Over the last decade, the New England Patriots have given fantasy owners a plethora of players that can bring home a fantasy championship; 2012 is no different.
With Josh McDaniels back as the team’s offensive coordinator, the fantasy statistics should not take a decline from last year’s outstanding results.
It is no shock that the Patriots’ offense can light up opposing defenses – large part due to their outstanding aerial attack which was ranked second overall in 2011.
This prolific passing game allowed for players to be ranked first overall in receiving touchdowns, first in receptions, second in passing yards, second in receiving yards, and sixth in receiving yards (just to name a few).
Below are the top five Patriots that I believe will be sought after in fantasy drafts.
QB Tom Brady
: One of the elite quarterbacks in fantasy football, Brady can carry your fantasy team to victories each week just like he carries the Patriots to victories. With Brady throwing the ball over 600 times and breaking the 5,000-yard mark in 2011, you can expect the numbers to be relatively the same in 2012. Having him as your starting quarterback will only boost your chances of winning, no matter which defense he is up against.
If you’re in a draft and you plan on having your first pick being a star quarterback, then Brady is worthy of that pick. Personally, I still like choosing a running back with my first pick but, if the top tier running backs are picked early, it would be hard to pass up an elite fantasy stud such as Brady. As a no-brainer No. 1 quarterback, he should go in the first round in all standard fantasy drafts.
TE Rob Gronkowski
: Redefining the opinions of fantasy owners on when to draft your starting tight end, Gronkowski was picked, on average, in the seventh round in 2011. With 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and 18 touchdowns (17 receiving touchdowns), “The Gronk” was one of the best draft value picks from last year. Those numbers are excellent for a No. 1 wide receiver, let alone a tight end. The 17 receiving touchdowns set an all-time record by a tight end, which shows that he is a huge red zone target for the Patriots.
Although it is a great accomplishment for Gronkowski to have his name at the top of the record books, it is unrealistic to expect him to replicate those numbers. Just because the odds are against him to replicate them does not mean he still shouldn’t have a very productive 2012 season. I am expecting 1,100 receiving yards along with 11-14 touchdowns; easily still worthy of having No. 1 tight end status. Expect Gronkowski to come off the board in the late second round.
WR Wes Welker
: Welker has always been known as an extremely hard working athlete that will drive down the middle of the field to catch the ball without being afraid of the hard hit coming his way. With these specific player characteristics, Tom Brady will throw the ball in Welker’s direction quite often as Welker has had at least 100 receptions in four of the five seasons wearing a Patriots uniform.
Last season Welker had 122 receptions, 22 more than Roddy White who was second in that category. Along with the 122 receptions came 1,569 receiving yards, most of which were obtained after initial contact was made by the defense.
Expect Welker to play for all 16 regular season games, as he rarely gets injured. Even when he does, he seems to either be a very quick healer or he has an extremely high pain tolerance. Brady will target him, and Welker will more often than not come down with the ball. Welker is a legitimate No. 1 receiver who will come of the draft boards in rounds three and four.
TE Aaron Hernandez
: Hernandez follows in Gronkowski’s shadows as the No. 2 tight end in the Patriots' offense, but his statistics do not reflect his depth chart position. He was fourth for all tight ends in receiving yards and fourth in touchdowns as well. Hernandez has wide receiver-like speed coming off the line and running back-like agility when he’s running his routes.
With Gronkowski and Welker being covered by the opposing defense’s best cover players, Hernandez is usually left under single coverage and against a smaller defender. This mismatch can be used by the Patriots next year to get some much needed yards. Hernandez is considered a No. 1 fantasy tight end and should be drafted in rounds 6-8 in standard formats.
RB Stevan Ridley
: Ridley is the wild card on this list. The Patriots are well known for their passing offense but, they still averaged a respectable 110.2 yards per game in 2011. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis now in Cincinnati, the door is left open for the starting running back position. Due to Ridley’s impressive 5.1 yards per carry in 2011, he is the leading candidate to become the new starting running back.
Also, I believe with Josh McDaniels back as the offensive coordinator, this gives Ridley a chance to step up and take the No. 1 spot as he is a first and second down back who has reliable hands which is perfect for the Patriots' screen game.
Although he will more than likely split the workload with third-down back Shane Vereen, he should be the more productive back in fantasy terms. Ridley will still be available in the later rounds of fantasy drafts and I see him being used as a flex starter/No. 3 running back, with the potential of being a No. 2 running back.