QB Tom Brady – The career record of Brady is just dazzling. He’s won 10 or more games in 15 of 16 full seasons, which includes an 11-1 record in 2016 when he missed four games. His only year with fewer than ten wins came in 2002 when he went 9-7. Tom ranks 4th all-time in passing yards (66,159) with Peyton Manning (71,940) and Brett Favre (71,838) within each if he plays two more seasons. He’s tied with Drew Brees for the 3rd most passing TDs (488) with his next target being Brett Favre (508) with Peyton Manning (539) on the horizon in 2019. Brady leads all QBs in regular season wins (196) and playoff wins (27) while winning five Super Bowls. In 2017, he led the NFL in passing attempts (581) and passing yards (4,577) while delivering 32 TDs and only eight Ints. At age 40, he set the NFL record for passing yards (505) in his loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
There is no disputing his greatness, but a Fantasy owner needs to know where he stands heading into the 2018 season. New England will be in transition on the offensive line, and their receiving core has some question marks this year with Julian Edelman returning from an ACL tear, and Brandin Cooks shipped out of town. Rob Gronkowski is getting closer to retiring with competitive offers in the wrestling market. The addition of Sony Michel will help keep defenses honest defending the run, which will create more space the short area passing game, where Brady excels. His floor has to be 4,500 passing yards and 30 TDs based on his career history. New England has over 575 pass attempts in six of the last seven seasons with Tom averaging almost 33 passing TDs over his last eight seasons. At some point, this Patriot train has to come to an end, but it may have to wait until number 12 hangs up his cleats. Don’t overpay on draft day but take Brady as a discount when other Fantasy owners are placing their bets on younger unproven QBs. In 2018, I would make sure I own another strong QB just in case the sky finally falls in Foxboro.
RB Sony Michel – Over four seasons at Georgia, Michel rushed for 3,613 yards with 39 TDs and 64 catches while splitting time with the impressive Nick Chubb. Over the last few seasons, New England has had a grinder type RB as their lead runner on early downs. Sony is a huge improvement in explosiveness with a great opportunity to score a TD a game. Over the last five seasons, the Patriots scored 19, 13, 14, 19, and 16 rushing TDs. Michel runs with vision, power, and acceleration while offering scoring ability anywhere in the red zone. His lack of opportunity in the passing game in college gives Fantasy owners minimal info on his value in the NFL. New England loves to throw to the RB position as an extension of the run game. In 2017, their RB caught 126 passes for 957 yards and a league-high nine TDs on 156 targets. My floor for Michel in 2018 is LeGarrette Blount in 2016 (299/1161/18 with seven catches for 38 yards). I expect Sony to receive between 275 and 300 touches for 1,400 yards with 15+ TDs and about 20 catches. If his hands and route running grades better than his resume, Michel may even finish with a top 10 opportunity at RB.
Update: 8/11/2018 > Michel suffered a knee injury in practice in early August, which led to him needing it drained. He’ll be out for the rest of the preseason with many questions on his first game action in the regular season. At the very least, it means Sony will have a lot less opportunity in 2018 as New England will try to monitor his touches in an effort to keep him healthy.
RB James White – With Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis on the roster in 2017, White had a tougher time getting snaps. In 2016, the Patriots had him on the field for 427 plays while that number dropped to 384 last year. James will have low chances on early downs (2016 – 39/166 and 2017 – 43/171) while battling Burkhead for targets in the passing game. As I mention in the Sony Michel profile, the Patriots are one of the top teams in the league throwing to RBs. White has 116 combined catches for 980 yards and eight TDs on 158 targets over the last two seasons. Game score dictates his opportunity, which makes James more of a bye week cover than a week-to-week play in PPR leagues. Last season he missed the last two games of the regular season with an ankle issue. Something in the range of 50 catches for 600 combined yards and a chance at a handful of TDs seems like a fair evaluation.
Update: 8/17/2108 > James White drew the spotlight back to his name in Fantasy drafts with a great half of play. He gained 31 yards on four carries while being the top receiver in the game for New England (six catches for 61 yards and a TD on six targets). His success will push his name up a few spots in Fantasy drafts plus force Fantasy owners to rethink his possible value and role in the Patriots’ offense in 2018. James tends to be an upside pass catcher with some scoring ability, but he may surprise on early downs if Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel miss some games.
