The Patriots have a great history over the last 17 seasons under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They’ve won the AFC East in each of the last nine seasons, 14 out of the last 15 years, and 15 of the 17 seasons while winning ten games or more in each of the last 15 years. New England has five Super Bowl titles in eight trips under Belichick. Both of their last two wins were improbable based on game situation and game score late in the game. The Patriots finished fifth in the NFL in points allowed (296), which was a regression of 46 points from 2016 (250). There was an impact in stats for New England based on them finishing 29th in yards allowed.
Matt Patricia left to coach the Detroit Lions. The Patriots won’t name a defensive coordinator in 2018 leaving the door open for linebacker coach Brian Flores to seize the opportunity if he performs well in his added responsibilities and game calling. Flores had been the New England’s system since 2004 with the last six seasons coming on the defensive side of the ball.
New England scored 458 points in 2017, which was the second highest total in the league. They’ve finished in the top four in the league in scoring in each of the last eight seasons. The Patriots ended up with the most yards gained offensively. Josh McDaniels decided to stay another season as he looks positioned to take over as head coach when Bill Belichick retires. McDaniels has worked in New England’s system for 14 seasons after a brief two-year run as head coach for the Broncos (11-17) and one season as the offensive coordinator for the Rams.
Belichick has a 214-74 record with the Patriots over 18 seasons and a 250-118 record all time. With one more win, he’ll pass Tom Landry for the third most wins all-time. Belichick needs 69 more wins to pass Don Shula for the most in the history of the NFL, which would require many more seasons of success. Bill has the most Super Bowl wins (5) and playoff wins (28) in the history of the league.
With many teams in the NFL making exciting changes to help upgrade their team in the offseason, New England seems to be losing momentum. With Tom Brady at the end of his career, the Patriots could fade in the wrong direction quickly. Vegas has them as the favorite to win (5-to-1) this season’s Super Bowl, which is supported by the great run by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in their careers.
Their biggest loss should be CB Malcolm Butler who fell out of favor late in 2017 leading to a benching in the Super Bowl. Butler has graded above the league average in each of the last three seasons. New England added CB Jason McCourty to replace him on the roster.
The biggest challenge for New England in 2018 will be the offensive line after releasing Cameron Fleming and Nate Solder. The loss of Solder came down to money. He signed a four-year deal with the Giants for $62 million with $35 million guaranteed. His game has only been league average over the last four years. Fleming was only a part-time player in 2017, but he’s trending forward after the Patriots selected him in the fourth round in 2014.
The Patriots added T Trent Brown in a trade with the 49ers during the 2018 NFL Draft for a draft pick. They signed OT Matt Tobin and OT LaAdrian Waddle for depth as well.
The success of RB Dion Lewis late in 2017 and the current RB structure led to him signing with the Titans. New England added RB Jeremy Hill for depth. WR Danny Amendola has been a key player in the playoffs over the last couple of seasons, but his window is closing to be a productive player in the NFL at age 32. He signed with the Dolphins.
The best signing was WR Jordan Matthews who signed a minimal deal in early April due to concerns with a knee issue. He’s a former second-round draft pick in 2014 with three productive seasons in the NFL.
DE Adrian Clayborn signed a two-year deal in March to hopefully improve the pass rush. He had 9.5 sacks in 2017 with the Falcons as a rotational player.
The Patriots addressed their most significant need with their first pick in the first round by drafting OL Isaiah Wynn. He projects as guard long-term, but Wynn has experience at tackle. He’ll offer an edge in run blocking and pass protection while his biggest knocks are his height (6’3”) and lower body. Wynn will move right into the starting lineup in 2018 at left tackle based on the current roster structure.
With the second pick in the second round, New England took a swing on RB Sony Michel. His game fits a lead runner role for New England where his downhill style will lead TDs and big runs. Michel will offer an edge in pass protection out of the gate while offering home run ability if he breaks free at the second level of the defense. He runs with power with enough wiggle to make a defender miss in the open field. The only real question mark his ability in the passing game, which a minimal part of his college resume (65/641/6 over four seasons).
This season’s replacement for CB Malcolm Butler should be CB Duke Dawson who was drafted in the second round. Dawson shine in press coverage on the inside while having risk vs. deep speed when asked to cover the long field. Duke will add value in run support with a vision.
With two picks in the fifth round, the Patriots tried to upgrade the lacking position with Ja’whaun Bentley and Christian Sam. Bentley plays with power and strength, whose skill set will work best when attacking the line of scrimmage. He’ll have risk in pass coverage or when asked to be in chase mode. Sam lacks NFL speed to start at linebacker, but he does bring a physical presence to the game. Christian has vision and anticipation, which helps his playability. His biggest question mark comes in his commitment to the game. Sam can handle TEs in pass coverage.
