For a fourth straight season, Razzball will be interviewing local NFL beat writers for some actual in-depth football knowledge to shed some additional light on our fantasy football knowledge. Keep your eye out for an interview for every NFL team through the summer. This installment comes courteous of Kevin O’Connor from leading New England Patriots blog Pats Pulpit (date of interview – August 14):
1) I usually don’t start at TE, but with the Patriots, I think that’s the most intriguing position to ask a Patriots expert about. Gronk and Hernandez were monsters last year, and with so many of Brady’s weapons gone, I’d assume there will be a lot of heavy packages for the run and numerous 2 TE sets like we saw last year. Couple questions here – how is Gronk recovering and when do you expect him back? And of the TEs battling for a roster spot – Zach Sudfeld (tons of buzz), Jake Ballard (used to have all the buzz), Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui – who do you expect to make the team and who do you think has the biggest season?
Interestingly, two tight end packages haven’t been utilized as often as I had expected during practices. Instead, an extra wide receiver or running back seems to be on the field during passing situations. At the starting training camp, Michael Hoomanawanui received almost all of the reps with the first-team but has since been beaten out by Zach Sudfeld. Zach does everything well that you would hope for, he runs very clean routes, extends well for the ball, and seems to have a good grasp of the offense.
Here’s the thing that people must be careful of in their mock drafts: before Rob Gronkowski returns, no matter what tight end starts the year is likely to have their snaps cut drastically once Gronk is back. Considering the lack of two-tight end sets on passing downs, I think you’re better off drafting another team’s tight end to have over the course of the season, instead of going with a guy like Sudfeld as a sleeper, and then dropping him for another player once Rob Gronkowski returns.
At this point, I think Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Jake Ballard will be non-factors in 12-team (or under) fantasy football leagues. In 14-team leagues I think Zach Sudfeld could be very useful early in the season if Rob Gronkowski misses any time with injury.
But that’s the problem; nobody really knows when Gronk will be back. Could it be week one? Sure. Could the Patriots decide to put him on the PUP, making his return sometime after week six? Sure. If you’re lucky enough to have a late draft you might be able to receive the news of Gronkowski’s return date. As of now he is just spending a lot of time around the team during practice, and I would assume he is going full-force in the film room. If I had to make a prediction, I think the Patriots will take Rob Gronkowski off the PUP and he’ll be back by week three at the latest.
2) Rookie WR Andre Dobson got a lot of hype when drafted as the hopeful benefactor with the production of Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker gone. But undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins has been getting rave reviews from everything I’d heard while Dobson has some learning to do. Which of those WRs do you like more for this season and do you think either could be a solid fantasy starter?
Funny that you bring up Brandon Lloyd. Before training camp had started, I predicted that Aaron Dobson would come close to replicating Lloyd’s production from last season. He was my top sleeper wide receiver and I was fully prepared to jump the gun and draft him early in my 12-man league. However, after watching almost three weeks of practice and one pre-season game, I don’t think he will do it. That is not to say he isn’t worth a potential late (and I mean late) draft pick, but Kenbrell Thompkins likely has more upside as a fantasy wide receiver.
But upside doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Thompkins will likely have a successful rookie year, as will Dobson, but for fantasy purposes I don’t have the highest expectations for either player. I think Dobson and Thompkins will split their output this season, meaning a guy named Julian Edelman could be the surprise fantasy receiver.
In standard, as well as full and half PPR leagues, I think Julian Edelman is worth a draft pick. If he manages to stay healthy (that’s the concern), it’s not out of the question for him to catch over 60-to-70 passes this year. Since Edelman started practicing this summer, he has been a fixture on the Pats first-team offense between the 20’s, as well as in the red zone. He also has value as a punt returner. In all types of leagues I would draft each Patriots reserve wide receiver in this order: 1. Julian Edelman, 2. Kenbrell Thompkins, 3. Aaron Dobson, 4. Josh Boyce. But out of these players, I believe Aaron Dobson could still catch the most touchdowns over the course of the year, and possibly be better in the second-half of the season.