RB Rex Burkhead – Over ten games in 2017, Burkhead has 518 combined yards with 30 catches and eight TDs. His overall skill set in the passing game isn’t as high as James White, but he can be a mismatch problem vs. some linebackers. Over a four-game stretch from Week 12 to Week 15, Rex scored five rushing TDs with only one game of value in yards (103 combined yards with three catches on 15 touches). Twice last season Burkhead missed time with injury (ribs and knee). Only an insurance policy in the passing or in-game cover on early downs.
Update: 8/11/18 > With Michel expected to miss some games to start the year, Burkhead is the front-runner to gain action on early downs. I don’t believe he’s a lock to be the guy with Jeremy Hill in the mix and owning a better career resume in the NFL.
Update: 8/17/2018 > I couple of weeks I had Burkhead listed in my bust column. He remains on the same path, so here’s another look at what I said:
I rarely read written player contents from other sites, but a friend of mine sent me a link to an article. I almost laughed when this writer painted Burkhead as value three rounds after Sony Michel. Let’s review the Burkhead tape. He’s been in the league for five seasons with his best year leading to 518 combined yards in 2017 with the Patriots. He has pass-catching ability, but he’s not a better option in New England over James White. Hell, he could beat out Jeremy Hill in Cinci for snaps and Hill is still on the Patriots’ roster. If you want an insurance card for Michel, Rex has to be drafted after round 12. Don’t worry if you miss on him as he’ll be found on the waiver wire by Week 4 with Sony painting a bright picture in the New England’s backfield.
Jeremy Hill (RB) – With Sony Michel entering August with a knee issue, Hill may emerge as a dark horse for early-down touches on the Patriots. His game appeared to offer upside in his rookie season in 2014 at age 21 (1,39 combined yards with nine TDs and 27 catches while receiving 249 touches). He scored 30 TDs over his first 47 games in the NFL, but he failed to repeat his success in yard per carry in his rookie season (5.1 in 2014, 3.6 in 2015, and 3.8 in 2016). Jeremy did gain over 1,000 combined yards in 2016 (1,013). In his first three years in the NFL, he averaged 243 touches per year. With Joe Mixon added to the Bengals’ offense in 2017, Cincinnati demoted Hill was to RB3 with short success over seven games (132 combined yards on 41 touches with four catches). Last year he missed the second half of the year due to an ankle injury that required surgery. For those investing an early draft pick on Rex Burkhead, it’s worth noting that Burkhead was a just a bench warmer behind Hill in 2014 (76 combined yards with seven catches and one TD on 16 touches) and 2015 (98 combined yards with ten catches on one TD on 14 touches). Burkhead did flash in Cinci in 2016 (489 combined yards with two TDs and 17 catches on 91 touches) before having some success with New England last year. Hill’s trending toward beating out Mike Gillislee for the last RB roster spot on the roster.
Update: 8/14/18 > In the first preseason game, Hill gained 65 combined yards with one TD and two catches while receiving 13 touches vs. the Redskins. Possible late handcuff to Sony Michel while avoiding the high price tag of Rex Burkhead in Fantasy drafts. Jeremy did leave practice on August 13th with what looks like a minor leg issue.
Update: 8/17/2018 > The winner between Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee this week was Hill. Gillislee gained 22 yards on nine carries (2.4 yards per rush) while Jeremy repeated his success in Week 1 (6/31 – 5.2 yards per rush).
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WR Julian Edelman – After six games in 2016, Fantasy owners had buyer’s remorse with Edelman. He only had 28 catches for 261 yards and no TDs while averaging only 7.3 targets per game. Brady did a much better job getting him the ball over the last nine games (115 targets – 11.5 per game) leading to 70 catches for 745 yards and four TDs. Julian finished the year with three 100 yard receiving games, with two coming in the playoffs. He played his best ball over his last four games of the year (8/151/1, 8/137, 8/118/1, and 5/87). His career doesn’t have length due to a late starting opportunity with Wes Welker standing in his way. Julian has two 100 catch seasons with 20 TDs over his last 45 games. He missed all of the 2017 season with torn ACL in his right knee. With a full season to recover from his injury, Edelman should be ready for the start of the regular season. He works hard, so I expect him to be in good form when he steps onto the field in 2018. I don’t like football players coming off a major injury, which would lower my expectations to 80/800/5 this year with his best play coming over the second half of the year. In 2017, the Patriots completed 174 passes for 2,397 yards and 14 TDs on 281 targets to WRs, which was a drop off from 2016 (194/2474/16).