In the sixth round, the Patriots selected WR Braxton Berrios who projects as slot WR. He’ll need time to develop based on his lack of strength. He fits the mold of a Wes Welker or Julian Edelman with his hands and route running. His best value in 2018 may come in the return game.
New England added three players in the seventh round – QB Danny Etling, DB Keion Crossen, and Ryan Izzo. Etling needs to improve his decision making and his pocket presence. He has a quick release while minimizing mistakes. The Patriots will look to improve his mechanics and vision. Crossen offers elite speed with athletic ability, but he does lack size (5’9” and 178 lbs.). Izzo has pass-catching skills with value as a blocker. He can get in trouble with physical defenders in press coverage plus try to cheat in his blocks by holding.
The Patriots played from the lead in many games in 2017 leading to the 10th place finish in rushing yards (1,889). Ball carriers gained 4.2 yards per carry with 16 TDs and ten runs over 20 yards. New England had the second most passing yards (4.418) with 32 TDs and eight Ints. Their offensive line allowed 35 sacks and 84 QB hits, which is an area that needs improvement in 2018.
LT Isaiah Wynn is expected to take over for Nate Solder in his rookie season after getting drafted 23rd overall in this year’s draft. It will be a tall task to protect Brady’s blindside. Wynn projects as a guard in the NFL, but his experience at tackle should help New England until they find another stud option in next season’s draft. Isaiah offers value in both run and pass blocking while falling short of NFL measurables for the left tackle position. The talent to be an edge, but he may need some time to develop at the next level.
LG Joe Thuney has experience as well at tackle, but he’s just finding his way at guard. In his second year in the league after getting drafted in the third round, Thuney was a league average player in both run and pass blocking. His best asset will come in the run game while offering upside in vision and anticipation. His game is built on attacking quickly with an edge in speed and quickness. Joe started all 16 games last year. With another year’s experience under his belt, growth should be expected.
C David Andrews is another player from the University of Georgia who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He’s started for the Patriots over the last two seasons. Andrews developed an edge on run blocking while holding his own in pass protection.
RG Shaquille Mason tends to play well as run blocker while improving in his second season in pass protection. The Pats added him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. Mason is another player who went to college in Georgia (Georgia Tech).
RT Trent Brown played the best ball of his career in his third year in the league despite missing time with a shoulder injury. He had surgery in late February, which puts him on track to be ready by the start of the year. Brown has more risk vs. the run while grading as an asset in pass protection. If he’s not ready, the Patriots will turn to veteran Marcus Cannon who is a better run blocker.
Brady makes his offensive line look better than their overall skill set. The overall plus and misses should end up being an upgrade in 2018. The addition of a stud RB will increase the success of this line as well. This line has enough talent to rank in the top 25 percent in the NFL.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2017, which will work as our starting point for 2018. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2017 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2017.
2017 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2017 Adjustment is based on the 2017 league average and the 2017 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Patriots have a neutral schedule for their rushing attack in 2018. They have two bad matchups (TEN and MIN), but no game stands out as a huge edge.
A healthy Texans’ defense may give Tom Brady two poor games out of the box with Jacksonville scheduled in Week 2. The Vikings have one of the better pass defenses while their best edge in the passing game will come vs. the Lions, the Chiefs, and the Titans. Overall, New England has slightly below average schedule for their passing offense.
2018 will be an interesting year for the Patriots’ offense. Tom Brady is a great player that makes the talent around him better, and he now has a new toy at RB which help his ability plays in the deep passing game. New England will need a player or two step up at WR to help the overall passing game. I expect a run at 20+ rushing was about the normal range over the last few seasons.
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.
Other Options: Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
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: 8/14/2018 > 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).
Other Options: Mike Gillislee
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).
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 is now a free agent with no real home for his services until he gets healthy. New England is trying to sign Eric Decker to replace him on the roster. In the end, Decker may end up being a better option than Matthews. More to come when/if Decker signs.
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.
WR Malcolm Mitchell – In 2016, Malcolm turned in an excellent four games stretch (4/98/1, 5/42/2, 8/82, and 4/42,1). Other than those four games, Mitchell only had 11 catches for 138 yards with 21 targets. Malcolm did make some big catches (6/70 on seven targets) to help New England win the Super Bowl vs. the Falcons. Mitchell has sub 4.5 speed with upside in his route running with more development. He showed a feel for the end zone while possessing large hands to help him to be a plus hands catcher. Malcolm missed the whole 2017 season with knee injury. There’s upside here, but Malcolm looks to lack opportunity in 2018 with Jordan Matthews added to the roster. He went to college with Sony Michel.
