Updated: Jul 26, 2022
Before we look at where we're going, let's take a look at where we've been (that's a shoutout to Mader from Cars for all you fellow Moms and Dads).
The 2021 New England Patriots performed better than expected, finishing 10-7 to clinch a wildcard spot. They were absolutely smoked in the wildcard round by the Buffalo Bills but, to many, it was a surprise they were even IN the playoffs to begin with following Tom Brady's departure. A true testament to Bill Belichick's prowess and stature as the greatest NFL coach of all time.
A playoff birth wasn't the only surprise of the Pats campaign. Many would also be surprised to realize that last year's Patriots scored the 6th most points (27.2 per game), had the 9th most 1st downs (21.3 per game) and, perhaps most impressively, had the 2nd best scoring percentage—by far—in football with a rookie QB at the helm (48%).
From a fantasy football standpoint, the 2021 New England Patriots were dominant on the ground and mediocre—at best—through the air.
They were elite on the ground, producing the:
8th most rushing attempts (28.8 per game)
8th most rushing yards (126.5 per game)
2nd most rushing TDs (24)
4th most rushing 1st downs (8.2 per game)
Through the air, they were about average across the board, which is probably a win with a rookie QB following Tom Brady:
8th fewest passing attempts (31.5 per game) - interesting since they finished with the...
14th "most" passing yards (226.9 per game)
15th "most" passing TDs (24)
13th "fewest" passing first downs (11 per game)
Big Mac is back for year 2 of the Bill Belichick system and received a small but useful boost in artillery. The Patriots will return almost all of Jones' supporting cast (Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry) while also trading for DeVante Parker and drafting Tyquan Thornton (2nd round) and Pierre Strong (4th round). They will also get James White back from injury (if he can stay off the PUP list) and have added Ty Montgomery and Lil'Jordan Humphrey as names to watch.
Miraculously, the Patriots have only vacated 59 targets this offseason, 56 of which belonged to RBs (mostly Brandon Bolden who followed Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas).
All in all, there's zero reason to think the arrow is not pointing up on the Patriots offense as a whole. It looks even better than last year on paper, Jones should theoretically make progress as a young signal caller, and the Pats will HAVE to try and keep with with the insane juggernaut that is the AFC conference.
Ultimately one assumption I'm willing to make is that the Patriots become a bit more balanced in Mac's sophomore season. That means I'm betting on fewer rushing attempts and more passing attempts. Nothing extreme, but enough to take into account especially when considering Patriots RBs.
Mac Jones 📈
In Mac's rookie campaign, he averaged 13.4 fantasy points per game to finish as the QB 19. Compared to other QBs, he ranked:
15th in passing attempts (491)
15th in completions (332)
13th in passing yards (3,541)
15th in passing TDs (21)
24th in rushing yards (125)
Had 12 interceptions and no rushing TDs
He hit 20 or more fantasy points in just 18.8% of his games and never hit 25 at all.
With the return of his supporting cast buoyed by the additions of DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton and the potential return of pass-catching dynamo James White, it's fair to expect improvement on the above numbers for the sophomore.
Fantasy Drafts: Jones is currently selected as the 24th QB off the board around pick 180 (15th round). That's a perfectly fine cost and might even be a value considering last season's QB 19 finish and the likelihood he improves. The challenging part is that it's hard to remove a lot of the names in front of him. For example, Jones is currently drafted behind Daniel Jones and Ryan Tannehill, who I'd prefer in redraft but not in best ball (there's a possibility that Daniel Jones and, to a much lesser extent, Ryan Tannehill, are not the starters for their teams by the end of the season, making them risky(ish) bets in best ball leagues where there are no transactions allowed).
In a typical 1 QB redraft league, I wouldn't bother spending a draft pick on Jones.
In a best ball league, he's a cheap but unexciting QB 2/3.
