New England Patriots
|By Shawn Childs, Monday, August 28, 2023|
Bill Belichick returns for his 24th season with the New England Patriots. Belichick has a 262-108 record in New England with six Super Bowls and three other trips to the big game. The Patriots went 31-13 in the postseason since 2001. Belichick needs 31 wins to pass Don Shula for the most in NFL history. They've won the AFC East 11 times over the past 14 seasons (16 titles over the last 20 years).
The Patriots brought in Bill O'Brien to take over as their offensive coordinator. He started his professional coaching career in 2007 with New England. After five seasons working in various offensive jobs for them, O'Brien earned his first heading coaching job (15-9) with Penn State from 2012 to 2013 before earning the same position for the Houston Texans (52-48) from 2014 to 2020. His teams had a winning record in five seasons while making the postseason four times. He worked as the offensive coordinator for Alabama over the past two years.
New England fell to 26th in yards gained, 11 spots lower than in 2021. They scored 364 points (17th), 98 points less than last season.
Heading into 2023, the Patriots don't have someone listed as their defensive coordinator. Linebackers coach (Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick) have the most experience (12 and 11 years).
Their defense finished 11th in points allowed (347 – 303 in 2021) while ranking eighth in defensive yards allowed.
The most significant changes via free agency for New England came at wide receiver over the winter. They lost Jakobi Jones to the Las Vegas Raiders, and Nelson Agholor signed with the Baltimore Ravens. New England decided JuJu Smith-Schuster was a better fit for their offense with a smaller price tag than Jones while almost being the same age.
New England lost RB Damien Harris to the Buffalo Bills while adding TE Mike Gesicki and RB James Robinson. The only other significant change was the loss of T Isaiah Wynn, who remains a free agent in mid-May.
The Patriots picked up 11 players in the 2023 NFL Draft, two of which went to kicker (4.10 – Chad Ryland) and punter (6.15 – Bryce Baringer). New England's top priority was defense (1.17 – CB Christian Gonzalez, 2.15 – DE Kevin White, 3.13 – LB Marte Mapu, 6.37 – CB Ameer Speed, and 7.28 – CB Isaiah Bolden) and offensive line (C Jake Andrews, G Sidy Sow, and G Kayshon Boutte). Their two darts on offense went to WR Kayshon Boutte (6.10) and WR Demario Douglas (6.33).
Gonzalez gives New England an elite speed option (4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL combine) at cornerback. He will upgrade their press coverage, and his ability to bump and run should improve his coverage value as the field shorten. Even with plus speed and quickness, he can be a tick behind his responsibilities when facing the line of scrimmage and thinking about the developing play. Once Gonzalez improves his reaction time, he'll reach elite status at cornerback.
Patriots fans should fall in love with White as his motor runs hot on all downs while offering a much higher ceiling once he develops his pass-rushing moves and techniques. White offers power and quickness to disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Mapu brings a hybrid frame to the NFL, suggesting that he'll become a big safety with strength in run support and coverage vs. running backs and tight ends. His top-end speed and quickness will lead to him being a liability when matchup one-on-one over the long field vs. wideouts. New England may push him to linebacker if he adds more bulk. His vision grades as an asset.
Based on his size, strength, and speed, I sense that CB Ameer Speed will be viewed as the next "Matthew Slater" on special teams. He projects well in run support while lacking the technique and foundation at this point in his career to handle pro wide receivers.
Bolden is another big cornerback added with the skill set to improve the Patriots' press coverage. His talent helped his wins at Jackson State University, but he must improve his reads and technique when asked to match wide receivers stride for stride in the NFL. Run support shouldn't be an issue, and Bolden can overcome a missed step with his speed and quickness.
Andrews will defend his area of the field, but his range looks limited. His game is all about power and strength while lacking the footwork and quickness to win outside his assigned area. Bull rushers should be stopped in their tracks, and his power should play well in a quick-hitting run game up the middle.
Sow has the tools to become a much better player if he develops better movements with his feet and improves his decision-making and vision after the snap. Sow checks the boxed NFL teams are looking for later in drafts for offensive linemen.
New England's theme for their offensive line this year was power and strength. Mafi is another player expected to help the Patriots' run game while lacking the recovery range to win outside his frame in pass protection.
Boutte has the talent to be the star wideout that the Patriots continue to miss on in most NFL drafts. He is a playmaker with deep play and scoring ability. New England may use him out of the slot, where his shiftiness can lead to impact plays on short catches. Boutte isn't quite there in his route running, but his foundation and skill set could lead to him earning valuable snaps in his rookie season. He is a hands catcher who needs to improve his focus to improve his catch rate.
