We talk every year about how unpredictable the Patriots can be with running backs. 2017 was no different. Mike Gillislee had 33 carries and scored four touchdowns in the team's first two games. He scored approximately four Fantasy points the rest of the season. Dion Lewis carried the load in the second half of the season, but now he's a Tennessee Titan. 

In theory that move was supposed to make things more simple in New England. Rex Burkhead would be the early-downs back. James White would be the pass-catching back. Gillislee would have one or two monster games out of nowhere. We were set. But the Patriots signed Jeremy Hill. Then they drafted Sony Michel in the first round. And we're left to play the game of reading Belichick's mind once again. 

Historically I'm not sure it's a bad bet to just draft the third or fourth Patriots running back off the board. You're investing almost nothing, so when they have their moment it all feels like gravy. But we also have to try to divide touches. That will get a little bit easier as the season approaches, but for now I'm giving a slight edge to Michel with everyone involved. You do have to wonder if this signals a more run-heavy approach in 2018.

Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, but he's going to turn 41 before the season starts and the Patriots traded away his most talented receiver. Thankfully for Brady, Rob Gronkowski is coming back, so as long as he stays healthy there really shouldn't be a problem. But that's no guarantee of health with any of his primary weapons. 

Gronkowski has played at least 15 games just twice since 2011. Julian Edelman ( likely to miss at least four games in 2018) missed all of 2017 and has just one season with more than 14 games played in his last four. Chris Hogan missed seven games in 2017. When all of these players are healthy, Brady has a very good set of weapons. But the odds of all three of these guys staying healthy is pretty low if you're using history as an indicator.

As for the Edelman suspension, it does provide an excellent opportunity for someone like Jordan Matthews to make an early impact with the Patriots. It could also make Chris Hogan a bit of a target hog for the first month of the year. As for Edelman himself, I was not interested in paying the likely cost but if people overestimate the impact of the suspension he could become a good value.

*Rankings expressed below are in terms of expected Fantasy points. This is a part of our actual Fantasy Football rankings but not a direct correlation to my rankings. Things like injury risk, upside, etc. factor into rankings but they're not being talked about here. This is simply an expectation as the team is currently constructed.






Rob Gronkowski





Tom Brady





Rex Burkhead





Sony Michel





Chris Hogan





James White





Julian Edelman





Breaking down the touches

Belichick and Josh McDaniels are one of the most stable tandems in the NFL, but that certainly doesn't mean we know exactly what they will do. One thing that has remained relatively consistent is that they throw the ball to their receivers less than most any team in the league. Fewer than 50 percent of their passes the last three seasons have gone to receivers, and with this questionable corps one has to wonder if it will be even lower in 2018.

I'm projecting around 48 percent of the targets going to receivers, which is what it was in 2015 when Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell were their three most targeted receivers. Of course, that would change quickly if Gronkowski suffers a another injury.

Patriots touches
Sony Michel40% 1785% 29207
Rex Burkhead35% 1569% 52 417
James White10% 4511% 63464
Chris Hogan 0% 0 19% 109 66 7
Julian Edelman 0% 0 17% 97 61 4
Jordan Matthews 0% 0 13% 74504
Rob Gronkowski 0% 0 20% 114 74 10

Of note: 

  • Disagree with my breakdown of the running back touches? Shocking. It's the Patriots. I feel most secure about White's role, but if he doesn't get more work in the running game I'm not sure how much it matters for Fantasy. Michel and Burkhead have room for upside beyond these numbers, but as you know, the floor for any Patriots running back is really low.
  • Matthews is a really interesting addition for this offense. With all of the injury and age concerns in this offense, Matthews could be the beneficiary. He has a 16-game pace of 71-844-6 over his career with far less talented quarterbacks. It will also be interesting to see what happens if he has a good first month and then the 32 year-old Edelman returns.

The Leftovers

The nice thing for the Patriots, with their injury history, is they have as much depth as any team in the league. I listed three running backs above and left out Gillislee and Hill. I fully expect there will be at least one week this season where we're either surprised by a monster performance from them or talking about them like a top waiver-wire add. They're not bad picks in the last round of a best ball league. 

At receiver, there are even more options. Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt and Cordarrelle Patterson  have all given us reason to get excited in the past. Mitchell would be my favorite of the group but I am intrigued by the Belichick's interest in to Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson may have more athletic ability than anyone in this receiving corps and it will be exciting to see what Belichick's vision for that talent looks like.