The New England Patriots were an unserious offense, but they have a real offensive coordinator again with the potential of adding one more skill player to get this offense back to league average. We can draft them all on Underdog Fantasy with promo code 'UNDERBLOG' to match your first deposit up to $100. We have the biggest fantasy football tournament of all time ($15M) right now.
It's honestly a miracle that the Patriots were 10th in point differential last year. They were dead last in special teams DVOA, dead last in red zone touchdown rate on offense, 30th in 4th-down aggressiveness, 28th in play-action rate, and 27th in short-yardage rushing. A lot of that lands on the offensive coaching staff (which has been replaced) and sub-par OL play, leading to multiple Mac Jones struggles. Jones doesn't create much, so he needs both the play-calling creativity and the OTs to hold up. Simple positive regression (in addition to better depth) works in Jones' favor for a rebound season. Hopefully Bill Belichick's defense (1st in passing EPA allowed) can hold up in the meantime. I'm confident it will.
3-WR Sets (9th in snaps, 79% of snaps)
WR: DeVante Parker --> Kendrick Bourne
WR: Tyquan Thornton --> Kayshon Boutte (R)
SLOT: JuJu Smith-Schuster --> Tre Nixon
TE: Hunter Henry --> Mike Gesicki
2-WR Sets (30th in snaps, 20% of snaps)
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster --> Tyquan Thornton
WR: DeVante Parker --> Kendrick Bourne
SLOT TE: Mike Gesicki --> Anthony Firkser
INLINE TE: Hunter Henry --> Johnny Lumpkin
RB Usage (11th in expected half PPR)
GOAL LINE: Rhamondre Stevenson --> Kevin Harris
PASSING DOWN: Rhamondre Stevenson --> Pierre Strong
Offensive Line (better than I thought)
LT: Trent Brown (fine returning starter)
LG: Cole Strange (2022 surprise 1st rounder)
C: David Andrews (solid returning starter)
RG: Mike Onwenu (solid returning starter)
RT: Riley Reiff (34yo, $5M new signee)
Mac Jones doesn't create, so he'll always be worse in fantasy football than in real life. Through two years, the results have been quite mixed. Among QBs with 400 passes in their first two seasons since 2000 (85 QBs), Jones is 2nd in completion percentage, 28th in passer rating, and 28th in yards per attempt. Not bad, but the TDs (50th in TD rate) and explosives (67th in yards per catch) haven't been there. In fact, New England was dead last in red zone TD rate, likely because of play-calling and bad skill players. I predict Jones will take a noticeable leap under new OC Bill O'Brien, especially if a certain receiver signs next. The hope is he turns into Gen Z Philip Rivers.
If DeAndre Hopkins does sign, I expect 3-WR sets to be DeVante Parker (X), DeAndre Hopkins (Z), and JuJu Smith-Schuster (slot), with the chance Kendrick Bourne gets released. ... JuJu Smith-Schuster essentially signed a 2-year, $20M contract to replace Jakobi Meyers, who was the WR36 in this role last season. JuJu was the WR38 per game in fantasy points over replacement before injuries derailed his late regular season. Those injuries are still lingering early in camp, but he's only 26 years old and has very similar periphery numbers to Meyers (1.8 vs. 1.7 YPRR). As long as JuJu dodges a DeAndre Hopkins signing, he should provide a slight win in what I view as a WR dead zone in the mid rounds. ... DeVante Parker was injured for half of 2022, but he quietly had 80+ yards in 3-of-9 healthy games in an unwatchable offense, leading to a WR46 per-game finish and a solid 1.7 yards per route run. Things should be clearer this year, and Parker has "better in best ball" qualities on a 16.8 average depth of target. The Patriots also re-negotiated his contract, lowering his 2023 cap hit while giving him more long-term money if he performs well this year along with $14M in guarantees. ... Tyquan Thornton also operates downfield (14.6 aDOT), but he wasn't nearly as good as Parker. His 0.8 YPRR is a concern, though he was also an undersized early-declare rookie who was dealing with pre-season injuries. He'll be better this year but could lose snaps if the Patriots move towards more 2-TE sets.
Hunter Henry has been the TE32 and TE11 in his two Patriots' seasons, with the primary difference being touchdown luck. Henry is still on the 2nd-highest cap hit among all TEs and will be the primary TE in base personnel given his well-rounded skill set. The 28-year-old should be utilized more down the seam after Matt Patricia gave him a career-low 7.8 average depth of target. A TE2 season wouldn't be a surprise with the offense rising as a unit. ... Mike Gesicki signed a one-year, $4.5M contract. That's Durham Smythe level money, so a part-time role is fully expected. His snaps will come on obvious passing downs, and the Patriots were 30th in 2-TE sets last year. That'll change under a new OC, but there's a lot to parlay together for Gesicki to be worthy of TE2 status.
The unwatchable 2022 Patriots had 15.7 expected TDs to their RBs. With Damien Harris being replaced by tinier RBs, Rhamondre Stevenson is a big positive regression candidate this year. He scored 2.5 fewer times than expected last year, and the team's red zone opportunities should increase with Matt Patricia sent out of town. Stevenson operated as the passing-down back last year, too, so a full bellcow season can't be ruled out. He averaged 17.2 expected half PPR points in the seven games without Harris. PFF also registered him with the 3rd-best yards after contact per carry. Spicy. ... 2022 4th-rounder Pierre Strong is the favorite to operate as Stevenson's low-value sidekick. He offers outside zone complement speed (a la Raheem Mostert) as a 207-pounder with 4.4 speed. If they want Stevenson to be subbed out on passing downs, Strong will have to hold off 31-year-old Ty Montgomery who is oft-injured and only on $150k guaranteed contract. The Patriots certainly want Strong to step up. 2022 6th-rounder Kevin Harris is a 220-pound hammer, who could mix in at the goal line if Stevenson ever missed time.
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RB9 Rhamondre Stevenson (26.6 overall) --> Buying
WR51 JuJu Smith-Schuster (109.3) --> Buying
WR71 Tyquan Thornton (163.3) --> Fading
TE23 Mike Gesicki (184.2) --> Fading
QB28 Mac Jones (198.7) --> Only in stacks
RB62 Pierre Strong (199.5) --> Soft fading
WR87 DeVante Parker (207.0) --> BUYING
TE33 Hunter Henry (212.9) --> Buying