Douglas is an undersized wideout (5'8" and 180 lbs.) with speed and quickness. His release creates an edge, but his route running isn't NFL-ready. He must secure the ball better to see any snaps for New England.
The Patriots slipped to 24th in rushing in yards (1,812) with 12 touchdowns and 11 runs of 20 yards or more. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 25.0 rushes per game (down from 28.7 in 2021). New England threw the ball 540 times (31.7 per matchup), leading to 3,815 yards (21st) with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. They gained 7.1 yards per pass attempt while allowing 41 sacks.
In his third season, RG Michael Onwenu continues to allow minimal pressure and sacks. His run blocking was below his previous elite level in 2022, but it was more of a team issue. LT Trent Brown allowed more sacks last season than he did over his previous five years, but he still tends to be an asset in pass protection. He projects to be a better player at right tackle. LG Cole Strange was hot and cold in pass blocking in his rookie season after getting drafted in the first round in 2022. He rarely provided an edge in the run game. C David Andrews remains a veteran asset on the line while missing three games last year with a thigh issue.
I don't view this offensive line as better than the league average, with more help added via the draft. Ultimately, if New England gets better quarterback play, the rest of the offense should fall in line.
QB Bailey Zappe - Dynasty Only
Over his first four seasons at Houston Baptist, Zappe passed for 10,004 yards with 78 touchdowns and 39 interceptions while offering short plays on the ground (271/243/3). His ceiling reached an explosive level in 2021 after transferring to Western Kentucky. He passed for 5,967 yards with 62 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Zappe upped his completion rate to 69.1%.
The injury to Mac Jones gave Zappe an unexpected opportunity for four games in his rookie season. He flashed in Week 6 (309/2) while posting competitive stats (781/5) over his 196 snaps. Zappe completed 70.7% of his passes while gaining an impressive 8.5 yards per pass attempt.
Fantasy Outlook: The Patriots' faithful turned on Mac Jones after Zappe showed the ability to make big plays. With another training camp under his belt, he is only a hand signal away from starting while having a chance to succeed as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Other Options: Trace McSorley
UPDATE: Zappe was released but joined New England's practice squad.
QB Mac Jones - Quality Backup
After a successful training game in his rookie season, New England quickly shifted to Jones as their starting quarterback. His year started with a 2-4 record while delivering 245 passing yards per game with seven combined touchdowns and six interceptions. Jones led the Patriots to wins in each matchup over the next seven weeks despite averaging under 200 passing yards and 24.7 passes. Due to the weather, he did have an outlier game in Week 13 vs. the Bills (only three pass attempts). Over his final five starts (including the playoffs), Jones went 1-4 with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
In 2022, Jones started the season with two quiet games (213/1 and 252/1) before throwing the ball better vs. the Ravens in Week 3 (321/0 and five rushed for 31 yards and a score with eight completions over 20 yards). Unfortunately, he suffered a high ankle sprain after his third interception, leading to three missed games and minimal excitement for the rest of the season. Jones averaged 221 passing yards over his final 10 starts (including the postseason) with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions while gaining only 6.4 yards per pass attempt. His only game of value (382/2) came in Week 12.
Fantasy Outlook: The Patriots added WR Juju Smith-Schuster in the offseason after a below-expectations season (78/933/3 on 101 targets) with the Chiefs. New England has plenty of questions about the strength and upside of their receiving corps, making Jones a desperation QB3 in 12-team formats. His completion rate (66.5) for his career grades well, but he must improve his touchdown production (36 over 31 games) and yards per pass attempt (7.1) to become a trusted fantasy asset. At this point of his career, 4,000 passing yards with 1.5 scores a game would be a move in a positive direction.
RB Kevin Harris - Not Draft Worthy
Harris is another power runner with some experience catching the ball (36/280/1) over 27 games. His best success came in 2020 (1,297 combined yards with 16 touchdowns and 21 catches on 206 touches. In 2021, he battled a health issue, leading to a sharp decline in production (152/669/4 – 4.4 yards per rush).
The Patriots gave Harris 18 rushes last season, leading to 52 yards and one score. He faced an uphill battle to get touches in 2023.
Other Options; J.J. Taylor, Ty Montgomery
UPDATE: HARRIS WAS WAIVED BY NEW ENGLAND.
RB Rhamondre Stevenson - Stud (low risk)
In 2021, the Patriots gave Stevenson minimal chances (127 combined yards with one touchdown and five catches on 30 touches) over their first eight games. In Week 10, with Damian Harris injured, he broke loose for an impact game (20/100/2 with four catches for 14 yards). His success led to a rotational role over New England's final seven matchups (442 combined yards with two scores and seven catches on 93 touches). Stevenson also shined in Week 17 (19/107/2).
