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Dynasty Capsule: New England Patriots

As part of the premium content package, we’re unveiling dynasty capsules for every team in the NFL all spring and summer. This year, we also have a precursor to every team capsule, with more detail on one of our favorite pieces – the dynasty sleeper. We continue our alphabetical journey through the NFL with the New England Patriots.

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady

In his twelve year career, Brady has established himself as a Hall of Fame quarterback and one of the best fantasy football players of all time. In fact, if he was 28 years old, you could make a case for him being the first pick in the draft in any format.

Problem is, he’s not.

Brady will turn 35 next month, making him the ultimate short term quarterback for a dynasty team. For his career, he’s posted a ridiculous 39,979 passing yards and an even 300 touchdowns, with just 115 interceptions. To make things even more enticing, the last season he had Josh McDaniels as his offensive coordinator, he posted 4,806 passing yards and a record 50 touchdown passes back in 2007.

If you’re a contending team, there are few quarterbacks you’d rather have. The only problem with having Brady is understanding when to sell. If you fall out of contention, you’ll have a serious decision to make in any of the upcoming years. Do you risk holding on to him and seeing him retire, thus getting nothing in return? Do you trade him to get some value, knowing he could still help you build? It’s a decision every Brady owner is going to face in each of the next few years.

Regardless, enjoy the ride while you can because it’s been an unbelievable one.

Brian Hoyer

We focused on Hoyer in our sleeper spotlight for the Patriots.

Ryan Mallett

Mallett represents the epitome of why dynasty fantasy football is the single best format to play. Owners who have Mallett must dedicate a valuable roster spot for a player they know has little to no chance of playing for a very long time. On the flip side, holding on to Mallett could be a huge coup for a savvy owner.

After a rough beginning to his career in Michigan, Mallett transferred to Arkansas, where he found much more success, including a final season that featured 3,869 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in a brutally tough college conference.

At 6’6″ and 245 pounds, Mallett has imposing size and great physical tools. His maturity has been questioned in the past, but being drafted by the Patriots was just what the doctor ordered. Learning behind Tom Brady should do wonders for Mallett and Josh McDaniels should be able to continue his development behind the scenes.

If Brian Hoyer bolts for free agency at the end of the year, Mallett should be in line to be the heir to the throne in New England.

Running Backs

Stevan Ridley

Here’s where the fun begins.

The Patriots have traditionally employed a committee of running backs over the years and none of them have been truly dominant since the likes of Corey Dillon back in 2004. In fact, a Patriots running back has run for over 1,000 yards just once since 2004. Take a look at their leading rushers:

2011 = BenJarvus Green-Ellis (667 yards)
2010 = BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1,008 yards)
2009 = Laurence Maroney (757 yards)
2008 = Sammy Morris (727 yards)
2007 = Laurence Maroney (835 yards)
2006 = Corey Dillon (812 yards)
2005 = Corey Dillon (733 yards)
2004 = Corey Dillon (1,635 yards)
2003 = Antowain Smith (642 yards)
2002 = Antowain Smith (982 yards)

With BenJarvus Green-Ellis off to Cincinnati, the competition for carries is wide open in New England. Ridley performed well last season, rushing for 441 rushing yards on just 87 carries, good for an average of over five yards per carry. The problem is he had a tendency to fumble – a major red flag for his future value if he can’t get that fixed.

There’s no doubting Ridley’s talent, though. He had an impressive career at LSU that featured him rushing for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns during his final season. Many draft scouts downgraded him based on his lack of ability in the passing game and a perceived lack of mental capacity. He seemed to put the mental concerns away last year by grasping the complex offense of the Patriots, though he still only caught three passes, solidifying the concern that he lacks great pass catching ability.

Ridley is surprisingly fast for his size (5’11”, 220 lbs.) and showed the Patriots a lot last season. He’s currently taking most of the first team snaps, so he could be in line for a Green-Ellis-like role this upcoming season – that’s nothing to ignore considering the law firm had 24 touchdowns the past two seasons.

Shane Vereen

The Patriots used a second-round draft pick on running back Shane Vereen last year, but saw him gain just 57 yards during the regular season as he battled a nasty hamstring injury. Make no mistake, though, the Patriots are very high on this young running back.

Vereen is seen as a much better pass catcher than Ridley, but isn’t strictly a talent who would be relegated to be a third down back in the league. The frustrating part of deciphering the plans of New England is that they use all their backs almost interchangeably and rarely rely on a true workhorse.

As it stands today, it looks like Ridley is in line to handle early down and goal line work, while Vereen will likely be used in passing situations and as a change of pace back. However, all of that could change in the preseason.

There are a lot of camp battles to watch, but the one between Ridley and Vereen may be the most exciting. In a recent poll we had on DLF, we asked our loyal followers which player they’d rather have in a dynasty league – after 686 votes, the difference between Ridley and Vereen was five votes.

