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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: New England Patriots

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's amazing to watch the Patriots be so consistently dominant year in and year out. Making it to the AFC Championship Game in 2013 was really an incredible feat given what they had to overcome.

The Patriots reached their conference final despite losing Wes Welker as a free agent, Rob Gronkowski to a torn ACL and watching their starting running back in Stevan Ridley fumble his way to the bench. On defense, they were without standout linemen in Vince Wilfork (Achilles) and Tommy Kelly (knee) and starting middle linebacker Jerod Mayo (chest).

They are expected to be at full strength this season, including one significant upgrade with the addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Patriots also added Brandon Browner, meaning this secondary -- and entire defensive unit -- could be nasty.

We're obviously more concerned with the offensive side of the ball, and we hope Gronkowski will make a full recovery in time for training camp. All eyes will also be on Ridley to make sure he's starting and, more importantly, not fumbling. And we'll see who the No. 2 receiver is behind Julian Edelman because that player could be a sleeper.

It should be another successful campaign for the Patriots again in 2014. Maybe this time it will end in another Super Bowl run.

A potentially dominant backfield ... Shane Vereen/Stevan Ridley

What you're about to read might be more bold than my "bold statement" further down, but the Patriots backfield will be the best backfield for Fantasy owners this year. That's right, I said it.

Now, we're talking a utopia here, which requires Vereen staying healthy and Ridley not fumbling. If that happens then both should be dominant.

Vereen would have been a star in 2013 if not for a broken wrist in Week 1. If you project his stats over 16 games he would have finished with 88 carries for 408 yards and two touchdowns and 94 catches for 854 yards and six touchdowns. Those stats would have made Vereen a Top 15 Fantasy running back last year, and that's what he's capable of producing if he can stay healthy all season.

Ridley couldn't get out of his own way last season because of fumble problems, and LeGarrette Blount eventually took over as the primary rusher. But Blount is gone now, and Ridley should bounce back in a contract year. He had 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012 to finish as a Top 10 Fantasy running back, and he can easily repeat that performance. New England was No. 2 in rushing touchdowns last year with 19, so Ridley is again a candidate for double digits in scores.

We hope to see the best of both running backs this season, and they could both finish as Top 15 Fantasy options based on their roles. Brandon Bolden and James White could impact Vereen and Ridley, and then there's Bill Belichick, who can always throw owners a curve. But I'd gamble on Vereen in Round 4 of a standard league (Round 3 in PPR) and Ridley in Round 5 or 6. I'm confident this will be a great season for each running back.

Worth waiting for ... Tom Brady

If you wanted Brady last season you had a pay a relatively hefty price based on his Average Draft Position, which was No. 27 overall on CBSSports.com. You could justify that then since Brady was coming off three consecutive seasons as a Top 3 Fantasy quarterback.

But he was a letdown, finishing No. 13 in Fantasy points last year, and he never appeared to get into a rhythm with his entire receiving corps. He was without Vereen, Gronkowski and Danny Amendola for significant stretches, and Amendola was a bust in his first year in New England.

Brady will bounce back in 2014, possibly in a big way. If Gronkowski and Aaron Dobson (foot) are healthy for Week 1, Brady would have his five best receiving options in Gronkowski, Edelman, Vereen, Amendola and Dobson. He had that group together for all of two games in Week 11 at Carolina and Week 12 vs. Denver. The Broncos game ended up being his second-best performance of the year with 29 Fantasy points. His best game was Week 9 against the Steelers when only Vereen was out.

Brady is likely going to fall to you on Draft Day this year. If you're inclined to wait on quarterback -- which is the right move to make -- he should be available after Round 5. And if his receivers stay healthy, don't be surprised if he's back as a Top 3 Fantasy quarterback again when the season is over.

Worth the gamble ... Rob Gronkowski

2013 Touches Leaders
850 total touches
Stevan Ridley 188 (178 car., 10 rec.) 22.1%
LeGarrette Blount 155 (153 car., 2 rec.) 18.2%
Julian Edelman 107 (2 car., 105 rec.) 12.6%
Shane Vereen 91 (44 car. 47 rec.) 10.7%
Brandon Bolden 76 (55 car. 21 rec.) 8.9%
All Others 233 27.4%

I love Jimmy Graham, but when Gronkowski is healthy he's the best Fantasy tight end. The problem is he's been limited to 18 games the past two seasons because of forearm, back and knee injuries, and he's coming off last year's torn ACL.

