QB Tom Brady
(2012 QB Rank – #3, 25.3 FPts/G)
Father Time catches up to all professional athletes, and in the NFL the process is often expedited at the quarterback position when the team’s skill position players suffer a drop in talent. And that is the scenario unfolding for the 35-year-old Brady in New England. While Brady has often made lemonade out of lemons, he faces perhaps the toughest challenge of his career in 2013 as he attempts to keep the team’s proliferate passing offense operating at peak proficiency without wide receiver Wes Welker, who the team failed to re-sign, and tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was released after an offseason marred with legal troubles. In addition, Rob Gronkowski, arguably the most talented tight end in the league, may open the season on the PUP list after having offseason back surgery, and the current depth chart at wide receiver may be the worst since Brady joined the team in 2000. Although Brady is coming off a season in which he threw for 4,827 yards with 34 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, he is unlikely to reach that level of production this season. He certainly isn’t a lock to finish the season as a top five fantasy quarterback and shouldn’t be drafted as such. Consider him in the tier below the big four of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton but with more risk than ever before.
RB Stevan Ridley
(2012 RB Rank – #10, 12.7 FPts/G; #15 PPR, 13.1 FPts/G)
With BenJarvus Green-Ellis having departed via free agency to Cincinnati, there was little doubt that Ridley was going to get plenty of opportunities in the Patriots backfield, but not many predicted that he would have such a strong breakout season. By season’s end, he had accumulated 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns on 290 carries and was remarkably consistent, chalking up 8 or more fantasy points in 12 of 16 games. With Belichick’s inconsistent usage of his running backs, that was an impressive feat for Ridley. Don’t expect much to change in 2013, as Ridley is expected to share the majority of the backfield work with fellow 2011 draftee Shane Vereen. If there is a knock on Ridley, it is his lack of receiving ability; but given his size advantage over Vereen, his only competition for short-yardage work will come from Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount. Look for Ridley to hold them off and finish 2013 as a low-end RB1 or upper-tier RB2.
RB Shane Vereen
(2012 RB Rank – #49, 5.8 FPts/G; #57 PPR, 6.5 FPts/G)
It took a little over a year and a half, but the Patriots’ second-round pick in the 2011 draft finally carved out a role for himself as the 2012 season came to a close. Nagging injuries hurt his performance in 2011 and the emergence of Stevan Ridley, coupled with the presence of Danny Woodhead, limited his playing time last season. However, he topped 100 total yards in Week 12 against the Jets and again in the Patriots’ divisional playoff win over the Texans—a game in which he scored three touchdowns. With Woodhead in San Diego and Ridley strictly a two-down player, Vereen has flex potential in 2013. He rates as an RB4 with upside, provided you can live with the inconsistent usage of the running backs in New England.
RB Brandon Bolden
(2012 RB Rank – #68, 5.1 FPts/G; #78 PPR, 5.3 FPts/G)
The rookie free agent had a decent rookie season, chalking up 274 and a pair of touchdowns on 56 carries—including a 137-yard, one-touchdown performance in Week 4 against Buffalo— before a four-game suspension cost him his spot on the depth chart. With Stevan Ridley having a breakout performance last season and Shane Vereen playing well late in the season, Bolden will need to beat out Leon Washington and LeGarrette Blount to earn a spot on the roster. He has a good chance of doing that but, barring injury, has little fantasy appeal in 2013.
RB Leon Washington
(2012 RB Rank – #105, 1.5 FPts/G; #109 PPR, 1.8 FPts/G)
The expectation was once that Washington would turn into a solid change-of-pace player out of the backfield, but those hopes are pretty much extinct now. In Seattle last season, Washington had just 27 touches, the lowest total of his seven-year career. Don’t expect that to change in New England this year.
RB LeGarrette Blount
(2012 RB Rank – #88, 2.7 FPts/G; #97 PPR, 2.8 FPts/G)
Blount’s career has taken a serious downturn since he was a surprise 1000-yard rusher in Tampa Bay as a rookie in 2010. After a disappointing 2011 season (781 rushing yards), Blount lost his job to Doug Martin last season and this offseason was traded to the Patriots for Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick, a trade that allowed New England to avoid paying Demps the salary guarantees in his contract. Your fantasy prospects don’t look good when a team has given away a seventh-round pick in order to avoid paying another player guaranteed money.
WR Danny Amendola
(2012 WR Rank – #56, 7.8 FPts/G; #47 PPR, 13.5 FPts/G)
Signed away from the Rams this offseason in an attempt to provide an upgrade over the most successful slot receiver in the history of the NFL (32-year-old Wes Welker), Amendola will enter the season atop the Patriots depth chart at receiver. That is, provided he remains healthy until opening day. I mean, hey, who wouldn’t want to replace a player who has averaged 112 receptions, 1,244 receiving yards, 11.1 yards per reception and 6.2 touchdowns over the past six seasons with one who has averaged 51 receptions, 467 receiving yards, 9.2 yards per reception and 2.0 touchdowns over the past three seasons while missing 20 games over the past two years? I guess that decision was settled when the Pats found out they could sign Amendola to a five-year contract worth up to $31.8-million rather than re-sign Welker for $12-million over two years. Amendola is a fearless slot receiver, but it is foolhardy to think he will replace Welker’s production or remain healthy for 16 games when he has accomplished that feat just once in his four years in the league. Consider him a WR3 with major risk in 2013.