In a 2QB or superflex redraft league, QB 24 is about right when you see the names in front of him, but it is worth noting he's (much) cheaper than a lot of these guys: Kirk Cousins (pick 117), Justin Fields (125), Tua Tagovailoa (132), Trevor Lawrence (142), Jameis Winston (153), Matt Ryan (156), Daniel Jones (157), Zach Wilson (169) and Ryan Tannehill (178).
If you believe the Patriots will open things up a little bit more for Mac Jones in year 2—I certainly do—then you should also expect a decline in team rushing attempts (barring a surprising change in pace of play). Let me elaborate...
The Patriots threw the ball 31.5 times per game in 2021. The league average is 34.4.
The Patriots ran the ball 28.8 times per game in 2021. The league average is 26.6.
So if we assume the Patriots play closer to average (balanced) in 2022, they would be in similar company as the 2021 Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars.
I'll remove the Cardinals, Packers, Falcons and Jaguars because they ran at a different pace than the Patriots (the Lions and Giants each ran within 1 play per game of the Patriots).
Both the Lions and the Giants ran the ball about 25 times per game. Remember, last year's Patriots ran it 29 times per game.
So if we expect an uptick in passing volume without expecting an uptick in plays run, then we must assume a decline in rushing volume. And for Patriots RBs that don't catch passes (Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson), that matters. A lot.
Damien Harris 📉
2021 PPR points per game: 13.77 (RB 17)
Hit 15 PPR points just 35.7% of the time
Hit 20 PPR points just 14.3% of the time
Never hit 30
Competition added: RB Pierre Strong (4th round pick) and the possible return of RB James White
Damien Harris balled out in his lone campaign with Mac Jones, averaging 13.8 PPR points per game (RB 17) mostly on 191 carries (11th most) for 892 yards (8th most) and a whopping 14(!) TDs (2nd behind just Jonathan Taylor).
That sounds great, of course, but regression is a very real thing in this world, and Harris is very unlikely to find the end zone that many times again in 2022. Which, if that's the case, he'll need to make up for it through the air which is incredibly unlikely. Last year, Harris was non-existent in the passing game, registering just 16 targets all season (he caught 14 for 96 yards and no TDs). With Rhamondre Stevenson back for his second year, James White back from injury (maybe), and rookie Pierre Strong expected to get some passing game work, it's virtually impossible to imagine a world where Harris suddenly becoming useful in the passing game.
Fantasy Drafts: Ultimately I don't think Harris has as good a year as last year, and it seems the public agrees: Despite last year's RB 17 finish, Harris is currently the 30th RB off the board around pick 94 (8th round). He's not an exciting pick there by any means, but if he maintains the red zone role in Belichick's system, it's not crazy to think he can hit 10 scores again. I've taken my fair share of Harris in the 8th round and sometimes later after stocking up on WRs.
Rhamondre Stevenson ↔️
2021 PPR points per game: 10 (RB 39)
Rhamondre Stevenson flashed moments of relevance last season, averaging 10 PPR points per game and hitting 20 PPR points twice in just 11 tries (for comparison's sake, Damien Harris did it twice in 14 tries). He averaged 12.9 touches (11.7 carries) for 62.9 scrimmage yards and had 5 TDs (all rushing).
Stevenson will undoubtedly be on the fantasy radar this year and randomly pop up for useful games, but he'll likely need Damien Harris to miss some time to come into weekly relevance outside of a desperation bye week flex.
The passing down role seems up for grabs with James White likely to start on the PUP list, but Pierre Strong appears to be first in line for that role even if White does miss time.
That said, Harris is far from cemented as the permanent RB1 and is on the final year of his rookie contract and could be headed out of Boston. It's entirely possible Stevenson is the RB1 in this backfield as late as next year and as early as partway through this year.
Fantasy Drafts: Stevenson is currently the 38th RB off the board around pick 115 (10th round). That's "fine" for a guy who finished RB 39 last year, but he's really hard to draft when you see he's drafted near Chase Edmonds, Rashaad Penny, Michael Gallup, Rondale Moore, Tim Patrick, Kenny Golladay, Jarvis Landry and more. He's also drafted ahead of Dameon Pierce and Ronald Jones who are in a similar tier.