Danny Woodhead

There was a time when Woodhead was one of the more promising young stashes in dynasty leagues based on his ability to catch the ball and make plays. Unfortunately, his role looks to be taken over by the more talented Vereen. While Woodhead has the ability to re-emerge, he’s a player who looks to be used rather sparingly and likely isn’t worth a roster spot due to the volatility of the Patriots and their unpredictable running back committee attack.

Brandon Bolden

Bolden was an undrafted free agent signing for the Patriots and has identical size to Stevan Ridley. He was very productive at the University of Mississippi, and could make the team if he shows well in the preseason and the Patriots think they could have trouble stashing him on the practice squad – keep an eye on his progress.

Wide Receivers

Wes Welker

Simply put, Welker is a PPR machine in dynasty leagues. He’s posted 554 catches in 77 games the past five years – good for over seven catches per game. When you add in 31 touchdowns over the same span, you’ve found yourself one of the most valuable players in fantasy football.

At 31 years of age, Welker failed to get the long term extension he desperately wanted from the team this off-season. The Pats could easily franchise him again next year, but that doesn’t seem realistic. This makes 2012 another huge season for Welker as he attempts to prove to New England that he simply can’t be let go in any way, shape or form. However, there’s speculation that a huge season from Welker would actually force the Pats to let him walk since he wants “outside receiver” money in the ball park of Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson.

Regardless, Welker is a huge asset to a contending team and an extremely valuable trade chip if he’s owned by a non-contender. With Tom Brady back and much attention being placed on Brandon Lloyd and the tight ends, Welker is almost assured of another huge year.

Brandon Lloyd

Lloyd has been an absolute heart breaker of a player to own throughout the years, but this is easily the best situation he’s ever found himself in. After all, the best season he ever had was in 2010 with the Broncos, where he had 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. Remember, Josh McDaniels was the head coach of that team and he’s the offensive coordinator for the Patriots now.

The trouble with Lloyd has always been his inconsistencies. In his nine year career, he has just one 1,000 yard season (that magical season in 2010). In the interim, he’s bounced around to San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, Denver and St. Louis.

From all indications, the “vintage” Brandon Lloyd has been showing up for practice this off-season and it looks like he could be poised for a monster season – just don’t put all your eggs in the Lloyd basket, he’s disappointed us many, many times over the past decade.

Deion Branch

Branch had a bit of a renaissance when he was re-acquired from Seattle back in 2010, but last season was a pretty big disappointment as he posted just 702 yards and five touchdowns. He may battling for a roster spot this Summer and is likely not worth a roster spot on your dynasty squad at this point.

Jabar Gaffney

Gaffney is a bit of a sleeper for the Pats based on his familiarity with the offense. He’s been a bit of a late bloomer, as his best two seasons of his ten year career have come in the last two campaigns. That being said, he’s going to be no better than third on the receiver depth chart and way down on the priority list when you consider how much the Patriots use their tight ends. He could still be rostered, but expecting a repeat of his numbers from last season (947 receiving yards and five scores) would be expecting too much.

Julian Edelman

Edelman is going to be relegated to special teams duty unless injuries strike. He belongs on the wire by now.

Donte’ Stallworth

Stallworth is likely battling Branch for a roster spot and the preseason should shake that out. He’s been unimpressive for quite a while now, so he’d have to show us a lot more in order to pique our interest again.

Matt Slater

Don’t sleep on Slater. He has a lot of ability and could actually pull an upset and knock both Stallworth and Branch off the roster. Monitor his progress this off-season – he’s shown flashes before.

Tight Ends

Rob Gronkowski

The Gronk exploded for 90 catches, 1,327 yards and a record 17 touchdowns as the primary tight end option for the Patriots last year. Those numbers were absolutely mind boggling and have him in the discussion as a potential first round pick in dynasty leagues – rare air for a tight end, that’s for sure.

The only real question with Gronkowski has to be the touchdown total. We know he has an enormous amount of ability and should be fully healthy again at the beginning of the season. Expecting 17 scores from any player, no less a tight end, is a fool’s folly. Realistically, something like 80 catches, 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns would be a really nice season for Gronkowski next year. However, if Gronkowski can post anything close to last year’s line, he’ll more than justify a pick in the first round as the positional advantage he’d give you over every other tight end (outside of perhaps Jimmy Graham) would be enormous.

Aaron Hernandez

Somewhat lost in the ridiculousness of Gronkowski’s season was a solid campaign from Aaron Hernandez. After all, 79 catches, 910 yards and seven touchdowns – good enough to make him the TE5 in many leagues. You could make a very good case that Hernandez is one of the best values in all of fantasy football. With his athletic ability, he can often line up as a wide receiver and run routes that other tight ends could only dream about.

Hernandez is a tremendous player to have on your dynasty squad and it’s scary to think he’s still learning the game.

Visanthe Shiancoe

Shiancoe really left any value he had in dynasty leagues back in Minnesota. There are simply not enough balls to go around to make him worth owning any longer.

Ken Kelly
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