Heading into the summer time, there’s just a few teams left for the 2017 Fantasy Postmortem series. The purpose of this column is to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards the 2018 season. Having covered all of 2017’s non-playoff NFL teams, it’s time to review the rest, with the second-to-last squad being:
New England Patriots (13-3)
Another year, another top-five fantasy quarterback finish for Tom Brady, who led the NFL in passing yards and attempts last season, while finishing third in touchdown passes. Heading into his age 41-season, Brady will be at risk for falling off a statistical cliff (see Peyton Manning in 2015), though he’s proven thus far to be a hard man to bet against. Brady has not thrown fewer than 25 touchdown passes in a given season over his past 9, and has not missed a game for injury reasons since 2008. Playing in one of the top NFL offenses that scores points at will, consider Brady a top-three quarterback for 2018.
Dion Lewis didn’t log double-digit carries until Week 6 last season, and subsequently managed to grab hold of lead back duties by Week 12; from which point forward he averaged 105 total yards per contest and scored five times during the regular season. Lewis also averaged 82 total yards per contest during the Patriots’ three playoff contests, though that number is a bit skewed due to his 141 total-yard performance against Tennessee in the divisional semi-finals. With Lewis’ contract expired at the end of the season, the Patriots opted not to pay up to retain him, and Lewis ended up signing with the Titans via a four-year $20 million free agent contract. Mike Gillislee looked to be picking up where LeGarrette Blount left off, scoring four touchdowns in his first two games as a Patriot. However, ineffectiveness and ball security issues, led to Gillislee’s role being reduced as the season wore on, and he was ultimately relegated to the bench from Week 9 onward (including playoffs) outside of a brief Week 17 cameo in the Patriots’ meaningless regular season finale. Heading into 2018, Gillislee is no lock for a roster spot. Rex Burkhead spent a good chunk of 2017 regular season (and playoffs) in and out of the lineup due to injuries, though did enjoy a productive six-game stretch between Week 8 and 14 in which he averaged 65 total yards per contest, and scored six of his 8 touchdowns. This past March, Burkhead signed a three-year $10 million contract that will keep him in New England, where he should pair with 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel to form a formidable and versatile running back duo. James White averaged 45 receiving yards per contest through the Patriots first 8 games as the team’s primary pass-catching specialist, though saw his role fade from that point forward as the team began leaning on Lewis and Burkhead more. Still, White has underrated point-per-reception (PPR) league value, having caught at least 40 passes in three straight seasons, though his playing time will continue to be unpredictable.
Interestingly the Patriots top two wideouts in terms of receiving yardage are no longer on the team, as Brandin Cooks was traded to the Rams last April, while Danny Amendola signed with the Dolphins in free agency. While he wasn’t quite Randy Moss 2.0 as the Patriots’ deep threat, Cooks did manage a third straight 1,000 yard campaign, though disappeared a bit at times playing in a spread-the-wealth offense. Targets won’t be any easier to come by for Cooks in Los Angeles, as the Rams are loaded on the offensive side of the ball as well. Amendola clearly benefited from the season-long absence of Julian Edelman (knee), as the former finished with his highest receiving yardage since 2012, and was a force during the playoffs (26 catches, 348 yards, and two scores in three games). The 32-year old slot receiver has a chance to carve out a sizable role this summer playing among a talented but inconsistent receiver group in Miami. Chris Hogan was the PPR WR10 through the first 8 games of the 2017 season before a shoulder injury limited him to just one regular season contest thereafter. Hogan was then used sparingly throughout the playoffs until going bananas with a 6-128-1 line in the Super Bowl. Not yet 30 years old, Hogan has a chance to open 2018 as the Patriots no. 1 wide receiver with Edelman now facing a four game PED-related suspension. Phillip Dorsett was acquired last September as part of the Jacoby Brissett trade with the Colts, and ended up being a non-factor most of the season. More or less a bust being made the 29th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Dorsett is far from assured a 2018 roster spot. In a turn of events that shocked no one, Kenny Britt reverted to being a loafer after cashing in on his 1,000-yard 2016 season via a $32 million free agent deal with the Browns in March 2017. Clearly fed up with Britt’s lack of effort, the Browns released him last December, and the beleaguered wideout was scooped up by the Patriots mere days later. Britt remains under contract for 2018, though he’s considered a long shot for any 2018 fantasy relevance.
Rob Gronkowksi managed to post his third 1,000-yard season in four years, while missing just one game due to injury (his other absence was a suspension). Gronk was just narrowly edged by Travis Kelce for 2017 overall PPR TE1 honors, though Gronk performed at nearly two full fantasy points per game better. While concerns about Gronk’s medical history will only grow the older he gets (29 this past May), he’s still a one of the deadliest red zone threats in the NFL, and capable of producing matchup-winning performances every week. More was expected from Dwayne Allen, who scored 15 times over his final three seasons with the Colts, coming over to New England via trade in March 2017. As a Patriot, Allen didn’t catch his first regular season pass until Week 9, and managed just two catches for 10 yards in the two games Gronkowski sat out. Gronk owners would be wise to look elsewhere this season should their stud tight end miss any time.