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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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Player News
A.J. Green staying loyal to Andy Dalton
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:47 pm ET) Bengals receiver A.J. Green told NFL Network he's hoping quarterback Andy Dalton receives a contract extension. "We came in together and that is the great thing for me and him," Green said. "I know he's my guy. I don't want any other quarterback throwing me the ball. I think he feels the same way about me."

Green said he's built chemistry with Dalton in their three years together.

"He feels confident that whether I'm double covered, triple covered, it don't matter I'm going to come down with the ball," Green said. "And I feel like we've grown over these last three years and I feel like this year is going to be another key year for us."


Derek Sherrod focusing on right tackle
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:26 pm ET) Former first-round pick Derek Sherrod broke both bones in his lower right leg in December 2011 and returned to the active roster only last year, playing six offensive snaps. But Packers offensive line coach James Campen said Sherrod "looks terrific" and will focus on playing right tackle behind starter Bryan Bulaga, reports ESPN.com.

"The next step for him is to get him into the daily grind, put the pads on and go pound it," Campen said of Sherrod. "That's his next step, but we've been very pleased with where he's come from."


Marion Grice to struggle for playing time
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:13 pm ET) Chargers rookie running back Marion Grice scored 39 touchdowns in 24 games at Arizona State, but he'll have a hard time cracking the lineup in San Diego, according to the team's website. The sixth-round pick finds himself behind Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown in the backfield and will need "a very special camp performance to earn playing time," the report said.


Chris Ivory's carries expected to drop
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:54 pm ET) With the Jets' addition of Chris Johnson, running back Chris Ivory most likely will get "a decent number of carries, but not as many as he did last year," reports the New York Post. Ivory averaged 12 carries per game last year while amassing 833 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

The paper said it will be interesting to see how Ivory reacts to a smaller workload. "One of the reasons he was unhappy in New Orleans was he was part of a crowded backfield and did not feel he was being used enough," the paper said. "Will he bite his tongue if he is riding the bench?"


Four draft picks unsigned as camp nears
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:31 pm ET) With training camp fast approaching, four of the NFL's 256 draft picks remain unsigned. They are Browns corner Justin Gilbert (first round, eighth overall), Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (first round, 11th overall), Jaguars receiver Marqise Lee (second round, 39th overall) and Dolphins offensive tackle Billy Turner (third round, 67th overall).

Getting rid of Andre Johnson would be costly
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:22 pm ET) The Texans would incur $12 million in dead money on their salary cap if they cut or trade receiver Andre Johnson, reports ESPN.com. Johnson has asked for a trade, but the Texans are resistant to the idea, according to NFL Network.

Johnson is owed $21.5 million over the next two seasons. He's unhappy with the direction of the team, which is rebuilding with a new coach and new quarterbacks.


Eddie Lacy not content
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:07 pm ET) Packers running back Eddie Lacy set a franchise rookie rushing record with 1,178 yards last season while scoring 11 touchdowns. He won't take anyone by surprise in 2014, a challenge he's preparing for.

"I just need to regain focus," he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "Don't let what I did last year flow over into this year. It's a new team, it's a new season and a new year pretty much."

"I know it's going to be a lot tougher than last season," Lacy added. "But we have the greatest quarterback in the NFL, and with him being back there, it's not just like they'll be able to stack the box and focus on me. They have to play him, because if not, he's just going to kill them through the air. So I still think I have a bit of breathing room.

"I think it will be tougher, because it's not like you're surprising everyone. When you first come in, people doubt you. They know what you did in college, but they don't know if it will translate to the next level. But once you get that year in and people see what you've done and it's no longer surprising, they're going to prepare for you the way they prepare for whoever else is good at that position."


Falcons 'certain' Julio Jones will be good as new
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(3:07 pm ET) The Falcons are "certain" receiver Julio Jones will "return to his old explosive self," reports ESPN.com. Jones is coming off foot surgery and is waiting for doctors to clear him to go all out. 

Jones says he's running routes and feels no pain in his foot.


Report: Browns 'not likely' to cut Josh Gordon
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) It's possible, but not likely, that the Browns cut receiver Josh Gordon, reports Pro Football Talk. Gordon is facing a possible one-year suspension for alleged failed drug tests, according to PFT. He also was suspended two games at the start of last season.

If Gordon is exposed to the waivers system, the Texans would get the first chance to acquire him because they had the league's worst record last year.


Henry Melton won't be 'full go' to start camp
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:08 pm ET) Cowboys defensive tackle Henry Melton won't be "full go" at the start of training camp but is convinced he'll be ready for the season opener, reports ESPN. Melton continues to rehab from a torn ACL.

 
 
 
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