Fantasy football 2022: Stat projections for key Patriots players originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
We'll start with a word of caution: Draft a New England Patriots skill player at your own peril.
The Patriots have long frustrated fantasy football managers with their egalitarian, performance-over-pedigree approach on offense. They're happy to give a goal-line carry to a third-string running back after leaning on their workhorse for the full drive. When Bill Belichick says fantasy football doesn't mean anything to him, he isn't lying.
That said ... there's some fantasy upside in Foxboro.
Young quarterback Mac Jones appears poised for a Year 2 leap after a strong rookie campaign. Running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson both should play significant roles. Pass-catchers Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Henry and newcomer DeVante Parker all have the potential to be legitimate fantasy contributors.
How much potential, you ask?
Below are our 2022 stat projections and predicted draft round for every notable Patriots skill player, starting with those who will likely be first off your draft board. (Note: All stats are for a half-PPR scoring system.)
Damien Harris, running back
2021 stats: 202 rushes, 929 yards, 15 TDs; 18 receptions, 138 yards, 0 TDs
2022 stat projections: 170 rushes, 816 yards, 7 TDs; 10 receptions, 84 yards, 0 TDs
Projected draft round: Eighth
Harris was a top-15 fantasy running back last season thanks to his 15 rushing touchdowns, tied for second-most in the NFL. That seems like an aberration, and with Stevenson potentially taking on a bigger role (more on that shortly), we'd expect a slight regression for Harris in his fourth season.
Don't sell all of your Harris stock, though. The 25-year-old still should be the bell-cow for an offense that ranked eighth in the league in rushing attempts in 2021, and he posted five 100-yard games last season even with Stevenson nipping at his heels. If Harris slips past the eighth round, he's definitely worth grabbing as an RB2/RB3.
Rhamondre Stevenson, running back
2021 stats: 133 rushes, 606 yards, 5 TDs; 14 receptions, 123 yards, 0 TD
2022 stat projections: 145 rushes, 700 yards, 6 TDs; 28 receptions, 240 yards, 3 TDs
Projected draft round: 10th
No Patriots player has more fantasy upside than Stevenson, who's a popular breakout candidate entering his second NFL season. With James White likely sidelined to begin the season, the Oklahoma product could see a bigger role in the passing game, as well.
The question is whether New England will give Stevenson enough touches to be fantasy-relevant while sharing the backfield with Harris. Considering Harris lugged the ball 202 times last season, we could see the Patriots increasing Stevenson's workload and possibly giving him more red zone touches, which could make him a borderline RB2/RB3 with high upside if anything happens to Harris.
Jakobi Meyers, wide receiver
2021 stats: 126 targets, 83 receptions, 866 yards, 2 TDs
2022 stat projections: 90 targets, 74 receptions, 788 yards, 2 TDs
Projected draft round: 12th
Meyers quietly emerged as Jones' favorite receiver last year, amassing more targets than the likes of Deebo Samuel and Mike Evans. The problem is that he's rarely used in the red zone, with just two career touchdowns over three full seasons.
That's unlikely to change with DeVante Parker in the mix. If you're a 12-team, full-PPR league, Meyers is worth a late-round flier as arguably the safest bet in New England's receiving corps. There's just not much upside here.
DeVante Parker, wide receiver
2021 stats (with Miami): 73 targets, 40 receptions, 515 yards, 2 TDs (10 games)
2022 stat projections: 80 targets, 68 receptions, 700 yards, 5 TDs
Projected draft round: 12th
If Meyers is the safest bet at wide receiver, Parker is the riskiest -- but with the highest ceiling. The former Miami Dolphin is just three seasons removed from putting up WR1 numbers -- 72 catches, 1,202 yards and nine TDs in 2019 -- but has missed nine games over the last two seasons due to injury.
Reports out of Foxboro suggest Parker got off to a strong start at training camp, and there's a world in which he leads the team in touchdowns as Mac Jones' go-to red zone target. There's also a world in which he's sidelined for multiple games. High risk, high reward here.
Kendrick Bourne, wide receiver
2021 stats: 70 targets, 55 receptions, 800 yards, 5 TDs; 12 rushes, 125 yards
2022 stat projections: 82 targets, 70 receptions, 685 yards, 3 TDs
Projected draft round: 12th
Our Tom E. Curran turned a few heads recently when he said Bourne could have a "Deebo Samuel year" in New England. That's quite the bold take, but Bourne arguably is the Patriots' most dynamic wide receiver who also contributed in the run game last season and appears to have strong chemistry with Jones.
So, what's holding Bourne back from being a reliable fantasy starter? The bottom line is that Meyers, Parker, Bourne and even Nelson Agholor (not to mention tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith) will all cut into each others' targets with no player solidified as the true WR1. The Patriots' offense isn't nearly potent enough to spread enough wealth around, even to the team's top three wideouts.
Hunter Henry, tight end
2021 stats: 75 targets, 50 receptions, 603 yards, nine TDs
2022 stat projections: 64 targets, 44 receptions, 586 yards, 5 TDs
Projected draft round: 16th
No tight end caught more TD passes than Henry last season, which explains why he was the ninth-best TE in fantasy. We'd expect a regression in that department with Parker in the mix, and if Jonnu Smith has anywhere close to a bounce-back year after a disappointing 2021, that will eat into Henry's targets.
Henry technically is Jones' favorite red zone target until proven otherwise, so don't write him off completely. But he's more of a high-end TE2 than a TE1 at this point.
Jonnu Smith, tight end
2021 stats: 45 targets, 28 receptions, 294 yards, 1 TD; nine rushes, 40 yards
2022 stat projections: 51 targets, 35 receptions, 400 yards, 2 TDs; 11 rushes, 86 yards
Projected draft round: Undrafted
The Patriots didn't give Smith $31.25 million guaranteed last offseason to catch 28 balls. He should have a more significant role in the offense after last year's flop. But he faces a steep uphill climb to earn a regular target share alongside Henry, who ranked second on the team in targets last season. You can find a better tight end elsewhere.
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