WR Donald Jones
(2012 WR Rank – #67, 5.7 FPts/G; #69 PPR, 9.1 FPts/G)
One man’s trash is another’s man’s treasure, although it seems more than a little odd that the Bills’ trash became the Patriots’ treasure in the form of one Donald Jones, a restricted free agent that Buffalo chose not to tender. Looks like the Patriots were impressed by Jones’ five-reception, 101-yard performance (the only 100-yard receiving game of his career) against them in 2011. While snagging passes from Tom Brady in the Patriots high-powered offense is a marked improvement over playing in Buffalo, the truth is that even if Jones opens the season in the staring lineup, the Patriots are going to rely heavily on Danny Amendola and their tight ends and running backs, with the team’s other wide receivers left to pick up the scraps. You might find lightning in a bottle by grabbing Jones, but he should be waiver wire material in most leagues.
WR Julian Edelman
(2012 WR Rank – #88, 5.8 FPts/G; #88 PPR, 8.4 FPts/G)
Edelman’s first four years in the league were so impressive that neither the Patriots nor any other team bothered to offer him a contract until New England finally re-signed him in mid April to a one-year deal. After an impressive rookie season in which he caught 37 passes for 359 yards and a touchdown, Edelman has floundered over the past three seasons, hauling in just 32 passes. He provides insurance out of the slot for Danny Amendola and might be worth grabbing on the waiver wire if (when?) Amendola goes down.
WR Aaron Dobson
(2012 WR Rank – N/A)
The Patriots used a second-round draft pick to acquire Dobson and the 6’3″, 200-pound product out of Marshall will have an opportunity to open the season in the starting lineup. Possessed with solid speed, Dobson has the makeup to be a lead receiver, but the Patriots’ poor track record in developing receivers doesn’t provide much assurance that he will have a productive career. Of course, given the lack of depth the team has at the position, Dobson figures to get a long look at some point in 2013. He is a decent prospect in dynasty leagues but waiver wire fodder in redraft formats, barring a strong showing in the preseason.
WR Josh Boyce
(2012 WR Rank – N/A)
Drafted in the fourth-round out of TCU, Boyce enters a crowded yet mediocre depth chart at wide receiver in New England. More a blazer than a polished route runner at this point in his career, Boyce will likely fulfill the deep receiver role as a rookie, making him unlikely to produce big stats in 2013. He is worth taking a flier on in dynasty formats.
WR Michael Jenkins
(2012 WR Rank – #77, 3.6 FPts/G; #74 PPR, 6.1 FPts/G)
After spending a pair of middling seasons in Minnesota, Atlanta’s former first-round pick joins the Patriots in 2013. The fact is that he is likely there to learn the playbook so that he can provide injury insurance later in the season. It will be a surprise if Jenkins is on the roster come opening day.
TE Rob Gronkowski
(2012 WR Rank – #2, 13.2 FPts/G; #5 PPR, 18.2 FPts/G)
We know Gronkowski has plenty of upside, but his growing list of injuries brings along plenty of risk. While his forearm is expected to be fine in 2013, offseason back surgery will almost assuredly keep him from being ready for the opening of training camp, and there is an outside chance of his opening the season on the PUP list. Of course, Gronkowski finished last season as the second-ranked fantasy TE (despite appearing in just 11 games) and has a whopping 39 touchdowns over the last three years. If healthy for 16 games, he will likely be the top-ranked TE in 2013, but the odds aren’t strong that he will be available for the entire season. Despite that, he should come off the board in your league’s draft no later than the third round, and the only tight end that is worthy of being taken ahead of him is the Saints’ Jimmy Graham.
TE Jake Ballard
(2012 WR Rank – N/A)
After suffering a torn ACL in the Giants Super Bowl win over the Patriots in 2011, the Giants tried to pass Ballard through waivers only to have the Patriots put in a claim on him, even though they knew he was likely to miss all of the 2012 season. That move may prove to be an astute one given the legal woes of Aaron Hernandez. Ballard was a reliable target for Eli Manning in 2011, hauling in 38 of his 61 targets for 604 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. If his recovery goes well, Ballard is the favorite to land the Patriots’ second tight end spot behind Rob Gronkowski in an offense that relies heavily on two–tight end sets.
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
(2012 WR Rank – #60, 1.8 FPts/G; #63 PPR, 2.7 FPts/G)
While Hoomanawanui did little in his first season in New England, with just five receptions for 109 yards through six games, he has a chance to earn some playing time in 2013 due to Aaron Hernandez’s legal troubles. Hoomanawanui will battle Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells for a spot in the Patriots two–tight end sets.
TE Daniel Fells
(2012 WR Rank – #67, 1.4 FPts/G; #72 PPR, 2.1 FPts/G)
With Rob Gronkowski unable to remain healthy and Aaron Hernandez now released, Fells has a chance to earn some playing time in 2013. Remember that he is a reasonably talented player that put together a 41-reception season on a middling Rams squad in 2010, so he has some receiving ability. He will battle Jake Ballard and Mike Hoomanawanui for a spot on the depth chart.