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Team Previews

New England Patriots 2021 Fantasy Football Preview

by John Daigle
Updated On: July 28, 2021, 8:01 am ET

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2020 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,236 (27th)

Total Touchdowns: 32 (29th)

Offensive Plays: 979 (29th)

Pass Attempts: 440 (31st)

Rush Attempts: 502 (3rd)

Unaccounted for Targets: 171 (11th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 73 (21st)

 

Coaching Staff

It’s not so much the changes among New England’s coaching staff that fantasy players should focus on so much as its improved offense (on paper) stemming from a league-high $291 million spending spree in free agency, $124 million of which is being doled out this year. The team also obliged the Raiders’ dumbfounding request to move on from stalwart RT Trent Brown, who struggled through COVID and other injuries last year but previously earned a career-high grade from Pro Football Focus in his lone season with the Patriots. His presence, not to mention the return of C David Andrews on a four-year deal and the addition of veteran interior linemen Ted Karras, inevitably boasts a unit that ranked third-overall in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards metric in 2020 but finished middle of the road in its pass-pro. The other players discussed below should be considered proof that OC Josh McDaniels is looking to rid the stench of last year’s median pace (13th) in neutral game script after ranking 1st, 1st, 2nd, 6th, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 1st, 1st, and 3rd in pace over the last decade (per Establish The Run’s Pat Thorman).

 

Passing Offense

QB: Cam Newton, Mac Jones

WR: Nelson Agholor, Gunner Olszewski

WR: Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry

WR: Kendrick Bourne

TE: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry

Previously a pass-happy attack with Tom Brady at the helm, New England’s offense breached the unknown with a mobile quarterback and escaped with the second-highest run play rate in one-score situations. Newton’s 137 carries, second only to Lamar Jackson’s 159 at their respective position, and team-high 19 rushes inside the five-yard line provided 131.2 fantasy points on the ground alone, which accounted for an outlandish 50% of the 32-year-old’s overall scoring. The front office re-signed Newton to a one-year contract that’s seemingly a $5 million deal with $9 million in unattainable incentives -- playoffs, Pro Bowl, All-Pro, MVP, Super Bowl MVP -- before drafting Alabama QB Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick and creating a “legit competition” that’s expected to shake out in camp after the rookie reportedly looked like the best quarterback on the field" during OTAs. Newton’s best-case scenario is starting Week 1 with the shortest leash of any quarterback in the NFL; his worst-case is losing this competition to Jones in the summer and riding the pine throughout the year. The latter remains the stronger option in a vacuum and viable QB4 for 2-QB and SuperFlex leagues.

Patriots had their pick of the litter in blitzkrieging the market before any other team and returned with Nelson Agholor, Las Vegas’ leader in air yards (1,269) and end zone targets (13) last year, for $11 million annually. An uber-efficient deep threat who careered with 18.7 yards per catch on 23 opportunities (15th) 20-plus yards downfield from Derek Carr, Agholor’s 15.5-yard depth of target fortuitously lacks overlap with Jakobi Meyers’ (10.7). Entrenched as an every-down option with experience both from the slot (65% in 2019) and out wide (66% with the Raiders), Agholor is a strong overlooked beneficiary if Mac Jones were to open the year as the team’s starter. Agholor is currently my WR45 for Best-Ball leagues, which is significantly above his Underdog ADP of WR62.

A trendy ancillary piece among New England’s receiving corps, 24-year-old Meyers was thrust into the fire in place of Harry last year and responded with a team-high 30.2% target share from Week 8 on. The former first-rounder has since requested a trade despite comical leverage after recording just 45 catches and 5.1 yards per target under McDaniels through two seasons. Essentially guaranteed the No. 2 receiver role behind Agholor no matter Harry’s availability, the latter’s departure would still free 18 routes per game for Meyers, who has yet to score a single touchdown in the NFL, to potentially soak up. Bourne figures to be a nuisance in the red zone more so than a legitimate weekly option for Best-Ball and re-draft scoring.

The Patriots’ league-lows in tight end catches (18) and touchdowns (1) can be ignored after the team mutually inked Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry for $12.5 million annually. The TE8 and TE11 in fantasy points per game the past two years, Henry should arguably garner more attention between the two since he produced 570 receiving yards in 3-of-4 seasons on his rookie deal, whereas Smith failed to do so at any point around last year's career-highs in receptions (2.7) and yards (29.9) per game with the Titans. Subjective nitpicking is warranted (and welcomed) since one, if not both are likely to make noise in the hellscape that is the TE2-range.

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Running Game

RB: Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, Rhamondre Stevenson

OL (L-R): Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaquille Mason, Trent Brown

Harris’ production skyrocketed from four total carries as a rookie to 137 across 10 appearances, out-carrying Sony Michel 41 to 17 in the only three games the duo were available together last year. Without the latter, Harris handled 60% of the team’s backfield carries and averaged 4.2 routes run as a non-factor in the passing game. While I believe the hype of his three-down ceiling has gotten out of hand, Harris’ outlook sans a run-heavy quarterback logically cements him as a high-floor RB2 with massive touchdown upside given the presumed absence of Newton’s vulturing at the goal line. Michel performed admirably (5.68 YPA) in nine games last year but is on the outside looking in after the organization declined his fifth-year option and selected Oklahoma bruiser Rhamondre Stevenson with the No. 120 overall pick to play a similar role. Assuming Michel, a colossal dud in every format, is released mid-camp, note that the Patriots would jump from 21st in unaccounted for carries (73) to 10th-overall (152), even qualifying Stevenson as a viable last-round stash for re-draft rosters.

29-year-old White unsurprisingly saw a five-year low in targets (62) with Newton under center, averaging nearly 10 fewer routes per game (22.4 to 13.1) than his usage from the year prior. An inarguable beneficiary in any life without a dual-threat quarterback, White at the very least checks all the boxes of a late-round option with more opportunity (and a higher target share) than perceived. He remains a terrific RB4/5 as the cherry on top of zero/anchor-RB builds and will likely close the offseason as one of my highest rostered players in hopes that Mac Jones takes over sooner than not.

 

Win Total

As easy as it is/was to kick the Patriots while they were down relative to the storied standards they had set over the past two decades, Bill Belichick and Co. quietly accomplished seven wins despite leading the league in opt outs, a list that included both S Patrick Chung and LB Dont’a Hightower, and receiving eight touchdown passes from their 15-game starting quarterback. With a new direction and revamped 12 personnel in store for 2021, New England’s 9.5 Season Win Total is one that seems to lean into last year’s debacle rather than weighing what we’ve typically come to expect from the front office. The team’s odds of sneaking into the postseason also surged from +144 to +110 in the past week. At plus odds, I’ll have skin in the game on the Patriots Over (+105) its projected Win Total given Belichick’s 17 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins prior to last year.