We hope he's fine for the start of training camp, which would alleviate many concerns for Fantasy owners, but based on last year when he missed the first six games, there are no guarantees he'll even start in Week 1.

There's no denying Gronkowski's success. He started 38 games in his first three seasons and scored 38 touchdowns. In 2011 he was a monster with 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was on pace last season for 89 catches, 1,353 yards and nine touchdowns, and those stats would have placed him No. 2 at tight in Fantasy points behind Graham in a standard league.

There's a lot of risk involved with Gronkowski now because of his injuries, but he's still worth drafting in Round 4 in standard leagues and Round 3 in PPR formats. When he's healthy he'll dominate, and if he plays 16 games then the reward is off the charts. No player will match his production if you draft him in Round 4 or later.

Schedule analysis

The Patriots open on the road with two straight games at Miami and Minnesota and three of their first four with a Week 4 matchup at Kansas City. Things lighten up with three consecutive home games against the Jets, Bears and Broncos before the bye in Week 10, but they'll be tested with three games in 12 days against Cincinnati on Oct. 5, at Buffalo on Oct. 12 and against the Jets on Oct. 16. The Fantasy playoffs are against Miami in Week 15 and at the Jets in Week 16, and Brady had 15 Fantasy points combined against those teams in those venues last year. Ouch.

Training camp battles

Who's the No. 3 running back? We know Ridley and Vereen are locked into their roles, but the No. 3 running back for the Patriots could be a sleeper in deeper leagues. Bolden and White will compete for the job, and Bolden should have the inside edge based on experience. This is a battle to watch, especially if Ridley has fumble problems again, because Blount was a star when he took over for Ridley last year. In his final seven games, including the playoffs, Blount had 80 carries for 570 yards and nine touchdowns.

What's the pecking order at receiver? Edelman is New England's No. 1 Fantasy receiver, and he's worth drafting in Round 5 in standard leagues and Round 4 in PPR formats. But after Edelman, it's up in the air who is No. 2 for Fantasy owners. It should be Amendola, but he was awful last season and could struggle with Edelman and Gronkowski healthy. Dobson is a sleeper since he's probably the best outside threat, but this nagging foot injury is problematic. Brandon LaFell, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins will also play a role, and the Patriots will likely mix and match this entire group. Only Edelman is worth drafting in the majority of leagues, but we'd rank the rest of the group heading into camp as Amendola, Dobson, LaFell, Thompkins and Boyce. Dobson could overtake Amendola if he shows up on time at 100 percent.

Bold prediction

Julius Thomas is a great tight end, and Vernon Davis has proven to be a star. But this is a conversation about Gronkowski and Graham when it comes to the No. 1 Fantasy tight end. And if Gronkowski plays 16 games, he will be No. 1 again.

The last time both were healthy was 2011 when Gronkowski had 232 Fantasy points in a standard league and Graham had 187. Both were in their second season in the NFL then, and it's the closest thing we have to a fair comparison based on injuries. Graham has since finished No. 1 in back-to-back years, but his best season was 2013 at 217 points, which falls a little short of Gronkowski's top performance.

Graham could suffer this season with a potential holdout with his contract, which could give Gronkowski the edge. And if you buy into Gronkowski this season the value is better with him since Graham will be drafted in the first round and Gronkowski in Round 4.

I hope we see both guys for 16 games because the battle for the top spot would be fun to watch. But if I had a crystal ball and knew Gronkowski would be healthy for sure, I'd take him as the No. 1 player at his position. His ceiling is higher, but unfortunately he also has a lower floor based on his injury history.

Injury report

Rob Gronkowski (knee), questionable for start of season. ... Aaron Dobson (foot), questionable for start of training camp. ... Dominique Easley (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Tommy Kelly (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Vince Wilfork (Achilles), questionable for start of training camp. ... Will Smith (knee), probable for start of training camp. ... Jerod Mayo (chest), probable for start of training camp

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Player News
Seahawks DE Michael Bennett not at OTA's due to contract dispute
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(12:09 pm ET) Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has been noticeably absent from organized team activites this week, and now it's clear his absence is because he wants a new contract, per The Seattle Times.