Absolute best case, he's able to somehow wrestle the RB1 role away from Damien Harris.
Worst case, he's the RB2 without a receiving role on a team that likely won't be as run heavy as last year.
James White 📉 and Pierre Strong 📈
As of 6/29/2022, the latest report on James White is from 6/21/2022, and it states that he's a candidate for the PUP list and has yet to be fully cleared to return to the field from his hip injury. ESPN's Mike Reiss went so far as to leave him off the Patriots 53-man roster projection.
In that scenario, 4th round rookie Pierre Strong is likely to take over the pass-catching role and could certainly thrive in it as a PPR flex. Brandon Bolden played the role last season and accumulated 385 receiving yards, the 9th most among RBs. Of course, the year before that, James White racked up 62 targets (10th most), 49 catches (9th most) and 375 receiving yards (8th most) plus 1 TD. He was even better in 2019, registering 95 targets (6th most), 72 catches (6th most) and 645 yards (3rd most) plus 5 TDs (2nd most).
TLDR: The pass-catching RB role in New England usually has some PPR value, and Pierre Strong could thrive in that role.
Fantasy Drafts: On Draft Kings, which is a PPR site, James White is the RB 63 around pick 208 (18th round). Better than that, Pierre Strong is completely free (undrafted). That is insane value when you realize that even Brandon Bolden was the RB 48 last year in PPR leagues. James White was the RB 42 in 2020 and the RB 18 in 2019. I'm adding both guys to my portfolio where I can.
Jakobi Meyers ↔️
2021 PPR points per game: 11.08 (WR 32)
In his first rodeo with Mac Jones, Jakobi Meyers drew 118 targets (19th most) and 79 catches (17th) for 797 yards (32nd). Not too shabby.
That said, he was never particularly trust worthy and certainly not explosive as a fantasy asset, scoring 15 or more PPR points in just 18.75% of his games and hitting 20 PPR points just once in 16 tries. Why?
The problem is the guy just could not find the end zone, scoring just twice on those 118 targets. For comparison's sake, WRs who had 118 or more targets scored 7.35 TDs on average. Even just WRs who had between 100 and 125 targets scored 6.05 TDs on average.
Give the guy 4 more TDs and he's suddenly the WR 25.
The good news is that regression doesn't only apply to grim outlook; it can be a good thing too, and it's fair to suspect Meyers has better luck finding the end zone this year, especially if A) the Patriots throw more and B) Mac Jones takes a step forward.
The bad news is that the Patriots traded for DeVante Parker and spent a 2nd round pick on Tyquan Thornton, creating some very real ambiguity regarding the pecking order in the Patriots passing game. So it's MORE than fair to doubt that Meyers receives the same 24% target share that he did last year. It's highly unlikely.
Fantasy Drafts: Jakobi Meyers is currently the WR 62 on both Underdogs and Draft Kings around pick134-140 (12th round). That's a value worth considering for a guy who just finished the season 30 spots higher than that. I admittedly don't have much exposure to him so far, but he is one of my favorite picks (in PPR leagues) in the 130-140 range along with Ronald Jones, Jamison Crowder, DeVante Parker, Van Jefferson and Darrell Henderson.
DeVante Parker ↔️
The good news is that there's not really a need to choose between Parker and Meyers this season and die on that hill. Both guys can emerge as the WR 1 in New England, both guys are reasonably priced and, most importantly of all, Mac Jones was able to support two fantasy-relevant WRs last season despite being a run-heavy team.
Last year Kendrick Bourne was able to tally 10.89 PPR points per game, good enough for a WR 33 finish. He carried a higher ceiling than Meyers too, registering 15 or more PPR points in 25% game and hitting 20 points 3 times in 16 tries.
Bourne is still in town but was pushed down the totem pole with Parker's arrival—and he could further plummet if Thornton comes on strong and fast.
