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2013 Fantasy Football Preview: Patriots Edition

Tom Brady

Bill Belichick is notorious for giving Fantasy Football owners headaches season after season. This is because you never know which player(s) he is going to revolve his game plan around. His system is designed to find a mismatch, not pad anyone’s stats. Fantasy owners shouldn’t count on this strategy changing any time soon.

In his 13 seasons as New England’s Coach, he has made the playoffs in 10 of them, won three Super Bowls, appeared in two more and has never had a season with a below .500 winning percentage (aside from the first year). So, often I see owners who are big Pats fans make the mistake of reaching for their favorite players. While those players can usually justify their draft slots talent wise, they usually fall short in comparison to the players around them when it comes to targets/carries.

So let’s take a look at where you should take all of your favorite Patriots players along with some possible sleepers.

Tom Brady

When it comes to Tom Brady and Fantasy Football, you aren’t getting too cute. He has been a top three fantasy quarterback each of the last three seasons. As Patriots fans, we all know what this man is capable of. However, I have seen Brady fall in a lot of rankings/drafts already this season. Given some of his circumstances, this may be fair.

His top five receiving targets last season were Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead. Of those five, only Gronk is still on the team, and he may have to miss some time due to offseason surgery.

Keep in mind that Brady has put up elite numbers when guys such as Reche Caldwell and David Givens were his leading pass catchers. I also think he has a few new targets that could make us forget about the old ones. He’s still Tom Brady and the only other QBs I would consider taking over him are Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.

Running Backs

In ESPN standard scoring, Stevan Ridley was the 9th best running back in the league for 2012. For 2013, ESPN has him ranked as the 18th ranked player overall and the 13th best RB. I want to sit here and say that Ridley will be a top 10 back once again this year, but I just can’t do it. This feeling is nothing against Ridley but more just about my dislike for drafting Patriots players not named Tom Brady.  Ridley had the 6th most carries in the league last year, but I think the Pats are too deep at that spot for him to do it again. Don’t get me wrong, I think he will continue to improve. I just don’t think he will ever be your team’s number one back.

As for the rest of the backfield, I see Shane Vereen as being the reason that Ridley won’t make the jump to a top tier back. I actually like Vereen to be a playable flex option on your team some weeks. The problem is which weeks those are is anyone’s guess. His multi-TD effort in the playoffs was the beginning of an expanded role for Vereen this year, but look for him to have more rushing yards this year and to see a lot of the throws that used to go Danny Woodhead’s way.

I see former NY Jet Leon Washington as a sleeper this year. The Pats haven’t had a threat like him in the kick return game in a while. But when considering these guys, don’t forget that Brandon Bolden had a couple good games last year and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Legarrette Blount has hit 1,000 yards and 10 TDs before in his career.

Therefore, I’m avoiding this situation for my fantasy teams. Rest assured all five of these backs will have a huge day at some point this year and I’m not trying to guess who does it when.

Receivers and Tight Ends

There are a lot of new faces for TB12 to throw to this year. Even though Rob Gronkowski is not practicing yet due to offseason back surgery, I think you’d be foolish to take him out of your top two tight ends, alongside Jimmy Graham. He only played in 11 games last year and he was still the number two tight end. So even though I don’t see him playing a full season, I don’t see him slipping below number two in the fantasy ranks for tight ends because there is no better red zone target. The touchdowns will always be there. So if you don’t have to reach then take him but also select former NY Giant Jake Ballard as a handcuff if possible.

Another common question among Pats fans and fantasy owners is can Danny Amendola be the next Wes Welker? I answer yes but with a big if surrounding his health. Before his injury last season, Amendola was an elite slot receiver with Sam Bradford throwing him the ball before going down last year. I say if he’s healthy, he’s a top 15 receiver. Amendola has a lot more credentials than Wes Welker did before coming to New England. He’s a guy to target, but keep the injuries in mind since he’s only played a full season once.

After Amendola and Gronk, there is a lot of uncertainty. Julian Edelman showed early last season he can also have a Welker-type impact, but I’d wait until he does it consistently to pick him up. The Pats also added former Vikings receiver Michael Jenkins, who could fill a Brandon Lloyd type role on the outside. The potential game changer in the receiving corps this season is the rookie out of the University of Marshall: Aaron Dobson. This guy has a freakish combination of size and athleticism, maybe the best Tom Brady has had since the last receiver he had out of Marshall, a guy named Randy Moss. See why I say that here:

Defense/Special Teams

The Patriots’ defense is often thought of as weak because they give up a lot of yards in the passing game. Good thing for the owners of their defense is that yards don’t typically count against you. They had the sixth most points in the league, mostly because they have always had a knack for forcing turnovers. They are definitely a good option, but make sure you have the rest of your lineup filled before you draft them. You can always find a defense on the waiver wire with a good matchup.

Another note, Stephen Gostkowski is obviously a top option at kicker. But don’t be that owner that drafts a kicker before one of the last couple rounds. This difference between the top and middle of the pack isn’t worth losing depth elsewhere.

Final Word

My final advice when drafting Patriots not named Tom Brady is tread carefully. Look for guys in those other positions that are in a position to get more carries/targets. Bill Belichick is just too unpredictable from week to week and he doesn’t care about your fantasy team. And no, I don’t see Tim Tebow being relevant any time soon.

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