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2011 Fantasy outlooks: New England Patriots

Senior Fantasy Writer
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In 2010, Fantasy owners spent most of the year deciding on which tight end to start in New England between Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. It became a frustrating exercise.

Hernandez opened the season as the better Fantasy option, but Gronkowski closed the year as a star. From Weeks 9-16, they alternated scoring touchdowns. If you picked up on the pattern, you knew which one to use.

This year, we hope there is more clarity. Going into the season, we recommend drafting Gronkowski first because he has the ability to score more touchdowns. In 2010, Gronkowski finished with 42 catches for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns on 59 targets. Hernandez, meanwhile, had 45 catches for 563 yards and six touchdowns on 64 targets.

Hernandez missed two games with a hip injury and could see an increase in his touchdowns by playing a full season, but we like Gronkowski as a more reliable target in the red zone. He had 15 red-zone targets and finished with nine touchdowns in 2010, while Hernandez had 12 red-zone targets and finished with six touchdowns.

Gronkowski should be drafted as a No. 1 Fantasy option with a pick around Round 8, and Hernandez should be drafted as a No. 2 tight end with a late-round pick. Both should be successful, but Gronkowski should produce more Fantasy points.

Now if that was the only dilemma in New England then we'd be OK. The Patriots made things difficult for Fantasy owners at the NFL Draft by selecting Shane Vereen in the second round and Stevan Ridley in the third round to make things confusing in their backfield with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.

We'll address the running backs in our categories below, as well as the receivers with Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Brandon Tate. As for Tom Brady, at least he's guaranteed as a No. 1 Fantasy option in all formats.

He should be drafted in Round 2 after Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees come off the board. The only question when it comes to Brady is what his hair will look like Week 1.

Sleeper ... Deion Branch, WR

I've done several mock drafts with analysts from other sites this offseason, and generally I end up drafting Branch as my third or fourth receiver in Round 7 or later. These are leagues where receptions count for one point and you start three receivers. I know Branch will outperform that draft position. Santonio Holmes is a good comparison for Branch based on last year. If you recall, Holmes was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, but he finished the year with 102 Fantasy points in a standard league. Branch, by comparison, started last year in Seattle, but he played 11 games for the Patriots – or one less than Holmes did with the Jets. Branch had 97 Fantasy points for New England. Now, Holmes is being drafted well ahead of Branch because it's assumed he has more upside. But if you want better value, wait a round or two later and draft Branch. He should be tremendous playing with Brady for a full season. Welker remains a solid Fantasy option as well, and he should be drafted as a No. 2 receiver as early as Round 4 in standard formats and Round 3 in point per reception leagues. And if Tate starts out the season proving that he can be a reliable deep threat for Brady then add him off the waiver wire, but Tate is not worth drafting in most formats.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value
Quarterbacks
Tom Brady
Running Backs
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Danny Woodhead
Shane Vereen
Stevan Ridley
Wide Receivers
Wes Welker
Deion Branch
Brandon Tate
Julian Edelman
Taylor Price
Tight Ends
Rob Gronkowski
Aaron Hernandez
Alge Crumpler
Kicker/DST
Stephen Gostkowski
Patriots DST

Bust ... BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB

Add Woodhead to this category because the Patriots will likely work Vereen and Ridley into the rotation after drafting them with high picks. This isn't like aging veterans in Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris or a bust like Laurence Maroney – these kids are expected to play. Green-Ellis was a star last season with 229 carries for 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns. Even with just 12 catches for 85 yards he finished as the No. 15 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. Woodhead finished as the No. 28 Fantasy running back with 97 carries for 547 yards and five touchdowns and 34 catches for 379 yards and a touchdown. But Green-Ellis and Woodhead can expect a decline in production. Ridley could take away goal-line work from Green-Ellis, and Vereen can take away third-down work from Woodhead. Along with that, the Patriots might bring back Kevin Faulk, which will also hamper Woodhead. Now, it's not like Green-Ellis will lose his starting job. He still has value as a No. 3 Fantasy running back in standard leagues, and he's worth drafting in Round 5 or 6 at the earliest. But if you reach for him before then you are making a mistake. As for Woodhead, he should be drafted in Round 10 or 11 in standard leagues. If Faulk returns as a free agent, however, his value will decline even further.