After a slow start over his first two games (78 combined yards and three catches on 20 touches) last season, Stevenson pushed his way up the running back ranking over the next 10 games (18.69 FPPG in PPR formats), helped by a much higher floor in the passing game (53/377/1) over this span. The injury to Damien Harris in Week 5 created his improved opportunity. Stevenson averaged 19.7 touches while delivering six winning games (20.10, 19.50, 25.10, 23.80, 21.10, and 20.20 fantasy points) over his hot run.
Unfortunately, he left Week 14 (3/8 with two catches for two yards) after 13 snaps, crushing fantasy teams on the doorstep of the championship rounds in the high-stakes market. Stevenson rebounded for an impact game (19/172/1 with two catches negative four yards) the following week but ended the year with three dull showings (4.30, 7.10, and 13.20 fantasy points). Defenses held him to short production in the passing game over his final five starts (13/38 on 22 targets – 2.9 yards per catch).
Fantasy Outlook: Stevenson ended the season as the eighth-highest-scoring running back in fantasy points (250.50) in PPR formats. He gained 3.4 yards after contact, highlighted by gaining more than 20 yards on 10 plays (two reached the 40-yard mark). Adding James Robinson will cost Stevenson some touches and lower his ceiling, and New England has running back upside on their roster. In the early draft season, he comes off the board as an early RB2 with a late third-round ADP. Let's go with another 1,000 yards rushing with 50 catches for 350 yards with a chance at double-digit touchdowns. His upside in scoring lies in the improvement of the Patriots' offense in 2023.
Injury Status: Out - Ankle
RB Pierre Strong Jr. - Low Potential
New England found another up-the-middle runner with the addition of Strong in the 2021 NFL Draft. He brings home-run speed to the Patriots' backfield. His best value comes when finding a clean lane where his shoulder fakes and slide steps create long runs. His challenge comes when stalling in tight quarters, where his lack of short-area quickness hurts his ability to get out of trouble. Strong plays bigger than his frame (5'11" and 210 lbs.).
Over 47 games at South Dakota State, he gained 5,108 combined yards with 43 touches and 62 catches. His highlight season was in 2021 (240/1,686/18 with 22 catches for 150 yards).
In his rookie season, Strong only touched the ball in four games, leading to 142 combined yards with one touchdown and seven catches on 17 touches. His best game (5/70/1 with two catches for 20 yards) came in Week 14 when Rhamondre Stevenson left early with an injury.
Fantasy Outlook: UPDATE: Traded to the Cleveland Browns. This is a good situation for him to thrive as a Nick Chubb complement. He'll immediately offer challenge to Jerome Ford backup duties.
Strong offers an early-down insurance card while also being a potential closing back when the Patriots play from a big lead. Target him around Round 14-15 range. Sleeper alert!
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster - Gamble (high risk)
Over his first two seasons with the Steelers, Smith-Schuster had a stud WR1 feel, highlighted by his success in 2018 (111/1,426/7) while receiving 166 targets. Unfortunately, he struggled with an injury this following year (42/552/3), and Pittsburgh lost Ben Roethlisberger for most of the season.
In 2020, his catches (97), catch rate (75.8), and touchdowns (9) graded well, but Smith-Schuster gained only 8.6 yards per catch. Despite playing every game, Pittsburgh listed him on the injury report many times with multiple issues (toe, foot, and knee). Over his final 12 games (including the playoffs), Smith-Schuster had a floor of six catches in 10 matchups while scoring seven touchdowns. His best two games (9/96/1 and 13/157/1) came in Week 16 and the postseason.
In 2021, Smith-Schuster had a sluggish start to the year over four games (4/52, 6/41, 3/25, and 2/11) before seeing his season end in Week 5 with a right shoulder injury that required surgery in mid-October.
Last season, he landed in a primo passing offense with an elite quarterback, but Smith-Schuster failed to be a difference-maker. The Chiefs look his way only 6.3 times a game with minimal scoring (3). On the positive side, he had a high catch rate (77.2) with a rebound in his yards per catch (12.0 – 8.6 in 2020 and 2021) with minor injury news. His best play came over three games (5/113/1, 7/124/1, and 10/88) from Week 6 to Week 9. Kansas City gave Smith-Schuster double-digit targets in three games (12, 11, and 10).
