Juggernaut Index, No. 5: Tom Brady refuses to decline

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 41, but nothing seems to be slowing him down. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm, File)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 41, but nothing seems to be slowing him down. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm, File)

New England’s offense plays fast and efficient, without mercy. The Patriots led the league in plays per game last season (67.5) while ranking second in scoring (28.6 PPG). They were one of only three teams to average 6.0 or more yards per play. This team remains a sort of NFL Death Star, threatening everything and everyone. The Pats have won nine straight division titles and 14 of the past 15, reaching the Super Bowl eight times during the Tom Brady era. It’s simply an absurd record of sustained dominance.

Eventually, Brady will slow down. It’s unavoidable. Circle of life and what not. Brady is now 41, an age at which no NFL quarterback has ever been truly exceptional.

Here’s the full list of QBs who have passed for more 3000 yards and 20 touchdowns at age 40 or beyond:

Tom Brady, 2017 (40) — 4577 yards, 32 TDs
Brett Favre, 2009 (40) — 4202 yards, 33 TDs
Warren Moon, 1997 (41) — 3678 yards, 25 TDs

That’s it, the full list. Three guys, all Hall of Famers. And Favre and Moon were both cooked after those seasons.

It’s impossible to argue that Brady is showing any obvious signs of decline, of course. He led the league in passing yardage last season, won the MVP and threw for 505 yards in the Super Bowl. He’s fantastic, an easy top-five pick at his position in any fantasy format. But it’s worth noting that we’ve also reached a point at which there’s really no precedent for a quarterback playing at a top-tier statistical level at his age. If you’re investing in Brady this year, then by default you’re a believer in his branded stretchy, holistic, vitamin-ish, oxygen-rich, beet-eating lifestyle (or whatever it is), which is cool. Here’s hoping he continues to thrive, because he and his team define the current era in the NFL. It’s tough to imagine Brady not delivering another 4200 yards and 30 scores in 2018.

New England’s receiving corps is still outstanding, featuring an all-time tight end and various fun supporting options…

Gronk is our game’s unrivaled top TE

Last year, Rob Gronkowski led all tight ends in total standard fantasy scoring despite appearing in only 13 games. He was the No. 1 player at his position in per-game scoring by a comfortable margin. Gronk has topped 1,000 receiving yards in four different seasons and he’s reached double-digit TDs in five. He is, without question, our game’s top tight end. He has a long, complicated injury history, as most of you know, but he’s appeared in at least 13 games in three of the past four years. If you have to replace him for a week or three during the season, fine. It’s not as if you’ll take a zero at the position. Gronk certainly deserves his second-round ADP (21.7). Drafting a tight end near the top in a deep league — let’s say 14 or more teams — can create headaches at RB and WR, so it’s not for everyone. But a healthy Gronkowski belongs to a tier of his own.

Julian Edelman will be suspended for the season’s first four weeks after he was caught PED-ing, but we can feel relatively confident that he’ll return to his usual high-volume workload. Edelman is also coming back from an ACL tear, so that’s an additional concern. He’s looked like his normal self in preseason action (7-49-0), easing any concerns about his readiness. His recent ADP seems a bit rich, considering the suspension (77.7, WR32), but he’d be an appealing fourth receiver for a fantasy roster. Remember, it’s never easier to manage around an absence than it is in September, before the byes. Edelman should re-emerge as a must-start in the money weeks, when you need him most.

Chris Hogan opened the 2017 season with five TDs in his first five games, but a shoulder injury interrupted his season at the halfway point. Hogan eventually returned and delivered a monster performance in the Super Bowl (6-128-1), reminding us of his potential in New England’s offense. He has immense touchdown upside, if he can simply stay healthy. Hogan is a clear top-25 wideout for fantasy purposes, entering the season behind only Gronk in this team’s receiving hierarchy. Go get him.

Phillip Dorsett seems to have carved out a legit role in the Pats’ offense, at least until Edelman returns. He’s obviously been a multi-year, multi-city disappointment, making him nothing but a final round flier in our game. You will be mocked (deservingly) after drafting him. Still, he’s very much in the mix for New England. Cordarrelle Patterson has flashed in camp and preseason, establishing himself as the team’s presumptive No. 4/5 receiving option. Give him a long look in leagues that award points for return yardage; leave him alone in traditional formats.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is in line for another big fantasy season. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is in line for another big fantasy season. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Another year, another crowded Pats backfield

New England surprised many of us by drafting Georgia running back Sony Michel in the first round back in April. It’s not the sort of move you’d expect from a team that’s done exceedingly well with a budget backfield over the years, but here we are. Michel was an explosive committee runner in college who produced phenomenal numbers over his four seasons — he averaged 7.9 YPC in 2017, scoring 17 touchdowns. Georgia’s line was fantastic, which certainly helped. Michel had ball security issues as a college player that resurfaced in training camp, so that’s a worry. Perhaps more significantly, he’s been sidelined throughout the preseason following a knee scope; he recently returned to practice and is expected to be good to go in the opener. Still, the missed time is an obvious concern.

Rex Burkhead is dealing with a reportedly minor knee issue as well, but, at the moment, he’s clearly ahead of Michel. Burkhead reached the end-zone eight times last season on just 94 touches, which is the sort of thing that can happen when one plays for a team averaging 28-plus points per game. He’s an effective runner and a matchup problem as a receiving threat. The departure of Dion Lewis leaves 180 carries and 232 offensive touches up for grabs, with Rex seemingly in line for at least 55-60 percent of that workload. He’s going ahead of Michel in recent drafts (RB27 vs. RB33), as he should. Both backs need to be selected as high-end flexes.

We’re just throwing darts at the New England backfield, of course, because Bill Belichick isn’t in the business of sharing game-plan details in advance. James White has a well-established and likely unchanging role as a high-volume receiving back, so we can at least feel confident about his projection (think 675-725 scrimmage yards). He’s caught 116 passes for 980 yards and eight scores over the past two seasons, plus he’s feasted in the playoffs. White has crossed the goal-line eight times in six postseason games over the past two years. He’s a fun PPR asset who loses value in standard scoring formats.

Jeremy Hill seems to have an edge over Mike Gillislee in the battle for a big-back role. This would position him to poach the occasional touchdown from a better runner, but it’s not enough to land him on the fantasy radar in 10 or 12-team leagues.

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New England’s D generally finds a way

The Patriots allowed a zillion yards last season — actually 366.0 per game, ranking 29th — but yielded only 18.5 points per week. That sort of defensive performance has been relatively consistent throughout the Belichick era. New England sacked opposing QBs 42 times last season, but generated just 18 takeaways. This team’s D/ST isn’t a must-draft unit, but it’s worth owning for various friendly matchups within the division.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 28.6 (second in NFL)
Pass YPG – 276.1 (2)
Rush YPG – 118.1 (10)
Yards per play – 6.0 (3)
Plays per game – 67.5 (1)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston, 11) Philadelphia, 10) Green Bay, 9) Atlanta, 8) Kansas City, 7) NY Giants, 6) LA Chargers, 5) New England

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