What fantasy value can we find on the Tom Brady-less Patriots?

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the eventual start of the 2020 draft season. Here, we’ll tackle pressing fantasy questions, #FantasyHotTaeks, and team win totals. Next up, the New England Patriots.

How are you playing this backfield? Looks like a bunch of meh options. Are we missing something here, or is there a clear option to buy into?

Dalton: Sony Michel is coming off a season in which he hurt fantasy managers who kept starting him, as he somehow finished 114th in fantasy points per opportunity despite benefitting from the second-best game script. He also finished bottom-10 in elusive rating, has a chronic knee issue that could return at any moment and finished with fewer than 100 receiving yards while playing in all 16 games last season. Damien Harris is a complete unknown at this point, but he’d hardly be the first Patriots back to succeed after essentially redshirting their rookie season, just like James White and Shane Vereen did. Rex Burkhead is a strong cut candidate, while Harris has ability as a receiver and isn’t coming off such a dreadful campaign like Michel, so he’s the Patriots back I’m targeting.

Scott: It’s mostly a fade, though I guess I could consider Michel in the right pocket. But the favorable game scripts of the glory years, those might not return this year. We know Michel rarely catches the ball, and this is a team that leans into backfield platoons.

Liz: Last year James White was the Pats’ leading rusher, in terms of offensive snap percentage (42.6%) and fantasy points produced (RB23). In large part due to a dearth of receiving weapons (and the high degree to which Tom Brady trusted him), White posted over 90 targets in back-to-back seasons. However, his attempts have averaged fewer than six per game in both 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, Sony Michel — who was virtually nonexistent in the passing game, managing 20 targets over 16 efforts (RB60) — was RB9 in team run plays and carries per contest. However, Michel wasn’t exactly effective. Outside of the top 50 in true yards per carry (3.6) and with just six breakaway runs on the season, the former Bulldog was far from efficient.

So give me DAMIEN HARRIS, New England’s third-round pick from a year ago. Not only does he have the balance to stay upright and the power to push the pile, but he’s in possession of receiving chops, having been heavily used in the passing game at Alabama. The kid is the only legit multi-talent in this backfield. Plus, his current ADP carries zero risk. Oh, and, fun fact: Harris and Jarrett Stidham played youth football together as kids growing up in Kentucky.

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Julian Edelman finished as fantasy’s WR10 in .5 PPR leagues last season. Where does he finish in 2020?

Dalton: What Edelman did last year was quite the feat considering Tom Brady’s dramatic decline in play, although a high target share obviously helped. Still, his upside is limited as a 34-year-old who’s never scored more than seven touchdowns in a season and likely with a first-year starter at quarterback. He’s a fine WR3 in PPR formats, but even as someone who’s in on Stidham, I’m passing on Edelman this year. With a new QB, it’s hardly a sure thing he'll remain NE’s #1 WR over Mohamed Sanu or N’Keal Harry.

Liz: Not only was Edelman a WR1 for fantasy purposes last year, but he also posted a career campaign (100-1,117-6) with a separated AC joint and torn rib cartilage. The shoulder issue required surgery, but all reports indicate that Edelman will be fully rehabbed well ahead of training camp. I understand that a 34-year-old slot receiver heading into a season without his bestie screams boring, but there’s no reason that a player as consistent as Edelman — especially given this corps’ lack of experience and/or depth — can’t put up top-20 FF stats. He’s my WR29 (and that’s probably too low).

Scott: I’ve pushed Edelman outside my Top 30 at the position and I’m not targeting him at all. He’s entering his 11th year and his age-34 year. The mind-meld that he had with Brady will unlikely carry over to a new, young quarterback. And even in his salad days, Edelman has always been a modest touchdown guy. When you think about Edelman in those middle rounds, why not take one of the buzzy sophomore receivers instead?

Who is the one surprise name you think could provide value late in drafts?

Liz: N’Keal Harry was a divisive player heading into last year’s NFL draft. Some analysts dug how physical he was, while others knocked his ability to separate. Both things can be true.

Admittedly, Harry’s rookie year was bust. He had a rough camp, got injured in the preseason, and opened Week 1 on IR. Given the lost practice time, lack of on-field reps, and limited time to develop chemistry with Brady … it makes sense that he wasn’t effective. But things in New England have changed, and Harry has an opportunity to establish himself as the team’s best red-zone threat. A player with a breakout age in the 95th percentile and the ability to win in contested situations, Harry could draw upwards of 80 targets and post solid WR3 fantasy numbers. 

Dalton: Jarrett Stidham is a former four-star recruit who was expected to be a high first-round draft pick before a disappointing last season in college that can easily be blamed on a bunch of circumstances beyond his control. He’s routinely described as a gym rat (6’2, 220 lbs with a strong arm and good accuracy) with a high football IQ whose teammates love him. Both his college YPA (9.6) and breakout age (19.1) were in the 90th percentile or higher, and he becomes even more interesting in fantasy thanks to an ability to run. If only Stidham had coaching on his side as well (Matt Cassel was the QB7 in fantasy during his lone year starting in New England’s system). Stidham is a fantasy afterthought in a loaded QB position, but he’s an obvious sleeper hiding in plain sight.

[2020 Draft Rankings: Overall | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | DST | Kickers]

Scott: Dalton outlined a good case for Stidham and I mostly agree, though I think the Cassel angle might be a little overblown (the 2008 Patriots, after all, inherited a roster that just went 16-0; that group isn’t walking through that door). But if we squint into the past a little bit, we see Stidham’s back class and pedigree. Maybe there’s some upside here.

New England Patriots 2020 projected depth chart.

#FantasyHotTaek

Liz: No one’s Pats’ takes are as spicy as Dalton’s … but I will make the case for a young QB with late-round draft pedigree and underrated weapons to surprise (because that’s never happened before?). With Harry and Sanu back to health, Marqise Lee added, and Harris poised for a breakout, this offense has just enough juice for Stidham to squeeze. Ranked my QB28 on the season for redraft, I’m higher on him than the consensus and willing to lean into his upside when stashing for dynasty and/or hunting for value in 2QB and Superflex leagues. 

OVER/UNDER on 9.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Scott: Most pundits and players are forever petrified to go against Bill Belichick, and I understand that angle. Belichick has won double-digit games an astounding 17 years in a row, and he’s posted a winning percentage of .683 in New England. He’s even covered an obscene 59.4 percent over that span (with a much tidier number if you start the grading after Brady emerged). Normally, when you bet against Belichick, you set your money on fire. 

But most things in life end badly, or else they wouldn’t end. Not that the Patriots have to collapse to miss this number; even a 9-7 season won’t feed the cat.

I think Belichick can rebuild New England into a bona fide Super Bowl contender again, but I can’t see it happening this year. We can’t be sure about Stidham, the offensive skill talent is mediocre, and last year’s elite defensive showing is unlikely to fully repeat — defensive efficiency isn’t particularly sticky year over year, and key talent has been lost. And to be fair, every AFC East rival looks improved. The only Foxborough ticket I could punch would say “UNDER” on it.

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

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