Fantasy Outlook: His final stats (787/933/3) ranked Smith-Schuster 27th in PPR formats. The switch to New England gives a WR1 opportunity for a weaker passing attack. In the early draft season, he projects to be a WR4 in PPR formats, which is much easier to stomach if Smith-Schuster doesn't produce better stats. Jakobi Meyers led the Patriots in receiving over the past two seasons (83/866/2 and 67/804/6) over 31 games. With 80 catches for 900 yards and six scores, Smith-Schuster would rank as a backend WR2 in 2023. The survey says "yes," but I'd rather roster him at a discount.
WR DeVante Parker - Deep-league Only
Over seven seasons with Miami, Parker delivered only one impact year (72/1,202/9 – 2019). In 2021, he missed seven games with a shoulder injury, leading to 40 catches for 515 yards and two touchdowns on 73 targets.
The Patriots used Parker as a deep threat last season, leading to a career-high in yards per catch (17.4). He finished with 31 catches for 539 yards and three touchdowns on 47 targets over 13 games, with two highlight outcomes (5/156 and 6/79/2). Parker missed four games with knee and concussion injuries.
Fantasy Outlook: Between his quiet games and injuries, Parker is highly challenging to manage in the fantasy market. He brings size, big plays, and potential scoring while starting the season at age 30. I expect him to be only a late-flier for a drafter looking for gambling outs at wide receiver.
Injury Status: Out - Knee
WR Kendrick Bourne - Deep-league Only
In 2020 and 2021, Bourne developed into a sneaky backend wide receiver despite receiving only 144 combined targets. In 2021, he set career-highs in catches (55) and receiving yards (800) with five touchdowns and some value in the run game (12/125). The Patriots used him deeper in the passing game (14.5 yards per catch), leading to 10 catches of 20 yards or more (five of these plays gained at least 40 yards). When given a chance to catch the ball, Bourne caught 78.6% of his targets.
Last year Bourne seemed to fall out of favor with the coaching staff, resulting in a disappointing season (35/434/1) despite maintaining a high catch rate (72.9). His only game with more than five targets came in Week 16 (6/129/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Bourne will compete for WR3 in 2023. He blocks well, giving him a chance for more playing time when the Patriots play from the lead in the second half
Injury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Kayshon Boutte - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Over 27 games at LSU, Boutte caught 131 of his 205 targets for 1,782 yards and 16 touchdowns. His game was on the fast track to the NFL over his first six games in 2021 (38/509/9 on 53 targets), highlighted by three games (9/148/3, 4/85/2, and 6/127/1), but a right ankle injury that required surgery ended his season. Over his final three games (8/111, 5/108/1, and 14/308/3) in 2020, Boutte showed his potential.
Fantasy Outlook: If his right ankle holds up (a pair of surgeries in his career), Boutte looks poised to emerge as New England's WR2 this year. His overall game looks the most complete behind Juju Smith-Schuster, and Mac Jones desperately needs a playmaker on the field for more snaps. Boutte is the type of rookie wideout I will fight for in drafts, and his price point should be almost free in all early drafts.
WR Demario Douglas - Low Potential
Douglas improved his production each season at Liberty, showcased by his final year (79/1,098/7 on 121 targets). He finished college with 172 catches for 2,302 yards and 16 touchdowns. New England should give him a chance to return kicks, something he did over the past three seasons (punts – 55/383/2 and kickoffs – 17/368). Douglas can't turn the ball over if he wants to help the Patriots in his rookie season.
Other Options: Lynn Bowden, Raleigh Webb, Tre Nixon
Injury Status: Out - Concussion
WR Tyquan Thornton - Dynasty Only
When looking for a player in the 2022 NFL Draft to create an edge in the deep passing game, New England landed on Thornton. At the NFL combine, he posted a 4.28 40-yard dash. Unfortunately, Thornton needs to add bulk (6'2" and 180 lbs.) and strength to improve his ceiling. In addition, his release will be a problem early in his career, and his hands (8.25) don't match his size.
Over four seasons at Baylor, Thornton caught 143 passes for 2,242 yards and 19 touchdowns over 245 targets. His best success came in 2021 (62/948/10).
After sitting out the first four games for New England last year with a shoulder injury, Thornton caught 22 of 45 targets for 247 yards and two touchdowns. His best two games came in Week 6 (4/53/2) and Week 17 (3/60/1). The Patriots gave him starting snaps from Week 14 to Week 17, suggesting more chance this season. Thornton was on the field for 527 snaps over 13 games – only 18 plays fewer than DeVante Parker (545 – second most of the team).
