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Offseason Primers: New England Patriots

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Patriots were once again an offensive juggernaut in 2012, and they came within one game of another Super Bowl appearance before losing to the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. They also helped a lot of Fantasy owners along the way.

Tom Brady had another stellar season and was a Top 3 Fantasy quarterback for the third year in a row. He had more than 4,800 passing yards for the second year in a row, more than 37 total touchdowns for the third year in a row and for the second time in his past three years, he had fewer than 10 interceptions. At a time when running quarterbacks are all the rage, Brady continues to dominate.

2012 Touches Leaders
1,164 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Stevan Ridley 296 (290 car., 6 rec.) 25.4%
Wes Welker 120 (2 car., 118 rec.) 10.3%
Danny Woodhead 116 (76 car., 40 rec.) 9.9%
Brandon Lloyd 74 rec. 6.4%
Shane Vereen 70 (62 car., 8 rec.) 10.6%
All Others 478 41.0%

Stevan Ridley stepped in for the departed BenJarvus Green-Ellis and had a breakout campaign. For all the talk about Bill Belichick going with a committee backfield, Ridley dominated carries compared to Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead. In fact, if you combine the touches for Woodhead (116) and Vereen (70) they still fall well short of the workload for Ridley (296).

The receiving corps for the Patriots was again stellar as Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez played well despite battling injuries, with Gronkowski the No. 2 Fantasy tight end behind Jimmy Graham. Wes Welker had his fifth season with more than 100 catches, and Brandon Lloyd was probably the lone disappointment on offense with a down year. Even Stephen Gostkowski was the No. 1 Fantasy kicker.

Now, the Patriots have to deal with the loss of Welker, who signed with the Broncos, and Brandon Lloyd, who was released. Brady's receiving corps will have a different look, but we expect him to still shine. Danny Amendola will replace Welker, and Brady should love relying on his new weapon.

Shane Vereen -- Sleeper

2012 Target Leaders
641 pass attempts
Wes Welker 175 27.3%
Brandon Lloyd 131 20.4%
Aaron Hernandez 83 12.9%
Rob Gronkowski 79 12.3%
Danny Woodhead 55 8.5%
All Others 118 18.4%

Vereen got off to a slow start in 2012, but he closed the season on a high note and should be in line for a bigger role this year, especially with Woodhead gone to the Chargers. Last year, Vereen was inactive for the first three games of the season, but he finished the year with 73 carries for 308 yards and four touchdowns and 15 catches for 254 yards and three touchdowns, including the playoffs. With Woodhead gone, Vereen's value will rise, especially in PPR leagues where he could complement Ridley. Woodhead had 76 carries for 301 yards and four touchdowns and 40 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns with one lost fumble last year, and Vereen should pick up the majority of that production even in a shared role with Leon Washington. He should be considered a No. 3 Fantasy running back in standard leagues and a potential No. 2 option in deep PPR formats. He's worth a mid-round pick, and Vereen has sleeper written all over him.

Brandon Lloyd -- Player on the move

Lloyd is looking for a new team this offseason after he was released by the Patriots in March. He entered 2012 with a lot of optimism. He was playing with the first elite quarterback of his career in Brady, he was teaming up again with the offensive coordinator who made him a star in Josh McDaniels and he was coming off the two best years of his career. It seemed like he was destined for greatness. Instead, Lloyd struggled with the Patriots with 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns. He managed just five games with double digits in Fantasy points despite getting 131 targets, which made him among the Top 20 most-targets receivers. We can only see Lloyd going down from here. Keep an eye on where he ends up, but Lloyd should still be a Fantasy reserve. Depending on his quarterback and his role, Lloyd will be worth a late-round flier in most leagues.

Rob Gronkowski -- Draft Day target

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Tom Brady 18-26 overall
Stevan Ridley 11-15 overall
Shane Vereen 45-52 overall
Danny Amendola 38-44 overall
Donald Jones Undrafted
Brandon Lloyd 144-152 overall
Julian Edelman Undrafted
Rob Gronkowski 11-15 overall
Aaron Hernandez 44-51 overall

A popular debate for Fantasy owners is when to draft Gronkowski. The traditionalist will say wait on tight end and look for sleepers like Kyle Rudolph, Dennis Pitta or Brandon Myers. But the modern owner will look at Gronkowski's body of work and realize he's a difference maker and should be drafted in the first 15 overall picks. Despite missing five games last year with a broken left forearm he still finished second in Fantasy points behind Graham. He has scored double digits in touchdowns in each of the first three years of his career with 39 scores in 43 games -- a 90.6 percent clip. With 187 career catches he's averaging a touchdown every 4.9 catches. Calvin Johnson is considered the No. 1 Fantasy receiver and a first-round pick, and he finished with 214 Fantasy points last year. If you project Gronkowski's stats over 16 games when he got hurt in Week 11 he would have finished with 85 catches for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns, which is 215 Fantasy points in a standard league. He's right there with Johnson and should be drafted in the same range. That is, if you want to win.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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