Room for panic in New England

Given the shocking developments this week with Aaron Hernandez, it is time to panic when it comes to Tom Brady and fantasy football in 2013. We certainly don’t know what Rob Gronkowski’s timetable for the season will be, but with his recovery period likely to extend right to Week One, it’s very fair to guess that the Pats won’t have Gronk for at least a couple of weeks, and it might take a month for them to get the old Gronk back even if he’s in the mix to play as early as Week Two.

We all know Brady’s an all-time great, but this is getting ridiculous. Brady has now lost 243/2991/15 receiving from last year, and their key joker TE, who is very difficult to replace. And that’s not including Gronk or Danny Woodhead, who accounted for a very solid 40/446/3 in the passing game last year.

Brady is great at making the players around him better, but what concerns me most is the youth they have at receiver, particularly rookie Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Back in the day Brady was able to put up good numbers throwing to guys like Troy Brown, David Givens, Reche Caldwell, and others. But the difference with those guys was they were pretty savvy veterans, especially Brown. Even if you’re a mediocre talent, the offense can still produce with Brady pulling the trigger – provided his receivers understand the offense and are on the same page as the QB.

I’ve come to learn what makes wide receiver a very tough position to pick up in New England, and it’s pretty simple. You have to learn other or even all of the receiver positions, which can be tough on some players. But that’s fairly typical in the league. The challenging element to this offense is that there’s never a primary receiver on any given play. You as a receiver can have anywhere from 3-6 different patterns that you run based on what the defense is giving you. So receivers need to have great recognition in terms of what the defense is showing and also have to know that the QB is seeing the same thing. It seems to me that it’s very easy to have some miscommunications, especially for a young player and especially because Brady’s so cerebral.

It’s a major leap of faith to believe the rookies Dobson and Boyce can pick up the needed slack here. The Pats do have some veterans like Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins on the roster, but they are also new to the team, and as we saw with Chad Ochocinco, just because you’re a veteran it doesn’t mean you’ll pick this offense up quickly.

Tom Brady is an all-time great, but it’s getting ridiculous with all the weapons he’s lost

Based on yesterday’s news, we’ve already moved Brady behind Andrew Luck, who has as much talent as Brady and a better receiving corps. He also seriously contributes to his fantasy points totals with his legs. As any regular reader knows, I’m very wary of bad vibes in the preseason, and the vibes couldn’t possibly be worse for Brady this year unless maybe if Gronk is 100% and ready to rock and roll. When factoring ADP/value into the equation, I’d currently rather have Luck, Tony Romo, and Russell Wilson than Brady. And I could make a strong case for Matthew Stafford and Colin Kaepernick, and maybe even a healthy Robert Griffin III (although even if he’s healthy you have to worry about his knees). I’m not saying Brady is off the grid for me, but unless he falls precipitously in a draft I’m in, he’s kind of off the grid for me. Just think about the state of his receiving corps if Gronkowski has further issues, and if Amendola’s reckless playing style leads to another serious injury. It’s very scary.

We still have some time to think about it, but I’m close to moving Brady down even further from his current #7 ranking at QB.

But what I really wanted to do with this post was to discuss some players who could actually benefit from the ugliness in New England. Obviously, a healthy Rob Gronkowski would, but here are four other players who should.

Danny Amendola – He’s just joined the team, but his timing and chemistry with Brady has been good in the off-season workouts, so he’s off to a very good start. Clearly, he’s going to be a huge factor. He’s actually more versatile than Wes Welker, so he’s really standing out as a desirable pick, despite his injury concerns. Seriously, Amendola should be a lock for 100+ catches if he plays 14-16 games. I’m currently 100% willing to take on Amendola’s injury risk, especially with a very reasonable ADP in the 50s (although I’m sure that will go up). With Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Woodhead gone, that’s a whopping 440 targets gone from the offense last year. FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY!

Shane Vereen – Vereen has been a bit of a disappointment, and we don’t really think he can be anything close to a lead back, since he underwhelms running inside and he doesn’t exactly make people miss all that well. But he can still be one heck of a complementary and space player in this offense. Obviously, Woodhead was very viable in PPR leagues the last couple of seasons, and while it’s hard to say anything negative about Woodhead, Vereen is a bigger back and he’s probably more talented overall with more big-play potential. The Pats drafted him in the 2nd round three years ago, and it’s time for him to deliver. The guy played only 13% of their offensive snaps in 2012. Woodhead had 76 rushes (6 inside the five) plus 55 targets. Let’s give Vereen 50 more carries (with 4 inside the five) on top of his 62 (including 5 inside the 10) and 40-45 targets to add to his existing 12. Assuming 4.0 yards per carry, Vereen should produce about 450 rushing yards. Rounding off to 55 targets, at a 67% catch rate, that’s 37 catches. Using 9.4 YPC, Vereen should get 350 yards receiving and another TD or two. Added up, 800 yards from scrimmage with 8 TDs seems in the ballpark (Woodhead had 747 and 7) with a rank between 30-35 in FPG (Woodhead was 34th, 33rd in PPR formats). That’s a lot of hoop-jumping, but it all seems feasible, and there’s upside from there. I don’t really think we can count on much from Leon Washington, but we’ll see about him.

Julian Edelman – He’s not even 100% now (foot), which is certainly a concern. But if healthy this season he should be a huge key. While he’s best cast as a slot receiver, he can play outside some, so he could even be on the field a lot this year with Amendola. They may not have much of a choice but to play Edelman. If healthy he’s also a terrific handcuff to Amendola and can help offset a lot of risk Amendola brings to the table. If he’s 100% in camp he’s one of the best WR handcuffs I’ve seen in a while in a PPR league.

Stevan Ridley – Obviously, the Patriots will likely have to make the running game an even bigger foundation of their offense. Ridley proved a lot last year and he’s a young talent with minimal mileage on his tires. He’s a tough and rugged runner, yet he moves well and has quick feet and some wiggle. Ridley actually played only 44.4% of their snaps in 2012, so there’s room for growth in terms of his role. He’s looking like a great #2 back running behind one of the better OLs in the league.

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