Other Options: Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt, Braxton Berrios, Matthew Slater
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.
Other Options: Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, Will Tye
PK Stephen Gostkowski – Over his 12 years in the NFL, Gostkowski made 87.5 percent of his field goal attempts with a high level of success from 50 yards or more (23-for-30). Entering 2016, Stephen never missed an extra point in the regular season. He missed four of his 96 chances over the last two seasons. In 2017, he made 37 of his 40 field goal attempts leading to the third best year at the kicker position Over his last seven seasons, Gostkowski averaged 36.2 FG attempts per year with well over 50 extra points each year. Stephen is an excellent kicker with a top five opportunity in the game.
The Patriots play three games (DET and MIA X 2) vs. teams that struggled to run the ball in 2017. Their tougher test will come against the Jaguars while the Vikings may present a problem.
New England has a favorable schedule for their pass defense with four teams (IND, CHI, and BUF X 2) struggling to throw the ball last year. The Jets and TEN grade as a weak opponent as well. The Packers, the Lions, and the Steelers offer the most downside to their defense.
The Patriots struggled to defend the run in 2017. They allowed 4.7 yards per rush leading to the 20th most rushing yards (1,836). Their run defense was much tougher in the red zone leading to only six rushing TDs. Game score helps limit the downside due to only 24.4 run attempts per game, which was about ten percent below the league average.
New England ranked 30th defending the pass with QBs passing for 4,020 yards with 24 TDs and 12 Ints. Their defense had 42 sacks.
The Patriots do have talent in the secondary. CB Stephon Gilmore struggles early in the year before settling in for a respectable season. His defended passes (9) and Ints (2) were well below his combined success with the Bills in 2015 and 2016 (30 defended passes and eight Ints). Gilmore offers the most value in coverage. CB Jason McCourty had a rebound season with the Browns after underperforming over the previous three years. He finished with 65 tackles, 14 defended passes, three Ints, and one TD. He may be a slight upgrade over Malcolm Butler. Incoming rookie, CB Duke Dawson should offer value a slot coverage while CB Johnathan Jones is a viable fourth option off the bench in dime coverage.
S Devin McCourty continued to be one of the better players at his position in the league even with a step back in value last year. He projects well in run support with a slight edge in coverage. Last year he had a career-high 97 tackles with five defended passes and one Int. New England would like S Jordan Richards to push S Patrick Chung for the starting job after seeing a limited role in his first three years in the NFL after getting drafted in the second round in 2015. Chung will start the year at age 31 with a respectable year 2017. He made 85 tackles, but he did have some risk defending the run while being an asset in coverage. S Duron Harmon tends to add value in coverage while being the field for many plays in the Patriots’ secondary.
DT Malcom Brown has improved in each season in the league. He’s outstanding as run clogger while chipping in for about three sacks per year. DT Danny Shelton is a former first-round pick (2015) who played well in his last two seasons for the Browns. He’ll offer no upside rushing the QB while being an upgrade against the run on early downs. DT Lawrence Guy will work as the third rotational player in the interior of the Patriots’ defensive line. His best play comes against the run as well.
DE Trey Flowers played the best ball of his career in 2017. He set a career high in tackles (62) with 6.5 sacks and three defended passes. DE Adrian Clayborn battled injuries early in his career after getting drafted in the first round by Tampa in 2011. Last year he worked as a rotational pass rusher for the Falcons leading to a career-high 9.5 sacks. Clayborn does have some risk against the run.
LB Dont’a Hightower missed 11 games last year due to a torn pectoral muscle. His game offers an edge against the run with upside in pass coverage. Over his last 42 games, Hightower has 14 sacks while missing 22 games over the last four seasons. LB Kyle Van Noy finished with 73 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two defended passes in 13 games for the Patriots, but he looked like a liability in all areas. Both LB Elandon Roberts and LB Marquis Flowers ranked well below league average in all areas in 2017.
The interior of the Patriots’ defense has talent, and the secondary would grade well with more pressure on the QB by the defensive line. Teams will try to beat the Patriots on the outside with the run while taking advantage of their linebackers outside the hash marks. The coaching staff allows teams to move the ball well over the middle of the field while stiffening up in the red zone. I don’t view New England as a targeted Fantasy defense even with some favorable matchups on the year. I’d drafted them as my second defense if possible while evaluating their play over the first month of the season.
2018 NFL Team Outlooks