusher, but he is also very active against the run and tends to rank among the leaders at his position in tackles. Inside, the Patriots parted ways with Vince Wilfork this offseason, but they hope to have replaced him with their first round pick Malcolm Brown. Like Wilfork, Brown is a space-eater who can tie up multiple blockers inside but he is also quick enough to disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Patriots will often employ multiple fronts and will likely use a rotation at DT, but Domonique Easley offers some upside if healthy. The former 1st round pick failed to make much of an impact as a rookie as he dealt with knee problems, but he could become the three-technique tackle the team has been looking for.

Backup DL: Jabaal Sheard has been a productive player at times during his career with the Browns, but he seemed out of place as a 3-4 OLB and is better suited to a 4-3 DE role. The Patriots play mostly out of a 4-3 these days so he figures to provide excellent depth behind Jones and Ninkovich. Chris Jones has proven to be an effective pass rusher with 9 sacks over the past 2 years. Sealver Silga was released from the Seahawks practice squad last year, but worked his way up to become a starter in the Super Bowl for New England. Alan Branch is a veteran run stopper who can help on early downs. Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers are a couple of rookies who will add to the competition for playing time.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Jamie Collins, MLB Jerod Mayo, SLB Dont'a Hightower
Backups: LB Jonathan Freeny, LB Chris White, LB Matthew Wells, LB Geneo Grissom (R)

Starting LBs: For a long time, the LB position seemed like an afterthought for the Patriots, but it has become the strength of their defense now. Jamie Collins is a great athlete who can make plays all over the field and be used in a variety of ways depending on the matchup. Jerod Mayo is the veteran leader of the group who has been wildly productive, but has also had his season end prematurely due to injury the past two years. Dont'a Hightower is a thumper inside who can also help out as a blitzer. When everybody is healthy, Hightower is likely to sit during passing situations but the Patriots are good at finding creative ways to keep them all involved. Mayo probably will no longer have the LB1 upside he's had in the past due to the added competition, but him and Collins probably both belong solidly in the LB2 range.

Backup LBs: The Patriots don't have a lot of experienced depth at the position, so they will hope to avoid more injuries here. Jonathan Freeny was signed from the Dolphins and has mainly served as a special teams contributor during his four years there. Chris White also provides some depth inside while contributing on special teams. Matthew Wells was taken in the 6th round and is known primarily for his coverage skills. Geneo Grissom was a defensive end in college but will likely be converted to a 3-4 OLB here.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Logan Ryan, SS Patrick Chung, FS Devin McCourty, CB Malcolm Butler
Backups: CB Kyle Arrington, CB Robert McClain, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Jordan Richards (R), S Nate Ebner, S Tavon Wilson, S Duron Harmon

Starting DBs: The secondary was a strength of the Patriots a year ago as they got great contributions from Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner on their way to a championship. Both players are gone, and they also released former starter Alfonzo Dennard in May as well. That leaves some unproven options to compete for major roles in the secondary during training camp. Logan Ryan should be a favorite to hold down one of the starting spots as he has done it in the past when he posted 5 interceptions as a rookie in 2013. Malcolm Butler was the hero of the Super Bowl when he picked off Russell WIlson at the goalline to preserve the win and should get a chance to prove it wasn't a fluke. Patrick Chung seemed like a bust early in his career, but he's been more consistent during his second stint even if he doesn't always play in passing situations. Devin McCourty was headed for free agency but the Patriots signed him to a 5-year extension to maintain some consistency in their secondary. He's one of the best cover safeties in the league and should be a bit more active this year with the turnover at corner.

Backup DBs: Kyle Arrington is a good tackler who is at his best playing out of the slot as a third corner. Robert McClain was a good starter for the Falcons at times before seeing some slippage in his play the last year or two. Bradley Fletcher also brings plenty of experience from his time with the Eagles but he tended to get picked on by opposing quarterbacks. The safety depth got a boost on draft day with the selection of Jordan Richards in the second round, but quite a few observers thought he would go much later. He is described as a smart player who lacks ideal speed but is at his best playing up in the box. Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson, and Duron Harmon fill out the roster here, but figure to make most of their contributions on special teams.

Last modified: 2015-11-24 17:53:38