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Andrew Swanson | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

2017 Player Outlooks: New England Patriots

Tom Brady

Brady has a new set of shiny toys to play with making him the consensus No.2 QB in fantasy football.

QB Tom Brady
(2016 QB Rank - No. 5, 24.7 FPts/G)

At league age 40, Tom Brady continues to defy odds and father time by delivering elite fantasy numbers at a time in his life when most quarterbacks are playing golf. In just 12 games in a suspension shortened season, Brady threw 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions, as the Patriots went on to win the Lombardi Trophy in dramatic fashion over the Atlanta Falcons.

Brady is the consensus No.2 quarterback behind only Aaron Rodgers, but could certainly finish the season with the most fantasy points considering the cache of weapons he possesses in both the passing and running game. Often praised for the amount of success he has achieved in his career without elite level receivers, no other quarterback in the NFL boast more surrounding skill position talent than No.12 in 2017.

Although the first ballot Hall of Famer is performing at a level never seen before for an age 40 QB, he will eventually lose his skills and the drop off could be steep like the final years of greats like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. But the upside of owning a top quarterback that produces consistent top 5 points makes Brady worth the risk.

RB Mike Gillislee
(2016 RB Rank - No. 43, 7.8 FPts/G)

The Patriots signed Mike Gillislee from division foe Buffalo after letting LeGarrette Blount and his 18 rushing touchdowns leave for Philadelphia via free agency. Gillislee’s skill set on short yardage and goal line carries reportedly impressed Bill Belichick so much in defensive meetings that he wanted to make him a Patriot in 2017.

Although often considered a bruising back with average speed, Gillislee averaged an impressive 5.7 yards per carry in each of his two seasons with Buffalo, including a 12-carry, 85-yard game against the Patriots in Week 8 that included a rushing touchdown.

On a negative note, the fact that the Patriots boast a backfield with four running backs that could see the field in any game situation negates Gillislee’s value and will prohibit him from likely finishing as a RB1 in fantasy. But when it comes to goal line carries, no other team since 2012 has more one-yard to go carries than New England and Gillislee appears to be the primary player for those lucrative plays.

RB James White
(2016 RB Rank - No. 60, 6.4 FPts/G)

The main receiving back in the New England passing game, White finished 2016 with 60 catches for 551 yards and five touchdowns. His role appears to be clearly defined heading into 2017, but as is always the case with Bill Belichick teams, expecting a certain amount of volume for a running back is an exercise in futility.

White’s extensive usage in the Super Bowl is often cited as a reason to think he may see more action in the 2017 regular season. But that narrative is flawed due to the fact that the Patriots were down for most of the game and an injury to Dion Lewis gave White exclusive work in the backfield on passing downs. White is more of a target in PPR leagues and can typically be had early in Round 10.

RB Rex Burkhead
(2016 RB Rank - No. 55, 6.8 FPts/G)

A special teams ace who flashed some talent last season in spot play for the Cincinnati Bengals, Burkhead joins the crowded Patriot backfield along with Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis, James White, James Develin, D.J. Foster, and of course, Brandon Bolden.

Despite having only 97 career carries, Burkhead owns somewhat of a cult following with fantasy analysts, with the hope that the former Nebraska Cornhusker will emerge as the every down back for Bill Belichick. The more likely scenario is Burkhead will continue to be a fixture on special teams and work in periodically at running back depending on the matchup. He’s worth a dart throw late in the double-digit rounds of your draft.

WR Julian Edelman
(2016 WR Rank - No. 26, 8.4 FPts/G)

As Tom Brady’s favorite and most trusted wide receiver over the past four seasons, Julian Edelman quietly posted an impressive 98/1106/3 season in 2016, ranking him 16th in PPR leagues. Although he finished the year with a career best 160 targets in 16 games, his pedestrian three receiving touchdowns somewhat limited his value in standard leagues.

The addition of Brandin Cooks via trade over the off-season will likely result in Edelman receiving fewer targets in 2017, as it would not make much sense for the Patriots to give up a first round pick for a wideout, only to not use him. But Brady is still going to look to his safety valve early and often, and Edelman will likely once again post close to 1000 receiving yards if he can stay healthy in 2017.

WR Brandin Cooks
(2016 WR Rank - No.10, 10.5 FPts/G)

In the history of the NFL, no other wide receiver has been blessed to play with two different first ballot hall of fame quarterbacks like Brandin Cooks, who left New Orleans after two seasons catching passes from Drew Brees to move to New England and work with Tom Brady.

At just 24 years of age, the former first round selection from Oregon State owns consecutive 1100-yard seasons, with 20 career receiving touchdowns. As a member of the Patriots, Cooks joins a crowded receiving corps dominated by a tight end in Rob Gronkowski who commands a significant percentage of targets each game and a coach who is not afraid to employ game plans that could limit Cooks’ targets from one week to the next.

Fantasy owners want to own a piece of the New England offense because it is potent and the Patriots will put up one of the highest point totals in the league this season. The problem is predicting when and to whom the points will be distributed to, making Cooks a less desirable option compared to other wide receivers taken in the early rounds of fantasy drafts. Cooks has the ceiling of a WR1 but given the all the mouths to feed in New England, his likely output will look more like a WR2.

TE Rob Gronkowski
(2016 TE Rank - No.1, 9.0 FPts/G)

Despite playing in only eight regular season games in 2016 (six full games), Rob Gronkowski finished the season with 540 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He posted double digit fantasy points in all but one of those six games, including seven catches for 162 yards and a touchdown Week 6 against the Bengals.

When healthy, Gronk is the biggest difference maker in fantasy football, and his ability to outperform everyone at his position makes him one of the most valuable players in the game. The problem is that he has only played in one 16-game season since joining the league in 2010, and it is almost a certainty that he will miss at least a few games this year.

The other issue with taking Gronk in the second round is the opportunity cost of passing on No.1 running back and wide receiving options for a player as volatile as Gronkowski. But if he plays at least ten games in 2017, he is all but guaranteed double digit touchdowns and 1000 yards.