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New England Patriots Fantasy Football Preview

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Jakobi Meyers ↔️</