Fantasy Outlook: Based on the wide receiver structure in New England, Thornton has an excellent chance to work as their second wideout in 2023. His catch rate needs work, and he should see many more targets in the deep passing game (11.2 yards per catch in 2022 compared to 15.7 in his college career). Thornton has plenty of work needed to become fantasy-relevant while earning a late-round price tag in fantasy drafts.
UPDATE: THORNTON WILL MISS AT LEAST THE FIRST FOUR GAMES WITH AN INJURY.
TE Hunter Henry - Quality Backup
In his first year with New England, Henry played an entire season for the first time. He scored seven times over his first 10 games with 31 catches for 353 yards. Over his final seven starts, Henry had two solid outings (6/77/2 and 5/86) but emptiness in his other five matchups (2/25, 2/16, 0/0, 1/9, and 3/37). He finished 10th in tight end scoring (164.30 fantasy points) in PPR leagues despite receiving only 75 targets.
The Patriots struggled to get Henry the ball over the first four games (2/20, 0/0, 1/8, and 2/13 on nine combined targets) in 2022, crushing any fantasy supporters. Over the next nine games, he caught 23 of his 33 targets (3.7 per week) for 365 yards and two touchdowns. Henry scored more than 10.00 fantasy points in only four contests (4/61/1, 3/63/1, 5/52, and 6/42) all season.
Fantasy Outlook: New England added Mike Gesicki in the offseason, who is an upgrade in pass catching over Jonnu Smith. A two-way split for chances makes it difficult for Henry to rank higher than a midtier TE2 in 2023. He finished 22nd in tight end scoring (103.90 last season) in PPR formats. In the early draft season in the high-stakes market, Henry ranks behind Gesicki in draft value. His blocking will give him the better share of snaps, but a 50/500/5 season may now be his ceiling
TE Mike Gesicki - Quality Backup
In 2021, I listed Gesicki as an upside TE2. He rewarded my beliefs with career-highs in catches (73), receiving yards (780), and targets (112), but Gesicki managed only a pair of scores. Despite his growth, he delivered two weeks with no fantasy catches, with regression in his stats over his final 10 contests (36/353/0) on 61 targets. From Week 3 to Week 7, Gesicki offered starting fantasy value (34/386/2). In the end, he ranked ninth in fantasy scoring (165.00) in PPR formats.
The change in coaching staff in Miami last season and his questionable blocking led to Gesicki being phased out of the Dolphins' offense. He finished with a sharp decline in production (32/362/5) and opportunity (52 targets – 112 in 2021). Gesicki only had one game with more than 50 yards receiving (6/69/2).
Fantasy Outlook: The Patriots will get him more involved this year, but Gesicki will be challenging to time. His pass-catching invites more chances and possible scores when New England chases on the scoreboard. I view him more as a bye-week cover until he earns more targets. His starting point should be about 40 catches for 450 yards with three to five touchdowns.
PK Chad Ryland - Solid/Safe Pick
Over the previous two seasons at Eastern Michigan and Maryland, Ryland developed into a top-tier kicker. He made 38 of his 45 field goals (84.4%) while missing one of his 87 extra-point tries. The Patriots added him in the fourth round in the 2023 NFL Draft, pointing to him having an excellent chance of winning their kicking job this year. Nick Folk kicked well for New England over the past three seasons (94-for-104 in field goals), with best years from 50 yards or more (11-for-16). His strike is his weakness in extra points (104-for-115). Last year, the Patriots scored 37 touchdowns while creating 37 field goal attempts.
Fantasy Outlook: Ryland has an NFL leg for kickoffs, but he needs to prove his worth with the game on the line. The Patriots' kicker will have matchup value this season, with potential upside if their offense makes strides in moving the ball.
New England - Stud (low risk)
The Patriots improved to 7th in rushing yards (1,793) while allowing 4.1 yards per carry. Their defense gave up seven rushing touchdowns (tied for the lowest in the league). Offenses ran the ball 25.9 times against them.
New England fell to 17th vs. quarterbacks (3,681 yards with 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions). Their defense finished with 54 sacks (3rd).
LB Matthew Judon turned into a sack beast (28) over his 34 starts for New England while also chipping in with 60 tackles and help in run support. On the other side of the field, LB Josh Uche also developed into an elite pass rusher (11.5) in his limited snaps. His next step is improving against the run to earn more playing time on early downs. Their defensive line has veteran experience, but the Patriots need C Christian Barmore and DE Keion White to make an impact this year after getting drafted in the second round over the past two seasons. New England has youth and talent in their secondary, which will be much better in 2023 with a repeated pass rush.
The Patriots have the talent, coaching, and experience to be one of the better defenses in the league. In the fantasy market, they rank third in mid-May.