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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
Joique Bell not a great start either way
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(5:53 pm ET) Though Joique Bell missed practice Wednesday after leaving early in Week 4 with a concussion, the Lions aren't ruling him out for Week 5 against Buffalo. But even if he plays, you probably wouldn't want to start him in Fantasy.

The Bills rank third against the run, allowing 71.5 yards per game and just 2.9 per carry. They limited the Texans' Arian Foster to 6 yards on eight carries in Week 4 and have allowed the sixth-fewest Fantasy points to running backs this season.

Those yards per carry may have been skewed by the Chargers' Donald Brown's 62 yards on 31 carries in Week 3. It's pretty clear by now he's just a bad running back. But it's not like Bell has been a world-beater himself. Splitting carries with Reggie Bush, he has only once run for even 40 yards in a game this season and is averaging 3.2 yards per carry.

Especially coming back from a concussion, he's just a desperation play this week.


Cowboys WR Dez Bryant finally practices in full Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:49 pm ET) Cowboys stud wide receiver Dez Bryant practiced in full Wednesday for the first time since injuring his right shoulder on Sept. 14 against Tennessee.

Bryant has participated in every game, but has been limited in each of the last six practices. His status, however, has not affected his performance in games. Bryant has caught nine passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns since sustaining the injury.


FFT Blog: Looking at the most-dropped list
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(5:47 pm ET) At the Fantasy Football Today blog, we took a look at the most-dropped players in CBSSports.com leagues.

The five most-dropped players are Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and tight end Niles Paul, Chargers running back Donald Brown, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams and Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey

You probably won't regret dropping Williams or Paul given their injuries, and Cousins' next few matchups will probably bring out more bad habits. However, if Brown is available in your league (as he is in 19 percent of leagues), you might want to snatch him. He has a tough matchup in Week 5, but we think he can run all over the Raiders in Week 6. 


Derek Carr believes he'll play against Chargers
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:42 pm ET) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr believes he can play against the Chargers Week 6, according to the Bay Area News Group.

Carr injured his ankle against the Dolphins Week 4. The Raiders are on a bye Week 5, so Carr will have an extra week to get healthy. 


Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson not on Wednesday IR
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) A wrist ailment that has been plaguing Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson apparently did not prevent him from practicing Wednesday. He was not listed on the team's injury report.

Jackson has yet to break loose in any game this season. He is averaging just three catches for 33 yards in four games, though he has scored two touchdowns.


Reggie Bush either a good or bad start
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(5:39 pm ET) Believe it or not, the Bills have been stellar against the run this season, allowing just 71.5 yards per game, third-fewest in the league, and 2.9 yards per carry. And because they have yet to allow a touchdown on the ground, they've given up the sixth-fewest Fantasy points per game to running backs this season.

Which makes Week 5 an especially tricky one for Reggie Bush owners. The Lions are hosting the Bills, and Bush, with his shared role with Joique Bell, has certainly failed to deliver with more favorable matchups this year. But Bell is recovering from a concussion and may not play at all Sunday. Considering Bush got the lion's share of the workload after Bell went down in Week 4, he may be looking at a feature role.

Would the matchup negate the increased workload? In Bush's case, I'd say know. He's still one of the best at catching the ball out of the backfield, which should make up for any struggles he'd have running the ball.

Of course, this is all hypothetical. If Bell is able to play, the two will likely split carries as usual, and with this matchup, that's not an appealing prospect. Keep an eye on the situation.


Vernon Davis unable to go Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:28 pm ET) San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis was unable to practice Wednesday.

Davis is dealing with a back injury, but downplayed the severity of the issue. Davis declared himself "day-to-day" early Wednesday. He caught just two passes for 8 yards before leaving the game last week. 


Change in offense taking toll on Packers RB Eddie Lacy
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:25 pm ET) Eddie Lacy is struggling to overcome several obstacles in his second season as featured back for the Packers. The result has been a distinct drop in production.

Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards a year ago and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. But he has yet to exceed 50 yards in any game in 2014. His longest run has been 17 yards and he's averaging a mere 3.0 YPC. He is on pace to rush for just 644 yards this season.

Among the changes to which Lacy has been forced to adapt is the no-huddle offense and the shotgun formation. The Packers ran the no-huddle a year ago, but Lacy did not start until quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down - and the no-huddle went down with him. That's when Lacy began to thrive.

"Last year, we were able to run the ball a lot because A-Rod went down, so we just ran the ball a lot," Lacy explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Wednesday. "Having him back definitely it's not going to be that type of season. We just have to get in the backfield, run the ball when we're called upon and pass protect and let them throw the ball."

That means, however, Lacy must work on running out of the shotgun. It is believed he is best-suited running downhill with a head of steam. The shotgun forces him to gather in the ball before surging forward.


No thanks to Terrance Williams
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(5:14 pm ET) I hate to pooh-pooh a player a week after he scores two touchdowns, but I really don't get the Terrance Williams love. 

OK, so those two in Week 4 gave him four in four games, but in two of those games, he caught just two passes total. And prior to Sunday night, his season high in receiving yards was 50.

The Cowboys were a run-heavy team prior to opening up the passing game in what figured to be a high-scoring affair with the Saints in town, but I think they go back to feeding DeMarco Murray against Houston this week. In that version of the Cowboys offense, Tony Romo has shown he's good for only one or two touchdown passes, and you have to think Dez Bryant is more likely to get one than Williams. So what does that make Williams' chances of scoring a week-to-week basis? Less than 50/50?

Bottom line: I don't think he can keep up this scoring rate, and if he doesn't keep up this scoring rate, he doesn't have much to fall back on.

That doesn't mean I'm dropping Williams, but I'm not nearly as bullish on him as Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard, who rank him among their top 24 wide receivers for this week. I'm probably not even starting him in a standard 12-team league.


League suspends Panthers DE Frank Alexander until Week 15
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:04 pm ET) Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander has been suspended for the next 10 games by the league, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. He had already been suspended for four games for violating the NFL substance abuse policy.

Alexander played in all but four games the past two seasons. But he will not be eligible to play again until Week 15. That would allow him to play just three games in 2014.


 
 
 
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