It has been quite a year for the Patriots! From the mountain top of the last-second Super Bowl victory, where they literally snatched victory from the jaws of defeat -- to the craziness of Deflategate, which leaves them minus $1 Million, a first-round draft pick in 2016 -- and possibly without the services of Tom Brady for four games.
That pending four-game suspension really is the wild card in trying to predict what the 2015 season will look like for the Pats. Will the suspension be upheld? If so, when will the suspension take place? (Even if it is upheld, by the time all the appeals are filed, there is a good chance that Brady plays until sometime in the middle of the season.) What opposing teams may benefit from playing a Brady-less Patriot team? So many questions... Sometimes it is easy to forget that these are the defending Super Bowl champions we are talking about.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have his work cut out for him this season if he hopes to remain a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback. In May, the NFL suspended Brady for the first four games of the season -- matchups against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Dallas -- and New England also has a Week 4 bye. Barring a change in the ruling, that's a lot of games to miss for a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback. Now, we know that in 2014 we saw Brady get off to a slow start, but he still finished as a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback.
You can expect that when he does return to the field he'll do it with a chip on his shoulder and still with tremendous weapons in Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell as the top options. We still consider Brady a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback, but his value drops with the suspension. He's now worth drafting with a mid-round pick instead of an early-round selection, and you'll want to pair him with a high-upside No. 2 quarterback for the start of the year. Jimmy Garoppolo will start in Brady's place, and he's not a viable replacement option. We just hope Garoppolo doesn't hurt the value of New England's main weapons until Brady returns.
The NFL suspended Tom Brady for the first four games of the season, and barring an appeal, Jimmy Garoppolo will start in his place. The Patriots open the season with matchups against Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Dallas, and Garoppolo could be the starter for all of those games. He's not someone to consider in standard seasonal leagues, but he could be useful in two-quarterback formats. Garoppolo will inherit playing with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, and he has a full offseason to prepare for his first time as an NFL starter. He played sparingly as a rookie in 2014 as Brady's backup with 182 passing yards and one touchdown. Fantasy owners main concern with Garoppolo should be that he doesn't screw things up for Gronkowski, Edelman and LaFell until Brady's suspension is over.
If you're a Fantasy owner looking for a running back in New England then you obviously like playing roulette because it's all about taking chances and dealing with an element of surprise. With that in mind, if you have to gamble on a Patriots running back then LeGarrette Blount is the best of the bunch -- even with his one-game suspension to start the season. He joined New England late last season and helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl, and during his time with Bill Belichick he's been a decent Fantasy option. In 25 games with the Patriots, including the playoffs going back to 2013, Blount has 10 games with at least 12 carries. In those outings, he has double digits in Fantasy points six times, including 14 total touchdowns. He's obviously not going to help in PPR leagues with 12 combined catches the past two seasons, and he's still a Belichick running back, meaning plenty of uncertainty on a weekly basis. But if he enters the season as the potential starter then he's well worth a mid-round pick. Belichick trusts him (he's lost three fumbles in his past 319 carries) and when he touches the ball enough he has a good chance to succeed in a big way.
A good trivia question years from now will be who led the Patriots in rushing yards when they won the Super Bowl in 2014. Not many people will guess Jonas Gray, but he was No. 1 with 89 carries for 412 yards and five touchdowns. Now, Gray did the majority of his production in one game against the Colts with 37 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns, and while it was a memorable moment, it probably proves he's not someone you can trust in the majority of leagues. He also had just one catch for 4 yards, and he should enter training camp behind at least LeGarrette Blount. Since it's New England, there's always the chance Bill Belichick gives Gray an extended look ? probably when you least expect it. But we don't consider Gray a Fantasy running back to target in the majority of leagues. He's only worth a late-round pick at best, barring him winning the starting job in training camp, but that would be a surprise heading into the year.
The Patriots have an opening in their backfield with Shane Vereen gone, and James White will compete with Travaris Cadet to be the new passing-downs back this year. White had minimal work as a rookie in 2014 with nine carries for 38 yards and five catches for 23 yards in just three games. But with Vereen gone -- and he accounted for 391 rushing yards and two touchdowns and 52 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns -- he could be asked to do a lot more this year. LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden will likely work on rushing downs, but White or Cadet could play a prominent role, especially for PPR owners. Keep an eye on the White-Cadet battle in training camp, and the winner could be worth a late-round flier in PPR leagues.
