NFL Team Preview: 2021 Patriots rank dead-last in fantasy football appeal
We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. First up, the 32nd-ranked New England Patriots.
1. Damien Harris is the only Patriot inside the top 100 of our overall fantasy rankings. Is there untapped potential here or is he nothing more than FLEX territory?
Andy Behrens: Harris' untapped potential involves Cam Newton losing the starting QB gig (which may happen eventually), thus freeing up the goal-line carries that Patriots running backs didn't receive last year. If this team's offense operates as it did in 2020, then Harris won't have a meaningful role as a receiver and he won't see the ball in goal-to-go situations. There's really no path to fantasy value for a running back without targets or touchdowns.
Matt Harmon: I don’t love projecting a back on a poor offense, and it’s still difficult to envision New England as anything more than an average attack in 2021, to be better than a low-end RB2 at best. It’s even more challenging to conjure up optimism when that player doesn’t have hardcore access to goal-line work or a receiving role. Harris could end up slicing off more of the latter pie if/when Mac Jones takes over the starting quarterback job. But who knows when those days will arrive. I’m not going to go out of my way to avoid Harris in 2021 but I doubt he’d ever make my “priority list” in drafts.
Scott Pianowski: A speculative back on the offense we're ranking 32nd, eh? I'll take a pass on that. If Cam Newton is healthy, he's a touchdown-stealer at the goal line. If Mac Jones gets into the mix, we have to accept some growing pains. I don't think the Patriots will be a punching bag by any means, but it will be because of a worker-bee offense and a retooled defense.
2. Are you out on Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith since they could cancel each other out and this isn’t a passing game screaming volume?
Scott: I actually think it was shrewd of the Patriots to pivot to an offense that features two tight ends, but Henry's injury history makes me squeamish at his expected ADP. And when Bill Belichick announced the Smith signing, he mentioned all sorts of things that have little to do with fantasy value — you don't get a point for chipping an edge rusher or pancaking a defensive lineman. Again, I respect New England's overall plan here, but this looks like a widely-distributed tree that will be difficult to forecast, week-to-week.
Andy: I am, in fact, out. If I land either one of them in a fantasy draft, something will have gone horribly wrong. I'm hopeful that Newton can be more productive as a passer this season — or that Mac Jones can show us something — but let's remember that New England's offense only produced 12 total passing scores a year ago, two of which were thrown by receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Matt: Consider me out. The two tight ends situation in fantasy football almost always sounds better in theory than it works out in practice. New England was second to last in passing play percentage last year and with Cam Newton back or rookie Mac Jones taking over, it’s tough to see them flipping that script drastically. There just won’t be enough passing volume to give either of them the type of target total they’d need to be both finish as TE1s. It’s not as if we’re about to project this crop of quarterbacks for big passing touchdowns, so I’m unconvinced how both Henry and Smith would finish in the eight to 10 range. Again, without the raw target totals, that’s what you’d have to ask of them. Loved the signings for New England, hated it for these players’ 2021 fantasy outlook.
3. Is there a sleeper to be found anywhere on this roster?
Matt: I don’t mind taking stabs on Jakobi Myers and Kendrick Bourne very late in Best Ball drafts. Those two are underrated receivers and in the unlikely scenario this passing offense rediscovers itself, one of them could hit. Oh, and I’m happy to still take Cam Newton as a late-round quarterback in the hopes he can offer up a handful of startable weeks before giving way to Mac Jones. The conservative answer is probably a simple, “no.”
Scott: I'll probably talk myself into Rhamondre Stevenson in the middle of the season. And Nelson Agholor isn't a bad depth play for the Best Ball world. Seasonal? You're skipping over these guys.
Andy: Not a sleeper who should actually be drafted in leagues of standard size and shape, no. Rhamondre Stevenson might get interesting if one veteran gets cut and another disappoints, but, realistically, the rookie isn't likely to make any fantasy noise until 2022, if at all.
New England Patriots projected 2021 fantasy contributors
QB: Cam Newton / Mac Jones
RB: Damien Harris / James White / Rhamondre Stevenson
WR: Nelson Agholor / Kendrick Bourne / Jakobi Meyers
TE: Hunter Henry / Jonnu Smith
OVER/UNDER on 9.5 team win total from BetMGM
Scott: That's a no-bet at that number, but if I had to punch a ticket, I'd actually go over. Last year's defense was riddled with COVID opt-outs, and still Belichick had the team competitive (games at Seattle and Buffalo easily could have been wins, one play different). The Bills sure look like the AFC East favorite, but the Patriots have beefed up the defense and having the best modern coach in history is worth a win or two on its own. I won't be at the window, but if you force me to pick, I lean over the number.
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