Obviously old man Brady is still QB1 material and Gronk is the best tight end in the league. After those two locks though, the rest of the offense is frankly a big question mark. Edelman is suspended the first 4 games, and there are many new faces at running back and receiver.
New England recently made a couple of interesting roster moves at receiver. They cut the inured, big play receiver Jordan Matthews and then signed veteran wide receiver Eric Decker. This seems like a perfect fit for Brady, McDaniels, and the entire organization.
How large of a role is Decker going to play in this offense though?
With Edelman being suspended the first 4 games, he is going to see a lot of targets the first month of the season. He will start the year as the number 1 guy more than likely, and if he thrives, he will be a top 15 fantasy receiver. For that to happen though, Decker has to stay healthy all year.
Decker, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kenny Britt are in the mix to compete with Gronk for targets while Edelman is out. Gronk, and potentially Decker as well, will be a lock to be in the starting lineup the entire season if healthy (same with Edelman when he returns from suspension).
During the first 4 weeks, Hogan, Patterson, and Britt will all likely get their shot to prove they should be constant fixtures in the offense all season. Those 3 will probably be competing for the third receiver spot that is not occupied by Edelman and Decker. More than likely, only one of the three will end up having real fantasy value when Edelman is back (assuming Decker, Gronk, and Edelman are all healthy).
My pick for who will win the third spot at receiver is Cordarrelle Patterson. He is probably more of a long shot than Hogan and Britt, but I think Patterson has something special. He has elite speed, along with solid athleticism, that Britt and especially Hogan are lacking. Hogan had moments where he looked like the one white receiver on your high school football team that honestly had no business playing receiver. Instead, they should really be a long snapper or place holder on special teams.
A little bit harsh, but that is how I feel about Hogan. He will definitely get a lot of game and see some slot action while Edelman is gone though. I just don’t see him having a constant presence in this offense next season, or much fantasy value after week 4.
Now let’s shift from receiver to running back. This summer New England let Dion Lewis walk in free agency, re-signed Rex Burkhead, signed Jeremy Hill, and drafted Sony Michel at the end of the first round. So as of right now, the Patriots have Michel, Burkhead, Hill, and James White (who signed a 3 year extension last summer) all in the mix for playing time.
Which back will be getting the most playing time and have the most fantasy value?
McDaniels will more than likely use both Burkhead and James White very similarly to the way he did last season. Use them both as third down backs, while also drawing up lots of plays for them to catch passes out of the back field. Burkhead averaged slightly over 12 fantasy points per game (that he was healthy for) and White averaged nearly 9 fantasy points a game last year. Expect both of them to put up rather similar numbers this season, with potentially a slight decline in production.
Drafting Sony Michel in the first round and signing Jeremy Hill signifies something big to me. The Patriots are ready to transition from a pass-happy offense to more of a ground and pound approach. This is likely to try and preserve Brady for the postseason and years to come. How do you keep Brady fresh and healthy as long as possible? Lessen his workload. The fewer times he drops back to pass, the fewer times he will be hit.
The Patriots will obviously still let it fly when they need to, but I expect to see a slight change in play style and play calling. Over the last 3 seasons, New England has thrown the ball on a higher percentage of plays than every other team in the league besides the Dolphins (who are always losing and therefore forced to pass). Last year they threw the ball on 60% of their snaps. I expect to see that number drop to around 50-55% this season.
As of right now, Michel looks like he has the starting job secured and is in line for the bulk of the carries. If he struggles or goes down though, Jeremy Hill is very likely to take his job and run with it. He had massive early success in Cincy, before losing his job in that crowded backfield.
McDaniels is probably going to get pretty creative with this offense, as he always does. Expect to see lots of short and quick passes to running backs, along with tons of their touch “passes” that Brady’s stats reap the benefit of. Expect to also see McDaniels and Brady find different ways to get Cordarrelle Patterson the ball in space.
Gronk is the player on this offense that I think will have the best year, and have the most fantasy value. Brady is still QB1 worthy, but I think we will see a solid decline in his numbers. Michel makes me nervous due to how crowded that backfield is, but he could potentially be RB1 quality. If he is still available in the sixth or seventh round of your fantasy draft, he will very likely be worth the pick. When Edelman comes back I think he has the most value at receiver, but Decker could very well thrive in that offense and post the best numbers. Patterson is a sleeper that I think he could have a breakout season. Look to target him at the end of your draft.