Patriots receiver Julian Edelman should still be a standout Fantasy option even with quarterback Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the season. We just hope he's not terrible with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter while Brady is out. Edelman is the type of receiver who should help Garoppolo succeed. For the past two years, Edelman has been among the best slot receivers in the NFL. He followed up his standout 2013 performance (105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns) with another solid campaign in 2014 (92 catches for 972 yards and four touchdowns), and he likely would have finished with consecutive seasons of 100-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards had he played in the final two games of the regular season (concussion). The evidence is there of what Edelman can do on a yearly basis. He enters this season as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver in all leagues, with his value higher in PPR formats, even with the quarterback upheaval now happening in New England. Once Brady is back on the field we should see plenty of production from Edelman again, and he's worth looking into beginning in Round 5.
Brandon LaFell's first season in New England proved to be successful, and he's hoping to build on that performance this year even with Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the season. LaFell not only won his first Super Bowl, but he also set career highs in catches (74), yards (953) and touchdowns (seven). And he did this after not making his first reception until Week 3, which could prove useful this year since Brady is expected to miss the first four games of the season. LaFell has now earned Brady's trust (we hope the same happens with Jimmy Garoppolo), and he should enter this season as the No. 1 outside receiver. We know Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are the top two targets in this passing game, but LaFell was third in targets with 119. LaFell finished 2014 as the No. 23 receiver in standard leagues and he could easily finish in the same range this year. He's a solid reserve Fantasy receiver worth drafting with a mid-round pick in the majority of leagues.
Danny Amendola will again be a reserve Fantasy option this season as he continues to get minimal playing time and targets for the Patriots. Since joining New England in 2013, Amendola has just 81 catches for 833 yards and three touchdowns. He had just 27 catches for 200 yards and one touchdown last year, and his Fantasy value is minimal, even in PPR leagues. We would only advise drafting Amendola with a late-round flier in deep PPR formats.
Aaron Dobson seemed to be on his way toward making a contribution to the Patriots roster. As a rookie in 2013, Dobson had 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns on 73 targets. But in 2014, Dobson struggled with injuries and couldn't get on the field, finishing with three catches for 38 yards on five targets. He could emerge as the No. 4 receiver for the Patriots this year behind Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola if he wins a competition with Brian Tyms, and Dobson could have sleeper potential in deeper leagues. We don't recommend drafting Dobson in the majority of leagues, but he could emerge as a waiver wire target if he has a breakout campaign in his third season in the NFL.
Rob Gronkowski is back where he belongs as the No. 1 Fantasy tight end entering this season, and he should be able to dominate the position in 2015 even with Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the year. Gronkowski appears to be over the forearm, back and knee injuries that have plagued him in recent years after he finished with 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and we hope he can overcome having backup Jimmy Garoppolo start while Brady is out. Last year, he was 30 Fantasy points better than the No. 2 tight end, Antonio Gates, and he should again blow away the field, barring an injury or a bad start from the quarterback mess with Brady now out. He now has four seasons for with double digits in touchdowns and two with over 1,100 receiving yards and at least 80 catches. We still consider Gronkowski a first-round pick in the majority of leagues even without Brady to open the season. He is clearly the best tight end in the NFL, and he should once again post dominant stats this season.
You shouldn't go into the draft targeting any specific kicker, but if you have to pick one, Stephen Gostkowski is the guy to go for. He led the league in field goals made for the second season in a row in 2014, by connecting on 35 of 37 attempts. He is at 86.8 percent for his career and 90-plus percent in each of the last two seasons. Plus, he gets the benefit of playing for what is consistently one of the best offenses in the league. Gostkowski gets a ton of opportunities and rarely misses them, and should be the first kicker off the board on Draft Day.
The Super Bowl champs have been a perennial top-10 fantasy option, but they're no lock to continue that trend in 2015 without All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis. Still, the Pats have some value with up-and-coming pass rusher Chandler Jones, who missed six games last season but still posted six sacks. Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins form one of the league's best young inside linebacker duos. And this offseason, New England wisely retained FS Devin McCourty and bolstered its pass rush by adding OLB Jabaal Sheard. Vince Wilfork's presence will be missed on the interior, but Bill Belichick's defense still offers a high weekly fantasy floor.