The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the end of July as training camps open. We’ll tackle pressing season-long fantasy questions, Best Ball tips (new on Yahoo for 2019) and team win totals. We begin with the defending champions, the New England Patriots.
Maybe we got caught up in the offensive fireworks being put on display last season by the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs. Maybe it was enjoying the excitement of rookies like Saquon Barkley and Baker Mayfield. Whatever the reason, somewhere down the line Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots became somewhat of an afterthought — a good team that was finally losing its luster. A team taking advantage of a hilariously weak division. A team whose core of stars were all getting a little older, a little slower.
Surely they would fall in the playoffs, right?
No, the Patriots did what they always do: They found a way to win when it mattered, en route to beating the Rams in the Super Bowl.
In fantasy, though, the results weren’t as dominant. Brady and Rob Gronkowski finished outside the top-10 in their respective positions. Wide receiver was a headache all season. Running back received an infusion of fantasy goodness with Sony Michel, but we all know how unpredictable Belichick can be with his RBs. There are a lot of question marks on this offense at this point in time.
So what’s in store for the Patriots when it comes to fantasy value in 2019?
Tom Brady has to slow down, right?
Brady, who was around when tea was tossed into Boston Harbor, is about to enter his age-42 season. Final QB fantasy rank: OVER or UNDER 17.5?
Brad: OVER. Whether it’s the avocado ice cream, Carnival dancing or nude sunbathing, Brady continues to defy the odds of aging. However, last checked, Father Time remains undefeated. And Tom Terrific without Gronk in three games last season was largely tepid, ranking QB21 in fantasy points per dropback (0.41).
Maybe N’Keal Harry pairs perfectly with the always reliable Julian Edelman and delivers instant results. Maybe Demaryius Thomas, off a nasty Achilles injury, doesn’t run on empty. Maybe Josh Gordon gets reinstated and picks up where he left off in 2018 this season. Even if one or two of those maybes materialize, it’s unlikely Brady averages 17.0 Yahoo fantasy points or more. No Age 42 QB has ever done it.
In the deepest passer class in fantasy history and off a season in which he experienced massive declines in red-zone and deep-ball efficiency, betting on Brady finishing outside the QB top-20 is smart money.
Liz: OVER. Brady’s continued dominance is a perfect example of needing to reconcile the difference between winning IRL vs. Fantasy. Coached by arguably the game’s finest strategist (and historian), Brady’s been afforded the opportunity to pivot. With Julian Edelman suspended to start 2018 and Rob Gronkowski a shell of his former self, Bill Belichick hammered the run game. In fact, the Patriots ran the third most rushing plays in the NFL last year. In 2017, however, when Gronk was legit and Brandin Cooks was averaging over 67 yards per contest (WR10), Brady cleared 4,500 passing yards (QB1) and posted top-five fantasy numbers.
Heading into 2019, the team’s personnel has undergone another massive transformation. But it’s not one that inspires an uptick in passing potential. Yes, N’Keal Harry, who excels in contested catch situations, figures to eat over the middle of the field. And Josh Gordon could, in theory, get his flash back. But I’m not relying on a rookie and a player that’s been indefinitely suspended.
Not when the team takes RB Damien Harris in the third round. Not when I remember Brady squirming in the pocket and bailing on throws because he was afraid of getting smacked. And certainly not when I have a plethora of other options.
Life without Rob Gronkowski
Gronk accounted for 72 targets last season. With the party animal retired, who stands to benefit most?
Liz: N’KEAL HARRY. The second receiver selected in the 2019 draft, Harry is a tough competitor with strong hands and the ability to win 50/50 balls. He’s also got great size and excellent ball skills, both of which make him tough to tackle. The fact that the Pats, a team that openly admitted their struggles when assessing WR talent, felt confident enough to nab the Sun Devil in the first round is extremely telling. Furthermore, the depth behind the rookie is a staggeringly shallow amalgamation of olds vs. greens. FF: 58-751-6
Andy: It’s really a deeper and more complicated question, because the Pats will be without Gronk, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and, in all likelihood, Josh Gordon. Those guys combined for 223 targets last year. If we assume Brady will again average over 35 pass attempts per game — as he has in every healthy season since 2006 — then multiple players will need to step up.
Rookie N’KEAL HARRY is an obvious candidate to see 100-plus targets, because A) the team invested a first-round pick in him and B) New England’s receiving depth chart is full of bad ideas. Harry isn’t a perfect prospect, but he’s a contested-catch monster with good size and strong hands. Offseason addition AUSTIN SEFERIAN-JENKINS seems likely to draw 50-60 looks, which will make him a viable streaming option during the byes. And there’s a decent chance JULIAN EDELMAN leads the NFL in targets in his age-33 season, because he’s the one guy on this roster who’s earned Brady’s complete confidence. No one should be surprised if Edelman averages 11 or more targets per game.
PPR Pick 'em
Which RB will yield more total fantasy points in the format: Sony Michel or James White?
Andy: It should go without saying that White is a terrific PPR asset and a welcome addition to any roster. But he’s not gonna give us another 12 touchdowns, as he did in 2018. White did his best work last season when other key pieces were absent for New England. It wouldn’t shock me if MICHEL scored, say, 14 touchdowns in 2019. He’s a great bet to produce as an RB1 in any format.
Brad: WHITE. One of Brady’s most trusted weapons, the sure-handed RB excelled Weeks 1-9 (RB7) before undergoing a dramatic downturn over the regular season’s second half (RB32). The second-most targeted RB in ‘18, he’s in line to at least eclipse the century mark in total looks, especially given New England’s uncertainties at WR. His role is fixed.
Toss in Michel’s troublesome knee along with the addition of talented rookie Damien Harris, and White in full-point PPR is the sensible pick.
Best Ball Bargain Bin
Liz: Given Sony Michel’s knee issues, DAMIEN HARRIS feels like an obvious pick here. But I want to show some love to an overlooked prospect. JAKOBI MEYERS is a hyper-focused and sure-handed pass-catcher who thrives in the short to intermediate levels of the field. He’s not the fastest or most athletic receiver in the game, but he is dependable. With Julian Edelman entering his age-33 season, Meyers has a chance to earn serious reps and potentially turn it on in late 2019.
Andy: I have no doubt that PHILLIP DORSETT will produce a pair of 3-catch, 2-touchdown weeks, delivering nearly all of his 2019 fantasy production in two outlier weeks.
Brad: JOSH GORDON. Surprised? I can’t quit the man. He was WR25 in .5 PPR Weeks 5-15 with the Pats last year. If cleared, which reports suggest is a decent chance of happening, he’ll be a high-risk WR3 with difference-making upside for the genre.
New England — 11 total wins (Via FanDuel Sportsbook): OVER (-120) or UNDER (+102)
Brad: OVER. The Jets are ascending, but Miami and Buffalo pose little threat. Plus, the Pats have THE easiest schedule when using combined betting win totals as a reference. It’s a heavy vig ($120 to win $100), but surpassing the above number for the ninth time in 10 years is very doable.
Liz: OVER. Despite the team’s holes and their aging QB, the Patriots have earned the benefit of the doubt. After all, they haven’t dipped below this number for nearly a decade. The rest of the division looks to be ascending, but much of that is conjecture vs. reality.
Andy: OVER. Or maybe a push. I think it’s exceedingly likely that Brady takes a small step back at 42, an age at which no NFL quarterback has ever been productive. But I don’t think No. 12 will completely fall off a cliff. New England’s division slate remains ridiculously friendly.
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Follow Andy: @AndyBehrens