QB Tom Brady
(2013 QB Rank—#12, 21.7 FPts/G)
From a fantasy football perspective, 2013 was Tom Brady’s worst season since the era when he was known as a “game manager.” He finished as QB12 in the final rankings, however, there were 16 better quarterbacks, including Josh McCown, Alex Smith and Sam Bradford, based off of fantasy points per game. It’s easy to blame his decline solely on the fact that he was without his top weapon Rob Gronkowski for most of the season and was forced to lean on mostly young and inexperienced pass catchers. Or maybe the 36-year-old veteran is facing his football mortality. Brady had his lowest yardage and touchdown totals since 2006 and struggled with his deep passing and general accuracy as well. To his credit, Brady spent time this offseason working with private quarterback coach Tom House to correct the accuracy and deep ball issues that plagued him last season. Combine that offseason work with a healthy Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, and the expected growth of Aaron Dobson, then a bounce-back season isn’t out of the question. Brady will be 37, however, to start the season and we all know that Father Time is undefeated. Let one of your league-mates reach for Tommy Boy based on his name recognition, and grab better value at the position a few rounds later.
RB Stevan Ridley
(2013 RB Rank—#26, 9.0 FPts/G)
There are worse things than relying on the whims of Bill Belichick for fantasy production from your starting running back. Those things include an IRS audit, root canal surgery and Lincoln Tunnel traffic. Steven Ridley is an efficient runner with excellent vision who could be a perfect fit for the New England offense, but he often found himself in Belichick’s doghouse whenever he put the ball on the ground in 2013. Coming off a season where he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, Ridley was a major disappointment last season. Ridley finished the season with only 773 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, despite averaging virtually the same yards per carry that he did in 2012 when he spent more time on the bench than he did the year before. Ridley is often spelled on passing downs by Shane Vereen, but last year he started losing early down carries to Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount as well. With the departure of Blount, Ridley should get a reprieve as the most talented “big” back on the roster and could end up as a draft day steal. The team only added another scatback-type runner in the draft in James White, giving Ridley an opportunity to regain the trust of his coaching staff and assume the power back role. If Ridley is available in the middle rounds of your draft, because of a poor 2013, the potential reward should outweigh the risk of him losing carries again this season.
RB Shane Vereen
(2013 RB Rank—#43, 10.9 FPts/G)
Injuries cost Shane Vereen the 2013 breakout season that many had predicted for him. In eight games, Vereen rushed for only 208 yards, but caught 47 balls for 427 yards and scored four total touchdowns. As those numbers indicate, Vereen is a valuable commodity in PPR leagues. He could be an important part of your fantasy team in standard formats as well this season. ESPN”s respected beat reporter Mike Reiss expects Vereen to lead all New England running backs in snaps this season. Vereen is already an integral part of the Patriot passing game with the ability to run inside efficiently despite his smallish frame. He may be asked to do so more this season if Steven Ridley finds his way back into Bill Belichick’s doghouse again this season since the team is currently short on other legitimate options. Vereen has seen his share of injuries throughout his career and reportedly the fractured wrist that he suffered in 2013 is still not 100 percent healed, but when healthy, he should be a consistent RB2/3 with upside.
WR Julian Edelman
(2013 WR Rank—#18, 8.9 FPts/G)
At the start of the 2013 season, Tom Brady was without his top-five pass catchers from 2012 due to injury, free agency and criminal activity. The Patriots then lost prized free agent acquisition Danny Amendola to a groin tear during their opening week contest, further depleting the depth chart. Brady was forced to rely on a handful of rookie wide receivers and journeymen-type tight ends to pick up the slack. Unheralded veteran Julian Edelman then stepped up and caught 105 balls on the season. The former college quarterback was a reliable target for Tom Terrific, but lacked the playmaking ability to keep the offense moving at the levels it was used to achieving since 2007. Edelman managed a meager 10.1 yards per reception and only found the end zone six times. Given those poor metrics, it’s hard to imagine that the team can’t make better use of the 151 targets that went Edelman’s way last season. With that said however, Brady lobbied hard for the Pats to bring the free agent Edelman back this offseason and the team did resign him after he flirted with Houston and San Francisco. In PPR leagues, Edelman could still be a reliable WR3 but with Amendola and Rob Gronkowski healthy and with Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins a little more seasoned, it’s possible his receptions could be cut in half in 2014. Buyers beware.
