Overall outlook: The team known for remaining silent and reserved made the biggest waves in the offseason. In March, the Patriots couldn’t agree to terms with their main receiver, Wes Welker. A couple days later, New England signed injury-prone target Danny Amendola. Then, in June, the never-quiet Rob Gronkowski underwent back surgery, not to mention his forearm infection. Gronk’s position-mate, Aaron Hernandez, has some off-field issues of his own. Last, but not least (well, maybe least), there was the addition of Tim Tebow.
Bye week: 10
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Behind Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers atop the fantasy football scoring world last season was Brady. His 456 fantasy points via 34 touchdowns and 4,827 yards made Brady the third-highest fantasy football points machine in back-to-back seasons. Even with the loss of his best targets, Brady has thrived before with less and he will continue to persevere without them.
Running back: Stevan Ridley
The last Patriots’ running back to rush for over 1,000 yards was BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1,008 yards in 2010). Before him, it was Corey Dillon in 2004 (1,635 yards). So, when Ridley reached that milestone last season, along with 12 rushing TDs, the fantasy football impact resonated. Danny Woodhead received the second-most carries for New England with 76 attempts, but he’s now with the Chargers. With Tom Brady as his quarterback, defenses will look to defend the pass first. That means more holes for Ridley. Last year, he finished in the top 15 with 205 fantasy points. I’m predicting top 10 stats in 2013.
Running back: Shane Vereen
Brandon Bolden may have had more yards than Vereen in 2012, but Shane had more opportunities. Vereen finished with six more carries and 11 more targets. Leon Washington and LeGarrette Blount have a fighting chance to steal playing time (vulture?), but Vereen has the youth and fresher legs on his side.
Wide receiver: Danny Amendola
The flashes of greatness are all fantasy owners can hope for when drafting Amendola. He’s never finished a season with over 700 yards. He’s never scored more than three touchdowns in a season. However, he’s never had Tom Brady as his quarterback. The comparisons to Wes Welker are noticeable and commonplace. They are pratically the same build with similar speed. Health remains Amendola tragic fantasy flaw. He’s missed 20 games the past two seasons.
Wide receiver: Michael Jenkins
Brandon Lloyd is still a free agent, but rumors suggest San Francisco is looking his way. Jenkins is slated as the number two receiver in New England, but is off to a rough start according to training camp reports out of New England. Like Danny Amendola, Jenkins hasn’t had a breakout season since his days at THE Ohio State. Someone has to catch the passes from Tom Brady. Why not Jenkins?
Wide receiver: Aaron Dobson
Just in case Michael Jenkins isn’t the No. 2 receiver after camp, here’s a couple "quick hitters" to take a flier on for your draft day. Dobson is a rookie out of Marshall (like Randy Moss) who had 57 receptions for over 600 yards his senior season.
Wide receiver: Josh Boyce
This rookie of TCU caught 66 balls for 891 yards last year. New England has had some bad luck with first-year receivers (Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, etc.), but I believe not only will Boyce or Aaron Dobson make the opening roster, one or both will also make an impact in the fantasy pool.
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski
When healthy, Gronkowski can be (is?) the best tight end in football. When injured, he’s the biggest headache for fantasy football owners. The key here is the “risk/reward” factor. If you take the risk and draft Gronk in the second/third round, passing on a RB2 or QB1, he could pay monumental dividends. Then again, he could miss a chunk of the regular season and cost you a trip to the fantasy playoffs. Like 99 percent of those who play fantasy sports, I’m furrrrious when my season ends. So, I tend not to take many risks early on in drafts.
Tight end: Jake Ballard
If Rob Gronkowski isn’t able to smash the ball in 2013, Ballard, currently on the PUP list (ACL rehab), could be in line for some targets from Tom Brady. Probably my favorite thing about coach Belichick works in players that have been successful against him in the past. In 2011, Eli Manning found Ballard for the game-winning score just before time expired to beat the Pats. Later that year, Ballard left the Super Bowl (vs. New England) with an ACL injury. He missed the entire 2012 season recovering, but Ballard still had 38 receptions and 604 yards receiving before the injury. (UPDATE: Cut by the Patriots 8/30)
Placekicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Believe it or not, Gostkowski has been the Patriots exclusive kicker for seven years now. Man, time flies. During his tenure in New England, Gostkowski has missed eight games and one extra point (355-356). In 2011 and 2012, he had the second-highest fantasy points among his brethren. Gostkowski should be one of the first kickers off of the board.
Rookies Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones, along with first-year Patriot Aqib Talib, helped make New England the fourth-ranked fantasy defense with 167 points in 2012. Though the Pats passing defense ranked 29th in the NFL, the rushing D held opponents to 101.9 yards per game (ninth-best in the NFL). The offseason wasn’t as crushing to the defense as it was the offensive side of the ball.This is definitely a team worth drafting, especially when you consider they play the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins twice.