Keeper-league target ... Shane Vereen, RB

Add Ridley to this category as well. The Patriots backfield in 2012 has the potential to be Ridley and Vereen sharing carries, but we like Vereen with more Fantasy value down the road. You're not going to see Vereen drafted in most standard formats, but he could be worth drafting with a late-round pick in point per reception leagues. And in dynasty and keeper leagues, you can draft Vereen with a mid-round pick. He was a star at Cal last year with 1,167 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. As for Ridley, he is suited to work at the goal line and in short-yardage situations at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds. Like Vereen, he's not worth drafting in most seasonal leagues, but you can take him with a late-round flier in touchdown-only formats. He had at least one touchdown in 10 of 13 games for LSU last year.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@MIA SD @BUF @OAK NYJ DAL bye @PIT NYG @NYJ KC @PHI IND @WAS @DEN MIA BUF

If the Patriots are going to return to the playoffs this season, they'll have to earn it. Their early-season and late-season schedules are sweet, but in between they'll face five playoff teams from last season as part of a difficult eight-game stretch. The Pats will play road games at Pittsburgh, at the Jets and at Philadelphia. Granted, they dismantled the Steelers last year, but the Jets dismantled the Pats last January and gave defensive coordinators a lot to think about. The juicy silver lining: Their final four games are very appealing and should net some big stat totals -- assuming that the Pats are not resting any stars.

Training camp topics

2010 Touches Leaders
* includes postseason
Player Touches
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 252
Danny Woodhead 151
Wes Welker 93
Deion Branch 53
Aaron Hernandez 49
Rob Gronkowski 46

Three positions should keep Fantasy owners busy during training camp: Running back, tight end and third wide receiver.

At running back, you'll want to see how Vereen and Ridley are being used with Green-Ellis and Woodhead. At tight end, you'll want to watch the split in reps with Gronkowski and Hernandez. And at wide receiver, you'll want to see if Tate can make an impact in his third year.

The Patriots don't need much from their third receiver with the production they get from both tight ends and their running backs. But they do need a consistent deep threat, and Tate has the potential to be that guy. If he plays well in the preseason then his value will rise.

Injury update

Tom Brady (foot, probable for the start of training camp) … Aaron Hernandez (hip, probable for the start of training camp) … Kevin Faulk (knee, questionable for the start of training camp) … Stephen Gostkowski (thigh, questionable for the start of training camp)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Jamey at @jameyeisenberg . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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Player News
Disgruntled Seahawks DE Michael Bennett unlikely to be dealt
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Defensive end Michael Bennett wants out of Seattle after signing a four-year, $32 million contract last offseason to stay with the Seahawks. But the possibility of a trade appears unlikely, CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora has reported.

"He's kinda sorta tried to say that he didn't really want to be dealt after all, but that's not flying anywhere," La Canfora wrote. "He and his agent have made it clear he'd rather not be back in Seattle and while the Seahawks aren't ones to back down, perhaps something emerges that makes sense for all parties prior to the start of the regular season.

"Kind of odd not to be so happy in a franchise that competes for the Lombardi Trophy, and until or unless the Seahaws put out explicit word that Bennett has permission to speak to other teams, I don't see any clubs nibbling in this era of hyper-sensitivity over tampering regulations. But there's a lot of time between now and September for something to perhaps change."

Bennett contributed to 38 tackles a year ago and added seven sacks.


Jets linebacker Quinton Coples expects to rush passer more this year
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:26 pm ET) Jets linebacker Quinton Coples is excited about the changes in New York this season. Coples expects to see a role change in New York's defensive scheme with new coach Todd Bowles at the helm, according to NJ.com.

"Well, I won't be jamming receivers," Coples said, comparing Bowles' defense to former coach Rex Ryan's system. "I won't be guarding the No. 1 receiver. That's a big change. Other than that, a lot more rushing. I'll be going against the quarterback a lot. I will be dropping [into pass coverage] a little bit, as well, but a lot more going forward [with rushing the quarterback]. They don't need me in coverage anymore, as you guys can tell."

Coples totaled 35 tackles in 2014 with 6 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble.


Denzel Perryman to provide depth at inside linebacker for Chagers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:22 pm ET) New Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman has high expectations on his plate heading into his rookie season, according to ESPN.com.

Perry, a second-round draft pick out of Miami (FL.), will be utilized as an inside linebacker and on special teams early on with the Chargers, according to defensive coordinator John Pagano.

"He's mean," Pagano said. "He's tough. He tackles. He's somebody that's going to hit you. He's not just going to try and tackle you. He's trying to run through you, and that's something that every defense is looking for. He's got great instincts, and that makes up for the so-called lack of speed. He plays faster than he's timed."

Perryman totaled 218 tackles with 3 1/2 sacks in his final two seasons in college.


Browns' Ekpre-Olomu (knee) needs 7-10 months of rehab
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:17 pm ET) Browns cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu said on a conference call with media members Wednesday that he suffered a knee dislocation in addition to his torn ACL in December, ESPN reports.

Ekpre-Olomu, who was selected in the seventh round of this year's draft, said he was told he needed seven-to-10 months of rehab on the injured knee. He's been rehabbing five days a week for 3 1/2 hours a day and things are going well, the Akron Beacon-Journal reports.

