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Fantasy football mailbag: Pats' turmoil makes Brady a sleeper

Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Tom Brady will lean on Jake Ballard and his running backs more with the Pats' turmoil at tight end.

With Aaron Hernandez's name scratched off fantasy football cheat sheets and Rob Gronkowski possibly headed for the PUP list, fantasy owners are wondering where the Patriots will turn to fill their void at tight end. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is certain: Tom Brady and his offense will create a productive fantasy player. Nonetheless, Patriot angst headlines this week's fantasy football Mailbag:

Two parts: How do you rate Tom Brady with all the tight end issues going on in New England? And is Jake Ballard a No. 1 tight end next year?
-- Brett Tresky, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

It was already surprising to see Brady slip into the fifth round of analyst mock drafts back in May. Likely, the fall was a function of the thick top tiers at quarterback, but it is now where Brady has to be ranked. He had just 30 completions a year ago to receivers or tight ends currently on the roster, if you exclude Gronkowski: Julian Edelman (21), Michael Hoomanawanui (five) and Daniel Fells (four).

Brady's offense has always been successful because of timing, practice and work. Ask Chad Johnson. Brady is now starting over with offseason signees Danny Amendola and Donald Jones, rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and a bunch of retreads like Michael Jenkins and Matt Slater.

With his lack of supporting cast, you can make a case to pick Brady after 10 quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Matthew Stafford and maybe even (gasp) Tony Romo. This doesn't even mention Andrew Luck! Brady is going to be listed as a bust by many fantasy analysts, but the reality is his suppressed draft position is going to make him a sleeper, particularly if he lasts that long on draft day. Brady just makes everyone he works with better.

That means Ballard has the potential to perform like a No. 1 tight end. Before missing all of 2012 after knee surgery, Ballard led all tight ends with 15.9 yards per reception as he racked up 38 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns with Eli Manning's modified run and shoot in 2011. With Hoomanawanui and Fells little more than reserve blocking ends, Ballard will likely be listed listed as the Pats starter until Gronkowski returns to the field.

A side note on the Patriots: The running back position is now the the team's strength. Stevan Ridley is a sure-fire second-round pick, Shane Vereen might be the first handcuff off the board and Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount are draft-worthy in the late rounds. We could see the old, wise Bill Belichick making the Pats a run-heavy team again.

My family fantasy league requires two quarterbacks. Most rankings, cheat sheets and advice don't apply well to our league as everything I've read says to draft running backs early and leave the quarterbacks for later. How would you rank the QBs vs. the RBs in a two-QB league?
-- David W, Overland Park, Kan.

You bring up a good point, but with the possibility of a Tom Brady slipping into the back half of the top-tier fantasy quarterbacks, you still should pick your running back (or Calvin Johnson) in the first round. There just isn't much difference from with the No. 1 quarterback to the eighth or ninth in terms of potential this year. Also, the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco are solid No. 2s. The advisable strategy in two-quarterback formats should be to get one of the top 10 and a second in the top 16. The later you pick the first quarterback, the quicker you should turn around and pick your second, likely back-to-back in the early to middle rounds.

I am in a 12-team, one-keeper fantasy league. Do you think that the quarterback field is so deep in fantasy that it would be worth keeping a top-10 running back like Trent Richardson over the No. 1-rated fantasy player, Drew Brees? I have Calvin Johnson as well, who I am strongly considering choosing, too. What do you think?
-- Jeff Jacobson, Vancouver

First, Rodgers shoudkl still rank higher than Brees, even if Brees scored more points last season. Rodgers is younger and has better targets. Second, Megatron is the first player among that trio that will go off the board in standard drafts. He is also more of a sure thing than Richardson, who is always banged up in some way and posted a sub-4.0 yards per carry. Richardson's fantasy points are too dependent on short touchdowns. Megatron is the pick and you should feel confident in getting a top-eight quarterback after the first few of rounds of your keeper draft.

When will SI's fantasy football issue be available?
-- Matty Suzuki, Richmond, Va.

It is already on newsstands! Pick it up now for your summer vacation reading pleasure.

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