Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
At times last season, the Patriots took a page from the college spread-option craze to employ a marvelous no-huddle running game. Following the mass exodus of Tom Brady's receiving targets this offseason, the quick-hitting runs that served as situational gimmicks in 2012 could develop into a major facet of the offense in '13
Any fantasy football conversation about the Pats begins with Brady, but he's one of the few known commodities on this team this season. Bill Belichick has never been shy about adjusting his approach, and he'll need to do so again this season. New England's offense was supposed to revolve around the tight ends, but Aaron Hernandez is in jail facing a murder charge and Rob Gronkowski may miss time while recovering from back and arm injuries. Meanwhile, longtime Brady favorite Wes Welker is now a Denver Bronco.
That all bodes well for the running backs, particularly Stevan Ridley, who broke through with 1,263 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns last season. Ridley will be a second-round pick in most drafts this summer, but he could move into the end of the first round with a strong preseason. Regardless of his exact ADP, Ridley is poised for a huge breakthrough season if Belichick and Josh McDaniels can resist the temptation of going running back by committee. There's competition for snaps in New England's crowded backfield, but Ridley should get the starter's share.
The tight end situation will be worth tracking this preseason, as Gronk can be a great injury-risk sleeper pick for brave drafters. Jake Ballard will be a late-round pick, but he's capable of performing like a starter when he's healthy.
Meanwhile, while filling Welker's void at receiver won't be easy, free-agent acquisition Danny Amendola is positioned for a big season. Amendola is always an injury risk, though, so it may be tough to grab him at a position of value relative to the injury risk he poses. Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson (second-round pick) and Josh Boyce (fourth-round pick) will get good, long looks as potential threats on the outside with Amendola working in Welker's vacated slot position. Brady can make those rookies outstanding sleepers and instant fantasy options, so watch them closely in the preseason.
Shane Vereen is also spending some time lined up at wide receiver and could be a nice option in PPR formats. Fittingly, even New England's receiving situation involves a running back this year.
|New England Patriots' 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Pats' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
Save for a few games against the Bengals, Steelers, Ravens and Texans, the Patriots' schedule is as favorable as any team's. The Jets are the only decent defensive team in the AFC East, but while they'll be better this season than they were last, they're still no longer elite enough to justify sitting fantasy players against them. Home games against the Bucs, Saints and Bills should produce monster weeks for the Pats, while games against Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton should become shootouts, regardless of those opponents' defensive strength.
The Pats may need some time to find themselves early in the season, but they'll be aided by a light slate. Their toughest matchups come down the stretch in fantasy crunch time, but that shouldn't be enough to scare owners away from Brady or Ridley in drafts.
QB: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow
RB: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, Leon Washington
WR: Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman (foot), Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Michael Jenkins, Matt Slater
TE: Rob Gronkowski (back, arm), Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, Zach Sudfeld
K: Stephen Gostkowski
|New England Patriots' 2012 defensive rankings|
The Pats no longer boast the high-scoring offense they fielded in Brady's heyday, so a talented 4-3 defense will have to rise to the occasion in more low-scoring games. The front seven doesn't lack playmakers. The defensive line of Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork and Chandler Jones is underrated, and the linebacking corps of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes is star-studded.
The secondary has been suspect, but lower-scoring games could lead to fewer tests for the defensive backs. The secondary has more than enough talent to improve on its feeble 2012 stats, particularly with the addition of safety Adrian Wilson. Corners Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard and free safety Devin McCourty are capable of making strides.