At one time considered a potential first-round pick, Ekpre-Olomu missed the College Football Playoff due to the injury and figures to open the season on the PUP list.


Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse signs RFA tender
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:14 pm ET) Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse signed his restricted free-agent tender on Tuesday, reportedly worth $2.356 million, according to ESPN.com.

Kearse had his best season as a pro in 2014 with 38 receptions for 537 yards and one touchdown.


Bears sign Kevin White, Eddie Goldman to four-year deals
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:04 pm ET) The Bears have agreed to terms with first-round pick Kevin White from West Virginia and second-round pick Eddie Goldman from Florida State, the team announced.

Both players agreed to four-year deals with the team. White was selected with the seventh overall pick. He had 109 catches for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior season for West Virginia.

"I know I spoke to you about getting impact players in the draft, especially when you're picking in the top 10, and that's exactly what Kevin White is," general manager Ryan Pace said after picking White.

"This guy's dynamic, he's big, he's strong and he's ultra-competitive. If I could stress one word for this player, he's competitive. You see it after the catch. You see it in the way he attacks the ball in the air. This is a dynamic playmaker for our offense."

Goldman recorded 35 tackles with four sacks in 2014 for the Seminoles.


Deflategate report finds Patriots QB Tom Brady 'generally aware'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:27 pm ET) Attorney Ted Wells, who headed the investigation into the Deflategate scandal involving the Patriots, has concluded that "it is more probable than not" that team personnel "deliberately violated playing rules" by deflating game balls for their AFC Championship rout of Indianapolis.

>> Latest on Wells Report: CBS News

Wells went on to express his belief that Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski deliberately released air from the balls after they had been examined by the referee.

The 243-page report vindicated the upper echelon of the organization, but not quarterback Tom Brady, who declined to hand over his phone to Wells, according to the report.

"We do not believe there was any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing by Patriots ownership, (coach) Bill Belichick or other Pats coach," it read. "...It also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady ... was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."

The NFL, which now has the report, is considering discipline against Brady, McNally and Jastremski, a source close to the investigation has told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Meanwhile, Patriots owner Robert Kraft is sticking with his sentiment that the organization did nothing wrong and that the investigation lacked evidence.

"I was convinced that Ted Wells' investigation would find the same factual evidence supported by both scientific formala and independent research as we did and would ultimately exonerate the Patriots," Kraft wrote. "Based on the explanations I have heard and the studies that have been done, I don't know how the science of atmospheric conditions can be refuted or how conclusions to the contrary can be drawn without some definite evidence."


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez expects to compete for starting job
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:10 pm ET) Despite the assumption of many that the Eagles traded for quarterback Sam Bradford to make him the automatic starter, fellow signal-caller Mark Sanchez doesn't perceive the situation the same way.

Sanchez believes there will be an open competition in camp, which is why he signed a two-year deal worth $9 million to return to Philadelphia.

"Absolutely," he told NFL.com. "That's the way I understand it. ... Just talking with coach (Chip) Kelly and knowing I'm comng with the opportunity to compete for the starting job. That was important to me."

Sanchez completed 64 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for the Eagles a year ago.


Chargers FS Eric Weddle: 'I'm not coming in anytime soon'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:16 pm ET) Chargers free safety Eric Weddle has been absent from team workouts over the last couple weeks. If his recent words are any indication, they should not expect to see him for a while.

Weddle, who is in the final year of his contract, is seeking a new one. General manager Tom Telesco has promised one will be discussed upon the completion of the draft, but Weddle will wait until then. He did, however, claim he will be working out on the side.

"I'm not coming in anytime soon," Weddle told radio station The Mighty 1090. "They know where we're at and they obviously know their stance, so we'll see what happens from there."

Weddle contributed to 114 tackles last season and has averaged 103 over his last seven years. But his interception total has dropped every season since peaking at seven in 2011.


Redskins rookie WR Jamison Crowder could push Andre Roberts
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:09 am ET) Redskins fourth-round pick and wideout Jamison Crowder could wind up usurping Andre Roberts as the team's No. 1 slot receiver, according to the Washington Post.

General manager Scot McCloughan praised the diminutive Duke product - and not just for his talents as a kick returner.

"For an undersized guy, he's got a chip on his shoulder," McCloughan said. "He's a really good punt returner. He's a receiver first, punt returner second. And he's going to come in there, you put him in the slot, he's going to be tough to cover. He's a football player."

Roberts performed well in the slot early last year, but struggled down the stretch and finished with just 36 receptions for 453 yards and two scores. He also made little impact as a returner.

Crowder caught 85 passess for 1,044 yards and six touchdowns in 2014 with the Blue Devils.


 
 
 
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