We preview every NFL team to prepare you for the 2021 season. Our analysts will address pressing fantasy issues and team win totals to move from the cadre with the least fantasy relevance to the most talented team. In first place the 32nd New England Patriots.
1. Damien Harris is the only Patriot in the top 100 of our entire Fantasy Ranking. Is there untapped potential here or is it nothing more than FLEX territory?
Andy Behrens: Harris’ untapped potential is for Cam Newton to lose the starting QB appearance (which can potentially happen), freeing the goal lines that Patriots running backs didn’t get last year. If this team’s offense works as it did in 2020, Harris won’t play a significant role as a receiver and he won’t see the ball in goal-to-goal situations. There’s really no going to fantasy value for a run back with no goals or touchdowns.
Matt Harmon: I don’t like to turn my back on a bad offensive and it’s still difficult to think of New England as anything other than your average attack in 2021, to be better than a low-end RB2 at best. It’s even harder to conjure up optimism when that player doesn’t have tough access to goal-line work or a receiving role. Harris could end up cutting more of the latter pie if Mac Jones takes on the quarterback starting job. But who knows when those days will come. I won’t make an effort to dodge Harris in 2021, but I doubt he would ever draft my “priority list”.
Scott Pianowski: A speculative review of the offense where we are in 32nd place, right? I will pass this on. When Cam Newton is healthy, he’ll be a touchdown stealer on the goal line. If Mac Jones gets into the mix, we have to accept some mounting pain. I don’t think the Patriots will be a punching bag in any way, but it will be because of a worker-bee offense and a retooled defense.
The story goes on
2. Are you out with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith as they might pick up each other and this is not a passing game that screams the volume?
Scott: I actually think it was wise of the Patriots to embark on a crime that had two tight ends, but Henry’s injury history makes me squeamish about his expected ADP. And when Bill Belichick announced Smith’s signing, he mentioned all sorts of things that have little to do with fantasy value – you don’t get any reason to hack an edge rusher or pancake a defensive lineman. Again, I respect the overall New England plan, but this looks like a common tree that will be difficult to predict from week to week.
Andy: I am indeed out. If I land one of them in a fantasy draft, something has gone terribly wrong. I hope Newton can be more productive as a passer this season – or that Mac Jones can show us something – but let’s keep in mind that the New England offensive only scored 12 passes a year ago, two of which from receiver Jakobi Meyers were thrown.
Frosted: Look at me out. The situation with two narrow ends in fantasy football almost always sounds better in theory than in practice. New England was penultimate player last year, and with Cam Newton back or rookie Mac Jones taking the lead, it’s hard to see them turn that script around drastically. There just won’t be enough through volume to give either of them the kind of target sum they would need to finish both of them as TE1. It’s not like we’re projecting that crop of quarterbacks for big touchdowns, so I’m not convinced how both Henry and Smith would finish in the eight to ten range. Without the raw target sums, you would have to ask them to do the same. Loved the signings for New England, hated these players’ fantasy prospects for 2021.
3. Is there a sleeper anywhere on this list?
Frosted: I don’t mind getting Jakobi Myers and Kendrick Bourne into Best Ball designs very late. These two are underrated recipients, and in the unlikely scenario that this temporary offense finds itself back on its own, either of them could hit. Oh, and I’m glad I can still take Cam Newton as late-round quarterback in the hopes that he can offer a handful of bootable weeks before he gives way to Mac Jones. The conservative answer is likely a simple “no”.
Scott: I’ll probably talk to Rhamondre Stevenson in the middle of the season. And Nelson Agholor isn’t a bad depth game for the best ball world. Seasonal? You skip these guys.
Andy: Not a sleeper who should actually be drafted into leagues of standard size and shape, no. Rhamondre Stevenson might get interesting if one veteran is injured and another disappoints, but realistically speaking, the rookie is unlikely to make fantasy sounds until 2022, if at all.
New England Patriots predicted fantasy contributors by 2021
QB: Cam Newton / Mac Jones
RB: Damien Harris / James White / Rhamondre Stevenson
WR: Nelson Agholor / Kendrick Bourne / Jakobi Meyers
TE: Hunter Henry / Jonnu Smith
OVER / UNDER with 9.5 team winnings from BetMGM
Scott: That’s a no-bet on this number, but if I had to hit a ticket I would actually go over there. Last year’s defense was full of COVID opt-outs, and yet Belichick had the team competitive (games in Seattle and Buffalo could easily have been wins, one game different). The Bills may look like AFC East favorites, but the Patriots have stepped up the defense and having the best modern coach in history is worth a win or two alone. I won’t be at the window, but if you make me dial, I’ll bend over the number.
Follow Andy: @AndyBehrens
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