New England is ready to bring you the business once again in 2012.
The Patriots were third in scoring, second in yards, second in passing yards, fourth in touchdowns and third in turnovers in 2011 and if anything have improved going into the year by replacing their number two wideout and getting younger at running back. New England has been a top-ten scoring offense in all but one of Tom Brady's seasons, and that still includes a year of Matt Cassel when they finished eighth.
After finishing 31st in total defense, the Pats went defense-defense-defense in the draft and didn't select an offensive player until the 7th round, a player that ultimately did not make the team. But they didn't need help on offense and they're expected to challenge as the number one team on that side of the ball.
One of the most annoying things I've ever seen in fantasy was the rash of teams that owned Brady-Welker-Gronkowski in 2011 and that's mostly because I wasn't one of those guys. I'm jealous because the strategem dominated me several times. That strategy was once thought to be a bonehead move, in my opinion, but there's hardly any flaw with doing it in New England. These guys are going to score, and they're going to score a lot.
Here's a look at the fantasy players for the Patriots.
2011 Record: 13-3
Drafted Skill Players: Jeremy Ebert, WR, (7th, waived) Pats drafted only defense in the rest of the draft.
Is the age 35 season cursed? Peyton Manning and Joe Montana didn't play in their age 35 seasons. Steve Young missed four games and threw just 14 touchdowns in twelve games. Brett Favre retired, probably. This is the not-so-magic 35 for Brady and for any football player you have to be a little more wary as they get older. However, it might be a worth risk taking here because Brady is a phenomenal quarterback that could easily be tops in fantasy this year.
Since missing 2008 and shaking off the rust in 2009, Brady has thrown 75 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and 9,135 yards in his last two regular seasons. He's come so far in his career and now he very likely has a better weapon in Lloyd than he had in Johnson or Branch. It also seems like the NFL and especially the Patriots, aren't going to slow down the high-passing offenses. If he remains healthy, Brady should be a lock for another great year.
2012 Projection: 65%, 5,000 yards, 38 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Given an injury, Ryan Mallett is the only backup a year after being drafted in the third round. Reviews on Mallett were very mixed on draft day with some saying he should be a first rounder and other's saying he is overrated, but he's done enough to convince the team that he's ready if needed. Matt Cassel played well in the offense, the talent is everywhere, the scheme works. If Mallett had to get the call, he'd be an interesting fantasy play.
The Patriots were 17th in rushing attempts and 20th in rushing yardage in 2011 with BenJarvus Green-Ellis gaining 667 yards on the ground and scoring 11 touchdowns. Ridley had 87 carries in relief for 5.1 yards per carry, but you should usually expect the YPC to go down when inserted as starter. Backup Shane Vereen is hurting early and could boost Ridley's stock early, but eventually this will probably be a three-headed monster with Woodhead involved. This could be a good year to have Ridley as an RB2, but don't expect a ton of yards.
2012 Projection: 200 attempts, 850 yards, 9 TD
Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead
Vereen played sparingly last season and gained just 57 yards on the ground with no catches. Woodhead isn't enough of a classic running back to get the bulk of carries behind him. Woodhead should still be used in the passing game, but it would be hard to put too much stock into either of these players. I'll expect Vereen and Woodhead to each gain around 300-400 yards with Woodhead catching between 20 and 30 passes.
Some would argue that Welker is not an elite receiver, he's just the perfect receiver for this offense. What's the difference? In fantasy, it still means ridiculous amounts of production, and Brady + Welker is downright scary if you own them both, especially in a PPR league where Welker is elite by any sense of the word.
2012 Projection: 120 catches, 1,400 yards, 8 TD
He had a breakout season the last time he played under Josh McDaniels, leading the league with 1,448 yards. As the number two last year, Branch had 702 yards. The tight ends and Welker are still the money go-to guys, but Lloyd is talented and should put together some long highlight catches that'll break your opponents back if you own Brady + Lloyd.
2012 Projection: 65 catches, 1000 yards, 7 TD
Hard to believe that Robron Hergronkowndez was only drafted two years ago, but the team knew what they were trying to build when they selected Gronkowski and Hernandez in the second and fourth rounds of the 2010 draft. They combined for 1,109 yards and 16 touchdowns as rookies. Then they put down 169 catches for 2,237 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011. Rigronkulous!
Despite the fact that Gronkowski is outproducing Hernandez, don't forget that Aaron had more yards as a rookie and has missed two games in each of the last two years. Despite having the league's top scoring fantasy tight end, Hernandez put up 910 yards and 7 TDs in 14 games. I personally go for Hernandez over Gronk because you can get him a little bit later and I don't put it past him to outproduce in some years. This could be a back-and-forth battle for a very long time.
2012 Gronkowski: 80 catches, 1,200 yards, 10 TD
2012 Hernandez: 85 catches, 1,050 yards, 10 TD