State of the Patriots
Over the last decade we’ve been spoiled by the consistently brilliant offensive onslaught coming out of New England. Ever since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick teamed up, they’ve produced big-time results, both on the scoreboard and in the standings. The Patriots have finished as a top eight NFL offense in each of the past six seasons and have made it to five Super Bowls-winning three championships. Brady & Belichick could be the most significant pairing we’ve seen since Ben & Jerry.
Tom Brady, in particular, has been terrific. Ignoring the 2008 season that he essentially missed with a knee injury, Brady has been a top ten fantasy quarterback in every season he’s been the full-time starter. Over the last three years, Brady has compiled a 39-9 record in the regular season, while accumulating 117 total touchdowns versus only 24 interceptions.
But 2013 could be a challenging year for Brady and the Patriots. For the first time in a while, there’s been significant personnel turnover and off-the-field distractions that could prove to derail the significant momentum that the Pats have been able to sustain while running rough shot over the rest of the AFC East.
Part of the reason that the Patriots always seem to have a loaded roster is Bill Belichick’s willingness to roll the dice on players that may be considered too high-risk for most other coaches to take a chance on. Belichick has free reign to solely make these type of decisions, and has not been shy to do so- with varying degrees of success.
Reclamation projects like Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead and Aqib Talib have enjoyed career resurrections with the Patriots. Each of these players had been with a previous club that had either given up on them or had under-utilized their talents. Coach Belichick found a way to put these players in a position that would maximize their talents and they thrived, helping substantiate the aura of Belichick’s brilliance.
But not all of these gambles paid off. The Patriots also took chances on guys like Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth that ended up being total flops. Not even the brilliant mind of Bill Belichick, a winning history and a strong locker room could help Ochocinco or Haynesworth contribute much of anything in their brief stint with the Pats.
Taking calculated risks with talented players has not been exclusive to veterans. Belichick has also shown he’s not afraid to scoop of college players that may have slipped in the NFL Draft due to off-the-field concerns. The 2010 NFL Draft is a great example of the duality of gambling on talented kids with questionable histories.
Many NFL teams removed Rob Gronkowski entirely from their draft boards due to numerous back injuries suffered while at the University of Arizona. When Gronkowski slipped into round two, the Patriots took a chance that paid off brilliantly. “The Gronk” would go on to set NFL records for most touchdowns and receiving yards for a tight end. The Pats then signed Gronkowski to a huge contract extension and are faced with the very real possibility that not only might Gronkowski not be ready for the start on the 2013 season, he could be suffering from chronic back issues that could plague him for the rest of his career.
Similar to Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez was a talented collegiate tight end that saw his 2010 NFL Draft stock plummet. Hernandez reportedly failed multiple drug test while at the University of Florida, and admitted in pre-draft interviews to marijuana use. Despite the fact that the team had already used a second round draft pick on Gronkowski, the Patriots grabbed the talented but troubled Hernandez in the fourth round.
The gamble appeared to pay off handsomely, as Hernandez joined his teammate as 2011 Pro Bowlers and gave the Patriots a dynamic duo of young superstar tight ends signed to lucrative contract extensions. But the recent police investigation of Hernandez’s involvement in a murder have cast a serious doubt on his future.
Major Offensive Changes
Tight end isn’t the only position that will see potentially significant changes for the Patriots. Long-time Tom Brady security blanket Wes Welker signed a free-agent contract with the rival Denver Broncos. Welker led the club in receptions in each of his six season in New England and has long been Brady’s most trusted safety-outlet.
Also gone are the team’s second-leading receiver Brandon Lloyd, veteran wide-out Deion Branch and pass-catching specialist, running back Danny Woodhead. In all, these departed players accounted for 42% of New England’s pass targets in 2012, assuring that major changes are coming for this year’s offense.
It gets worse if you account for the fact that both starting tight ends’ roles are a major question mark heading into the 2013 season. Taking that into consideration, the Patriots’ top five leading pass-catchers from last year are either no longer with the team, or could be facing a significant amount of time out of the lineup with injuries or potential suspensions.
In short, the leading healthy receiver returning for the Patriots is Julian Edelman, who caught all of 21 passes last year. Gronkowski and Hernandez combined to account for over 26% of the 2012 Patriots’ receiving yardage. The rest of the guys on the roster accounted for a mere 13.2%, or 640 out of 4844 yards.
The Patriots lost a significant number of major contributors, but they also did their due diligence to bring in a new crop of talent, through both the draft and free agency.
Free agent wide-out Danny Amendola was brought in to presumably take over the slot role vacated by Wes Welker. Throughout his career, Amendola has been favorably compared to Welker as a sure-handed, reliable option that can rack up targets and tough catches. But unlike Welker, Amendola has struggled to stay healthy, missing significant time due to injuries in three of his four seasons.
Aaron Dobson is a big (6′ 2 3/4″, 210), athletic rookie receiver drafted with the 59th selection in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Dobson is raw, and has struggled in mini-camps, but is expected to be a downfield threat in the revamped New England offense.
The New York Giants tried to sneak injured tight end Jake Ballard through waivers last year in the hopes of putting him on the injured reserve list to allow him to rehab. At the time that Bill Belichick claimed Ballard on waivers it was questioned by a lot of people-after all the Pats already had two Pro Bowl tight ends in their starting lineup. In retrospect, the move looks quite brilliant now as Ballard appears to be healthy and has looked good in minicamp.
ADP values courtesy of our friends at Myfantasyleague.com