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New England Patriots 2023 Fantasy Football Preview: Will Mac Jones have a breakout season?

2022 Stats

Points per game: 21.4 (17th)
Total yards per game: 314.6 (26th)
Plays per game: 59.2 (28th)
Pass attempts + sacks per game: 34.2 (23rd)
Dropback EPA per play: -0.03 (22nd)
Rush attempts per game: 25.0 (23rd)
Rush EPA per play: -0.08 (21st)

Coaching Staff

The post-Tom Brady era hasn't been kind to Bill Belichick, who returns for his 24th season with the team. Since Brady's departure, the Patriots have gone 25-25 in the regular season, with just one playoff berth to show for it. The future Hall of Fame coach looked particularly overwhelmed last season when he hired defensive-savant Matt Patricia and failed Giants head coach Joe Judge to fill the offensive coordinator void left by Josh McDaniels.

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A decision that sounded disastrous from the start ended just as poorly as one might have envisioned. While the Patriots were 17th in points per game, their offense ranked in the bottom third in the league in several efficiency metrics.

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Second-year quarterback Mac Jones took a tremendous step back from the 3,801-22-13 line he posted as a rookie and was outshined at times by rookie Bailey Zappe.

In hopes of correcting course, Belichick hired Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien for the same role this season. O'Brien is another branch off Belichick's coaching tree, having previously worked for the Patriots from 2007-2011. In his final season with the team, he served as offensive coordinator and helped lead them to a Super Bowl appearance against the New York Giants. The Patriots ranked third in points per game that season, but this team is far from the Brady-led offense he benefitted from coaching that year.

Following the 2011 season, O'Brien left the Patriots for Houston and turned in four playoff appearances over seven seasons with the Texans. The Texans never ranked higher than 11th in points per game under O'Brien, but it was his disastrous handling of a 2020 trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for a washed David Johnson that ultimately spelled his undoing. A 10-6 record in 2019 mattered little after the Texans got off to an 0-4 start the following season.

O'Brien was fired and hired by Alabama four months later.

Fortunately, he won't be responsible for too many roster decisions in New England this season. Instead, he'll be tasked with getting Mac Jones and the offense back on track, which already appears to be underway, according to an article published in The Athletic. While Jones and O'Brien never crossed paths at Alabama, O'Brien is expected to implement various parts of the offense the two became familiar with during their time with the program — an offense Jones thrived in.

While there are still several question marks surrounding this team heading into the season, Jones being on the same page with a competent offensive coordinator could lead to a bounce-back year for the entire offense.

Passing Game

QB: Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe
WR: DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton
WR: Kendrick Bourne, Kayshon Boutte
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Demario Douglas
TE: Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, Anthony Firkser

No player on the Patriots suffered from the miscasting of Matt Patricia/Joe Judge in 2022 more than Mac Jones. Jones' production dropped in nearly every aspect in his second season with the team.

Year

GMs

YDs

TDs

INTs

Y/A

Sack %

2021

17

3801

22

13

7.3

5.1

2022

14

2997

14

11

6.8

7.1

Last year's down season makes it easy to forget just how solid Jones was as a rookie, but it could be more reflective of his ceiling under O'Brien this season.

As a rookie, Jones threw for two or more touchdowns in seven contests and posted a top-12 fantasy performance in five of his final 11 games. His PFF grade of 78.9 was good for 12th among all qualified passers, and the Patriots ranked 10th overall in EPA/play (0.070). He was a far cry from looking like an elite fantasy asset (15.8 points per game, QB29), but in the real world, Jones was a functional passer capable of leading an offense in a tough AFC East.

His regression in 2022 makes for a challenging evaluation when you consider the disastrous position he was put in, but Jones' familiarity with O'Brien's offensive system should put him in a position to succeed this season.

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Still, he could be hard to trust from a fantasy perspective, given what we know about the rest of this Patriots team. The defense, which ranked 11th in points allowed last season, should be good enough to keep games close, and the offense isn't built for shootouts. They've also ranked 29th in neutral pace of play since Jones joined the team in 2021.

Assuming he bounces back in 2023, Jones could have some weekly streaming appeal in 1QB leagues, but he profiles as a low-end QB2 overall.

As far as Jones' offensive weaponry goes for this season, he gets a near one-for-one replacement as the team opted to let Jakobi Meyers walk in free agency only to replace him with JuJu Smith-Schuster. A receiver who has seen 64% of his snaps from the slot, Smith-Schuster should occupy the short and intermediate parts of the field just as Meyers did but offers more playmaking upside after the catch. For his career, Smith-Schuster has averaged 5.6 YAC/REC and ranked seventh among receivers last season (min. 50 targets) with a 5.9 YAC/REC with the Chiefs.

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Smith-Schuster has a chance to lead the Patriots in targets this season, but his overall fantasy outlook remains relatively low. He's finished as a WR3 or worse in 65 percent of his games over the last four seasons and could face stiff target competition from tight end Mike Gesicki.

Gesicki's potential impact on Smith-Schuster's fantasy upside cannot be ignored. An athletic tight end with two 700-plus yard seasons on his resume, Gesicki was wildly underutilized by the Dolphins and head coach Mike McDaniel last season, which resulted in his fewest receptions (32) and yards (362) since his 2018 rookie season.