Update: 7/27/18 > The NFL suspended Julian Edelman for four games for a cloudy drug test. He tried to fight the lost games, but the NFL kept the hammer on him. His missed time may be a blessing to help further the recovery of his torn ACL. Fantasy owners are still drafting him anywhere from the 6th to the 8th round in the high-stakes market.
WR Jordan Matthews – The Patriots picked up Matthews for a short contract in the offseason due to injury concerns. Jordan played well in his rookie season (67/872/8) with follow through in 2015 (85/997/8). He played through a left knee issue in 2016 leading to a pair of missed games and a step back in production (73/804/3). Last year his season started with a chest injury after an August trade to the Bills. A thumb issue that required in early October led to only one missed game, but it affected him for the rest of the year. His left knee injury flared up in November leading to surgery in mid-December. 2017 was a lost season (25/282/1). I like that he finally had his knee cleaned up, and I expect him to regain his previous form. Matthews played in the slot at Philly, which won’t be the case in New England with Julian Edelman on the field. His size (6’3”) will create a scoring edge at the goal line. There’s a nice player here when healthy. I’ll set my floor at 60/750/7 while looking to draft him as a WR5 in 2018 unless Jordan is receiving glowing training camp reports.
Update: 7/27/18 > I’m still bullish on Jordan Matthews and he undervalued in the early draft season. He makes a great handcuff to Julian Edelman out of the gate while expecting to start. I’m going to raise my expectations to 75/900/8 with the bump in chances in September. Almost a slam dunk based on his early ADP (well after round ten).
Update: 8/1/18 > It took Matthews less than a week in training camp to get injured. The Patriots decided the length of his hamstring was too long to be kept on the roster. Jordan was placed in the injured reserve with no clear timetable for him to return. New England signed Eric Decker to replace him on the roster. In the end, Decker may end up being a better option than Matthews.
WR Chris Hogan – After a poor first game of the year (one catch for eight yards on five targets), Hogan was the Patriots’ top receiving over the next four games (5/78/1, 4/68/2, 5/60/1, and 8/74/1) while receiving 32 targets. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 8, which led to him having no value over the second half of the year. Over his 24 games with the Patriots, Chris has 17 catches or 20 yards or more and five catches over 40 yards with 11 TDs. His game has flashes, but Hogan tends to lack opportunity. His early season success in 2017 should lead to more looks, but I can’t see him outplaying a healthy Jordan Matthews. Flash player with a chance at 50+ catches with 700+ yards and a handful of TDs.
TE Rob Gronkowski – In his eighth season in the NFL, Gronkowski posted his fourth year with over 1,000 yards receiving (1,084) despite missing a couple of games. He continues to gain plus yards per catch (15.7) while offering scoring ability (8 TDs). He draws a ton of attention from defenses, which leads to fewer targets (7.5 per game) than Fantasy owners expect. In 2017, Rob caught 65.7 percent of his targets with 18 of his 69 catches going for 20 yards or more. Gronkowski had five impact games (6/116/1, 8/89/1, 6/83/2, 9/147, and 9/168) in his 14 starts with three disaster games (2/33, 3/37, and 0/0 – in Week 17 when the Patriots used him as a decoy). Rob is expected to be the second receiving option in this offense behind Julian Edelman while drawing plenty of double and triple teams. With talks of retirement and Tom Brady being at the end of his career, Gronkowski could ride off into the wrestling sunset leading to a disaster season. Great talent who will never repeat his 2011 season (90/1327/17), but Rob is still one of the top scoring receiving options in the game. Possible 80/1100/10 with a full season of playing time while understanding his injury risk and boom or bust value.
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