3) Across from those rookies will be Danny Amendola, who could be a monster in PPR leagues if he fits the Wes Welker role. Are the Patriots hoping he can immediately be the new Welker and how worried are you about Amendola’s lengthy injury history?
I don’t think Danny Amendola will have a role exactly like Wes Welker, but I do think the Patriots and people that draft him should expect similar statistics. Considering his usage in training camp, there’s no doubt that Amendola is Tom Brady’s number one target when the team needs a completion. So many times I have seen Brady go to Amendola on simulated third-and-five downs, or on second-and-longs when an easier third-down must be created.
This should translate directly to the regular season and it’s realistic to assume that Amendola will have a floor of 80 catches and a ceiling of 115 catches. Averaging around 12.5-yards per catch, that puts him between 950-yards and 1,400-yards on the season. While I would predict a more reasonable 1,200 yards, it’s exciting to think about his upside since he can some things that Wes Welker can’t do down the field.
As for Amendola’s injury history, I tend to be more concerned with players that have nagging injuries (like sprained ankles) or repeating injuries (like Danario Alexander’s knees). I believe that Amendola has just been extremely unlucky. He suffered two extremely fluky injuries: a dislocated elbow and a broken clavicle. After returning from his clavicle last year he turned his ankle, which is bound to happen when you are out of practice. In short, no, I am not concerned about his injury potential. I am much more worried about players like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
4) Stevan Ridley provided huge value for owners who went with him last year, and with all the question marks in the Patriots passing game, the assumption is the Pats are going to run often. Do you agree with this assessment? Will Ridley get consistent big workloads this year?
In standard leagues, go ahead and draft Stevan Ridley in the second round. I fully expect Ridley to put up similar statistics, around 80-yards per game, with over 10 touchdowns over the course of the season. He is no doubt the Patriots number-one goal line running back and the team has made that clear in training camp, unloading Ridley, who has appeared to put on more muscle from last year.
But in full or half PPR leagues, be aware that Ridley will not be a factor in the Patriots passing game at all. It’s still possible he outscores many other PPR-friendly running backs, but that will be based more on touchdowns over anything else. If your draft is coming up, ask yourself this, “will Stevan Ridley’s touchdowns prove to be more valuable than so-and-so’s passing receptions?” If the answer is yes, don’t be afraid to go with Ridley. If you’re in a PPR league, it doesn’t mean that you have to draft a pass-catching running back like Shane Vereen.
5) Stemming from the question above, Shane Vereen looks to be used in a variety of ways, lining up as a receiver on top of normal duty as a RB. How many touches/catches do you see him having per game? Also LeGarrette Blount had a huge preseason opener with 101 yards and 2 TDs. Will he have any impact this season, or is he just added depth?
I believe that Shane Vereen will have a better year than Danny Woodhead did last year. Woodhead had over 700-yards of total offense, 40-receptions, and seven touchdowns. I think the loss of Aaron Hernandez is a good thing for Shane Vereen, not because he runs a similar route tree, but because the offense is more tailored towards him instead of the tight ends. Vereen should put up close to 1,000 yards of total offense with around five-to-ten touchdowns. I think he’s worthy of a third-to-fourth round draft pick in full PPR leagues, a fifth-to-seventh in half PPR, and a seventh-to-ninth in standard leagues.
LeGarrette Blount had a huge preseason opener but I can’t imagine he becomes even a minor factor unless Stevan Ridley gets hurt or fumbling becomes a major problem. Blount has looked very good in camp but is also competing with second-year running back Brandon Bolden for a roster spot. If Shane Vereen happened to come down with an injury, I think Bolden would get an uptick in snaps because he is a much better pass catcher than Blount is. Both of them deserve a roster spot, but I can’t imagine they both get it, since Leon Washington probably has one as a kick returner.
Kevin O’Connor (@Kevin__OConnor) currently writes for SB Nation’s PatsPulpit.com. He has played fantasy football for over ten years and has placed first in three of his leagues. Follow him on Twitter if you like to talk sports, music, photography, or Breaking Bad.