The Patriots got back to the playoffs in the first year of the Mac Jones era, but they did it on the strength of another elite defense, allowing them to play more conservative on offense. They continue to add playmakers in the passing game, but is it enough to convince them to let Mac Jones open it up?
Record: 10 – 7 (9)
PPG: 27.2 (6)
YPG: 353.4 (15)
Pass YPG: 226.9 (14)
Rush YPG: 126.5 (8)
PAPG: 31.5 (25)
RAPG: 28.8 (8)
2021 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 44%
That’s how often the Patriots threw the ball on first and second down with the score within six points, the third-lowest rate in the NFL. For context, the NFL average is 51%, so the Patriots were awfully conservative in those contexts. That shouldn’t be surprising from a team that finished 25th in pass attempts, especially not one that famously won a game while attempting three passes.
The Patriots were content to sit on the ball, taking advantage of good field position and an effective running game to limit opposing team’s opportunities. It helped that Mac Jones played well, largely avoiding mistakes, but it limited the Fantasy potential of basically everyone on the team. Damien Harris was the lone exception, thanks to a whopping 15 touchdowns in as many games, though even his upside was limited due to a lack of receiving production.
The Patriots added DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton to their receiving corps after spending big money to upgrade the previous offseason, but the question still remains of whether they’ll truly be more aggressive in the passing game. Parker provides a big body who can win down the field, but Jones will have to show a willingness to take chances on contested balls to make the most of him. This was a team whose leading receiver had just 866 yards in 17 games, so it makes sense to be skeptical of the passing game here, and there likely won’t be any wide receivers drafted among the first 40 in most leagues. That’s probably right.
One interesting wrinkle this season is the loss of Josh McDaniels as the long-time offensive coordinator. The Patriots are apparently opting not to have a traditional offensive coordinator to replace him, with Bill Belichick taking a more hands-on approach with the offense alongside offensive assistant Joe Judge. That makes me think this might be an even more conservative offense than what we saw last season.
1. (29) Cole Strange, OL
2. (50) Tyquan Thornton, WR
3. (85) Marcus Jones, CB
4. (121) Jack Jones, DB
4. (127) Pierre Strong, RB
4. (137) Bailey Zappe, QB
6. (183) Kevin Harris, RB
6. (200) Sam Roberts, DE
6. (210) Chasen Hines, G
7. (245) Andrew Stueber, OL
44 carries, 49 RB targets, 0 WR targets, 0 TE targets
Chris Towers’ projections
|QB||Mac Jones||PA: 551, YD: 3860, TD: 25, INT: 12; RUSH — ATT: 48, YD: 143, TD: 2|
|RB||Damien Harris||CAR: 215, YD: 945, TD: 9, TAR: 17, REC: 13, YD: 99, TD: 1|
|RB||Rhamondre Stevenson||CAR: 167, YD: 735, TD: 7, TAR: 17, REC: 13, YD: 106, TD: 1|
|RB||James White||CAR: 48, YD: 210, TD: 2, TAR: 61, REC: 49, YD: 380, TD: 2|
|WR||DeVante Parker||TAR: 107, REC: 75, YD: 828, TD: 4|
|WR||Jakobi Meyers||TAR: 83, REC: 54, YD: 645, TD: 4|
|WR||Kendrick Bourne||TAR: 71, REC: 48, YD: 509, TD: 3|
|TE||Hunter Henry||TAR: 77, REC: 51, YD: 621, TD: 3|
|TE||Jonnu Smith||TAR: 50, REC: 31, YD: 324, TD: 2|
Can Damien Harris remain the go-to back?
Harris ended up RB19 in PPR points per game last season, but he has a pretty narrow path to Fantasy success in any given week: If he finds the end zone, he’ll be a good start; if not, he’ll be a bust. Luckily, he found the end zone in all but five games last season, so he was useful more often than not. Can you bet on that repeating? The bigger concern is probably whether he can continue to fend off Rhamondre Stevenson, who shows a bit more three-down viability — and more Fantasy upside as a result. Harris is the back to roster if you have to have one of them, but Stevenson is worth snagging a little later on in all leagues, too.
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One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
White played just six snaps in Week 3 before suffering a season-ending hip injury, so he had 13 targets and 12 catches in just two games before the injury. The Patriots trust him as their passing downs back, and though there are questions about how the now 30-year-old will bounce back from the injury, if he’s healthy, I think he’ll once again have a solid role in the passing game. It wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up being the best Patriots running back this season in the end.
Stevenson’s price as RB37 is pretty reasonable, because he’s probably the only back on the Patriots roster with the potential to be a true three-down option. The Patriots are probably always going to cycle in multiple backs, but Stevenson brings some pass-catching chops that Harris can’t match. I think Harris will be the lead back, and will likely remain so as long as he’s healthy, which is why I’m drafting him earlier than Stevenson. However, I’m unlikely to actually draft Harris at cost, because of his limited receiving upside; if I’m going to snag a piece of this offense in the middle rounds, I want the guy who could at least theoretically become a low-end RB1, and that’s Stevenson more than Harris.
The Patriots don’t have anyone inside of the top 75 in NFC ADP as of mid-July, so it’s hard to call anyone here a “bust.” Even Harris, the highest-drafted player on the team, is just RB26, actually lower than he finished in 2021, so I can’t really argue against it too hard — he has limited upside, but should be useful more often than not as long as he’s the starter.
Even Henry’s value is pretty fair as TE14, so this is more about how little interest I have in drafting him, even at that cost. Sure, if you need a late-round tight end, he’ll probably be useful. But I’m not sure I have much faith in him being anything more than the touchdown-or-bust guy he was last season, so I’d rather take a chance on guys with more upside like Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, or David Njoku (among others) going after him.