Best case, Parker has a chance to be the WR 1 in Boston. Worst case, he's likely no lower than 2nd in the pecking order.
Fantasy Drafts: Parker is drafted very close to Meyers. He's the WR 64 on both Underdogs and Draft Kings, drafted between picks 137 and 146 (11th-12th round). Also like Meyers, that's a fine price to pay for a guy who has PPR finishes of WR 41, WR 42 and WR 16 in his last 3 seasons. There's certainly some upside there, especially in best ball leagues.
Kendrick Bourne 📉
Last season was fun while it lasted, but the arrow on Kendrick Bourne's fantasy prospects is pointing straight south after the additions of Parker and Thornton. At best, he's likely to start the season as New England's WR 3 and will like be a better real-life football player than a fake one. At worst, the Patriots will want to get 2nd round rookie Tyquan Thornton on the field as soon as he's ready, and Bourne will likely be the first to cede playing time when that egg hatches.
Fantasy Drafts: Kendrick Bourne is currently the WR 83 on Underdog, drafted around pick 190 (16th round). I'm ignoring him entirely and instead interested in upside names around there like Marlon Mack, Wan'Dale Robinson, Will Fuller, Raheem Mostert, Parris Campbell, Austin Hooper, Julio Jones, Carson Wentz, Mark Ingram and more.
Tyquan Thornton ↔️
Even if Tyquan Thornton is ready for the pro level much faster than anyone is anticipating, he likely won't supplant Jakobi Meyers or DeVante Parker in two-wide sets in his rookie season. Best case, he's the WR 3, a role that produced 60 targets last season and 7.15 PPR points per game, a WR 68 finish for Nelson Agholor.
I like Mac's chances of offering two fantasy-relevant WRs this season, but I'd stop at two plus Hunter Henry. New England's WR 3 probably doesn't belong on the fantasy radar, and that's Thornton (and even THAT is best case).
Fantasy Drafts: He's basically free, going as the WR 102 around pick 214 (18th round). Names I'd rather take around there include Zay Jones, Bryan Edwards, D'Ernest Johnson, Kenyan Drake, Terrace Marshall, Sterling Shepard, Jauan Jennings, Jalen Guyton, Randall Cobb, Trey Sermon, James White, Damien Williams, Pierre Strong, and more.
Hunter Henry 📉
2021 PPR points per game: 9.4 (TE 11)
Hunter Henry was a touchdown machine in his first campaign with Mac Jones, scoring a whopping nine TDs, tied for most among TEs. He was able to hit 10 or more PPR points in 37.5% of his games and he hit 20 points (25.7 to be exact) once as well.
The "problem" for 2022 is that he did it on just 69 targets (nice), the 18th "most" among TEs. What he had in TDs he lacked in targets, catches (45, 20th "most") and yards (517, 16th "most").
He scored a TD on every 7.66 targets. For comparison, 17 tight ends had MORE targets than Hunter Henry did in 2021, and they collectively averaged just 4.4 TDs, scoring once every 21.3 targets.
It's clear Bill Belichick and Mac Jones love targeting Hunter Henry in the red zone, but that TD rate is going to be awfully hard to sustain. Stop me if you've heard this before, but regression is a very real thing.
Fantasy Drafts: Hunter Henry is currently the TE 17 on Underdog, being drafted around pick 152 (13th round). I think regression will hit this year, but Henry is hard to ignore at that cost in best ball drafts where you know he'll pop for TDs but don't have to predict when.
Note that while I love Henry as a best ball option, I wouldn't touch him in redraft leagues outside of streaming him from time to time.
That's a wrap on the New England Patriots (for now). Next week I will publish Episode 4 of the Basement Brewed Fantasy Football Podcast to discuss this in greater detail. Please be sure to tune in and/or watch it on YouTube!
Next week, I will be publishing my 2022 Fantasy Football Draft Kits! Discounted pricing ends 7/1 so if you're trying to take advantage of the discount, do it right here, right now! :)