The Athletic's Chad Graff noted in an article earlier this month that Gesicki, who has played from the slot on 59 percent of his snaps, is already being viewed as a player the Patriots can create mismatches with. From 2019-2021, the Dolphins utilized Gesicki's athleticism to exploit those same kind of mismatches. Over that span, Gesicki played 66.9 percent of his snaps from the slot and averaged 59-684-4 per year. Gesicki has just one top-12 fantasy season on his resume (10.6 points per game, TE10), but he's capable of posting a double-digit outing on any given week.

Playing as the inline tight end is Hunter Henry, whose 2022 season closely aligned with his 2021 season but was met with some severe touchdown regression.

Year

TRGs

RECs

YDs

YPR

TDs

2021

75

50

603

12.1

9

2022

59

41

509

12.4

2

Henry's production in two years with the Patriots is what we've come to expect from him in his career. Henry has yet to earn 100 targets in any of his seven seasons and has never gone for more than 652 yards. He has 32 career touchdowns to his name, with 20 of those scores coming in the green zone (inside the 10-yard line). Like Gesicki, Henry could have some weekly use as a streamer, but his fantasy production could be more touchdown dependent.

Veteran wide receiver DeVante Parker remains with the team and was recently given a three-year extension that came seemingly out of nowhere. Parker posted a 31-539-3 line with the Patriots last season. He posted two top-12 weeks, with one of them being a useless 25.9-point performance in Week 18 against the Bills. Parker's lone 1,000-yard season came in 2019 with the Dolphins. He, Kendrick Bourne and second-year wide receiver Tyquan Thornton are little more than desperation picks in deeper leagues, although Thornton's explosive speed makes him an intriguing late-round pick in best ball leagues.

Rushing Game

RB: Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong, Ty Montgomery, Kevin Harris
OL (L-R): Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Riley Reiff

In his second season with the Patriots, Rhamondre Stevenson took complete hold of the RB1 role and never looked back. He handled a 32-percent opportunity share last season, good for 10th best in the league, and finished as the overall RB11 in fantasy points per game (15.0). Stevenson turned in a top-24 finish or better in 10 of his 17 games and was an RB1 on seven occasions.

Stevenson's 69-421-1 receiving line boosted his overall fantasy output last season, as 45.9 percent of his fantasy points came through the air. However, his lack of efficiency as a pass-catcher could result in him ceding a significant portion of his 89 targets to a more capable pass-catcher.

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While a decline in receiving work could spell trouble for Stevenson's fantasy upside, there's still plenty to get excited about. For starters, goal-line back Damien Harris is now in Buffalo. Harris only scored three touchdowns on the ground last season, but each of those scores came from inside the five-yard line. Stevenson should be the favorite to handle goal-line duties with Harris now gone. Additionally, Stevenson has been one of the more efficient runners on the ground since entering the league. Below are some PFF metrics and where he ranks among 73 qualified backs since 2021 (min. 100 carries):

Stat

RB Rank

YCO/ATT

3.66

4th

MTF/ATT

0.21

15th

Explosive Run Rate (10+ Yards)

14.6%

6th

Barring an unexpected collapse in 2023, Stevenson has plenty of paths to a top-10 finish in redraft leagues.

Regarding another running back eating into Stevenson's receiving work, the Patriots have a few players who could threaten for targets. Veteran Ty Montgomery remains with the team after appearing in just one game last season due to injury and could factor heavily into the receiving game. In his lone performance last season, Montgomery caught three passes for 15 yards and a touchdown on just 21 offensive snaps. Fantasy managers have faded Montgomery for the majority of the offseason, but those taking a chance on him late in PPR drafts could be rewarded for their faith. Although, it would be unreasonable to view him as anything more than a low-end RB3 at this point in the season.

[2023 Fantasy Football A-Z Team Previews Hub]

Pierre Strong is the dark horse to secure the Patriots' pass-catching role in the backfield. Entering his second season in the league, Strong was a dynamic producer at South Dakota State and boasts 4.37 speed. Strong caught 51 passes for 471 yards and three touchdowns in four collegiate seasons, averaging an impressive 9.1 YPR. Like Montgomery, Strong is also going late in drafts and could develop into a valuable PPR asset in 2023.

Win Total

Bet MGM Over/Under: 7.5
Pick: Under

The Patriots have gone under this total just once in the last 20 years. In their first season without Tom Brady, the Pats went 7-9 with Cam Newton at the helm but rebounded to go 10-7 in 2021 and 8-9 last year. Heading into this season, Belichick and company are massive underdogs within their division. They currently have the worst odds of any team in the AFC East (+750) on Bet MGM to win the division and face arguably the toughest schedule of any team in the league, per Sharp Football Analysis. With non-divisional games against a rugged AFC West and NFC East, the Patriots will have their hands full in several games this season. While the defensive unit is expected to be stout, the offense will need to show tremendous growth if it hopes to compete against some of the most explosive offenses in the league. A few upset wins could easily put the Patriots over this number, but a slow start out of the gate could just as easily derail them. Betting against Belichick in the past has been risky business, but it feels easier to do by the year.