Bennett is staying away from team activities because he hopes he can get a new deal from the Seahawks.

"Trying to get the contract right,’’ Bennett said. “I’ll be there shortly. I don’t know when I’ll be there. Depends on the team and stuff. See how it works out."

Bennett, who is in the second year of a four-year, $28.5 million deal, wants a contract that will pay him what the top seven players at his position earn. His current deal averages out to be 14th in salary among defensive ends in a 4-3 defense.

“Somewhere near the top seven at my position, top eight at my position,’’ Bennett said. “Not a lot of guys play inside and out (meaning both tackle and end). Not a lot of guys do what I do. So I feel like I should be somewhere near there.

“I just want to be in the realm of the guys that play like me,’’ he said. “There are only so many guys that do what I do, and I would love to be like somewhere in there where they are at.’’

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(11:56 am ET) The Browns continue to keep busy this offseason by adding defensive lineman Christian Tupou and wide receiver Josh Lenz , per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.

Tupou was previously a member of the Browns' practice squad, while Lenz was released by the Colts earlier this month.


Report: Jets rework WR Brandon Marshall's contract
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Marshall's contract, which was worth $24.3 million over the next three seasons, now has a maximum value of $26 million, including an additional $1.3 million in full guarantees.

Marshall was scheduled to earn up to $7.7 million this season, which included his base salary and a workout bonus. He will now earn $9 million.

Overall, Marshall's restructured deal allows him to earn $2.7 million more in the next two years, but he can potentially earn $1 million less in 2017 than he was previously scheduled.

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by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:09 am ET) Bills coach Rex Ryan didn't pass up the chance to reunite with one of his former quarterbacks, by cutting Jeff Tuel and claiming the former Jets passer Matt Simms off waivers on Friday, per nfl.com.

Tuel was a favorite of former Bills coach Doug Marrone, but with Ryan now the head man in charge his fate was doomed.

Simms, who played in just four games while with the Jets, will still be a long-shot to make the team because of the three-man competition at the quarterback spot already brewing between Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel.


Falcons sign OG Chris Chester to one-year deal
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:01 am ET) The Falcons signed veteran offensive guard Chris Chester to a one-year deal on Friday, per nfl.com.

The Falcons were able to sign Chester after they released linebacker Prince Shembo, who was charged with aggravated animal cruelty.

Chester was cut by the Redskins earlier this week after he played 64 consecutive games for the organization.


Dolphins DE Cameron Wake on playoffs: 'My fingers are crossed'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:54 am ET) Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake has never played a single playoff minute. He's hoping this year is finally the year he does, per ESPN.com.

“My fingers are crossed,” Wake said. "It's the new year and it feels really good, obviously."

The Dolphins haven't made the playoffs since 2008, the year before Wake joined the team. In that span, Wake has been nothing but dominant -- 63 sacks and four Pro Bowl appearances.

Miami has posted consecutive 8-8 seasons, but with the addition of Ndamukong Suh this offseason the team -- and Wake -- is ready to take the next step.


Bills awarded waiver claim for QB Matt Simms
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(5/29/2015) The quarterback situation in Buffalo has gotten a little more complicated on Friday. The Bills were awarded their waiver claim on QB Matt Simms, who was released by the Jets on Thursday, according to the team's official website. 

Simms has played just four games and has completed 19 of 39 passes for 195 yards, with a touchdown and an interception in his career.


Falcons waive LB Prince Shembo due to animal cruelty charges
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5/29/2015) The Falcons have decided to waive linebacker Prince Shembo on Friday after he was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per nfl.com.

"We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo," the team said in a statement. "We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo."

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


Rams RB Trey Watts suspended four games
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(5/29/2015) Rams running back Trey Watts has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, according to profootballtalk.com.

Watts, who made the team in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, played in 14 games last season and rushed for 30 yards on seven carries.

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Falcons LB Prince Shembo charged with cruelty to animals
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5/29/2015) Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo is being accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's dog and has been charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Police said Denicia Williams, Shembo's ex-girlfriend, reported on April 19 that Shembo had killed her Yorkie.

Williams took the dog to Shembo's residence and left them unattended at some point. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive.

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


 
 
 
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