WR Danny Amendola
(2013 WR Rank—#60, 6.3 FPts/G)
Danny Amendola was signed by the Patriots last offseason immediately following Wes Welker’s signing with the Denver Broncos. Many fantasy footballers not only saw Amendola as a replacement for Welker but also felt that he was a younger and faster version of the man known as “the slot machine.“ Amendola suffered a serious tear of the groin during the opening week contest against Buffalo. He only played in 12 games and was hampered by the injury all season causing him to be a major disappointment to the team and to fantasy owners. He’s now fully healthy and is expected to be a starting outside wide receiver for the team, despite some earlier offseason reports calling him a candidate to be released. Amendola was the star of the 2012 offseason and by all reports he has looked good once again at OTAs this offseason. Amendola offers a pretty similar skill set to Julian Edelman and it will be interesting to see how the team employs what basically amounts to two slot wide receivers in their 2014 offense. Amendola has a reputation of being “injury prone” and last season will not put that perception to rest. In PPR leagues, however, there is potential to use that perception to get some nice draft value for a player that could very well have caught the 105 balls that went to Edelman last season if not for his Week 1 injury.
WR Aaron Dobson
(2013 WR Rank—#59, 6.9 FPts/G)
Aaron Dobson ended his rookie season with only 37 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns, but showed some deep ball skills that could lead to a very nice 2014 season. In Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dobson put up 130 yards and two scores. A foot injury in the next game caused him to miss the next four weeks halting any momentum he was establishing. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, Dobson is a big target, which is otherwise missing at the wide receiver position for the team. He underwent offseason foot surgery and missed OTAs, including valuable time with Tom Brady, but is expected to be healthy for camp and should open the season as a starting wide-out for the team. Dobson is a second-year breakout candidate as the only player on the team with his skill set. The former Marshall product features 4.4 speed with a big frame, the quickness to gain separation and the hands to make spectacular catches downfield.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
(2013 WR Rank—#65, 6.4 FPts/G)
WR Brandon LaFell
(2013 WR Rank—#49, 6.3 FPts/G)
At this point I couldn’t recommend drafting either Kenbrell Thompkins or Brandon LaFell in most leagues. Given the injury histories of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman and the upside that both would possess in this offense, though, fantasy football players need to keep each of them on their radars. Thompkins was all the rage last offseason after an impressive training camp and preseason, but struggled in typical rookie fashion once the games became real. LaFell was signed to a three-year $11 million contract by the Patriots this offseason after a mostly disappointing early career with the Carolina Panthers. The range of possibilities for each of these wide receivers is wide, from winning a starting role to not making the team at all. Therefore, neither amount to anything more than a late-round flier in deep leagues at this point, but that could change when more news out of training camp becomes available.
TE Rob Gronkowski
(2013 TE Rank—#17, 11.9 FPts/G)
Rob Gronkowski has been tagged with the dreaded “injury pone” label by many fantasy football players. At closer look, though, Gronkowski has suffered a series of fluky unrelated injuries. His back may be of some concern, but the broken arm on an extra-point block attempt (and the subsequent re-break) and the ACL/MCL tear caused by a hit to the knee are injuries that any player could have suffered. All reports indicate that Gronkowski will be available for Week 1 and his ADP should climb as more positive news comes out during training camp. On a points per game basis, Gronk still proved to be the second-best tight end in the league last season, and when he’s healthy, he’s by far Tom Brady’s most trusted and most effective weapon in the passing game. Gronkowski has averaged nearly a touchdown per game over his 50-game career (0.84), and while the tight end position has become deeper in recent years, he’s still one of the true difference makers in fantasy football based on his value relative to his position.