These Patriots playmakers should be on your fantasy rosters in 2017.
It’s hard to believe, but the New England Patriots are an even better and deeper team going into the 2017 season than they were when they won the Super Bowl last season. Offensively, they acquired running backs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, tight end Dwayne Allen, and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The only thing that remains a mystery is which players in the crowded backfield and wideout corps will raise to the top of the fantasy charts.
This weekly series of columns will focus on one to two teams and their fantasy-relevant players heading into next season. Player rankings are broken up into three tiers: ‘Start ‘Em’, ‘Flex or Stream ‘Em’, and ‘Pick ‘Em Up’. All fantasy rankings and stats are from Pro Football Reference.
The five-time Super Bowl champ is heading into his age-40 season as the Patriots quarterback and shows no signs of aging. Since 2005, Brady has finished as a top 10 QB nine times, six of which he finished top five. In a shortened 2016 season due to suspension, he set an NFL record in touchdown to interception ratio, tossing 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He is a shoo-in to finish as a top-three passer in 2017.
The undisputed best tight end in the league when healthy, Gronkowski has played in 15 or more games three times since his rookie campaign, and finished first in fantasy points for a tight end in all three years. Health is the only issue for Gronkowski, who had injury-shortened seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2016. He is a second-round pick in all draft formats.
Edelman has finished as a borderline WR2/3 in three of the last four seasons, and has been their most targeted wide receiver every year since Wes Welker’s departure after the 2012 season. He is a better option in PPR leagues, but is an easy set-and-forget starter on a weekly basis.
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In 2015 and 2016 while on the Saints, Cooks amassed at least 78 catches, 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns. Despite the great numbers, Cooks was unpredictable week-to-week last season. He exploded for 140+ yard receiving games three times last season, but also had six games under 45 receiving yards. Expect his numbers to become more consistent in New England, but take an overall hit with the amount of mouths there are to feed in the offense.
The veteran kicker had a down 2016 in comparison to his previous four seasons where he finished first at his position in fantasy points. He was ninth in 2016, but is in a great position to regain that top spot in what should be an offense that moves the ball effectively and efficiently every week. Two of his first three games of the 2017 season will be in domes, and drafting kickers has everything to do with their immediate schedule.
Flex or Stream ‘Em
Running Back Committee
(Dion Lewis, James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead)
As is often the case with running backs under head coach Bill Belichick, there is not a clear-cut runner on the roster that can be penciled in for 20 touches a week. The signings of Gillislee and Burkhead make the re-signing of LeGarrette Blount unlikely. Of this group, it is a toss up as to who becomes fantasy reliable in 2017.
In terms of carrying the rock, Gillislee seems to be the most poised to lead the team in rushes by year’s end, followed by Burkhead. Over the last two seasons, Gillislee accumulated 148 carries as the backup to LeSean McCoy on the Bills, boasting 5.7 yards per carry. Burkhead showed flashes of great play late last season while on the Bengals, including a 119-yard, two touchdown performance in Week 17.
Lewis and White are mainly passing down’s backs; however, Lewis carried the ball much more than White when the pair were simultaneously healthy. White caught 60 passes last season for 551 yards and five touchdowns, and is coming off of a 14-catch outing in Super Bowl 51. Lewis has had troubles staying healthy during his two seasons with New England, playing in only seven games each season. The first seven games of 2015 were Lewis at his best, he caught 36 passes to White’s eight, and even rushed for over 200 more yards than him during that time.
It’s a crapshoot, but going into the season, any one of these backs could emerge as the best fantasy option. They all need to be owned, and are great mid-to-late round sleeper pickups.
Pick ‘Em Up
The Patriots traded for Allen in early March and will fill the void left by former Gronkowski backup Martellus Bennett. Allen is a solid red zone threat (six touchdowns while on Colts last season), but will not be a fantasy option as long as Gronkowski is healthy. If he goes down, Allen becomes a must add.
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In 2016, Hogan finished second in the league in yards per reception at 17.89, just shy of the league-leading mark set by DeSean Jackson (17.95). Some of Hogan’s targets may go to Brandin Cooks, a definite deep threat in his own right. However, Hogan he will enter the season as the third wide receiver on the depth chart and could be a sneaky boom-or-bust waiver wire pickup during the season.
A fourth round draft pick in 2016, Mitchell tallied all four of his touchdowns between Week 9 and Week 12 last season, which made him the 25th ranked wideout in the NFL during that span. An already crowded receiving corp (including Danny Amendola and the possible return of unrestricted free agent Michael Floyd), means that Mitchell’s snaps could be lowered significantly. Regardless, his rookie season contributions should warrant the Patriots finding places to use him. He is a player to keep an eye on during the season.
The Patriots are the deepest team in the NFL with multiple weapons at every skill position. It could be tough dissecting the overwhelming options, however. There are four running backs that could all see their fair share of game action, and the wide receivers other than Cooks and Edelman will battle for targets. Despite the possible headaches on deciding who to start, getting any Patriots playmaker on your 2017 fantasy roster can only benefit your squad.
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