2020 New England Patriots Fantasy Team Outlook: Finding an Edge in the New Unknown

SI Fantasy's Team Outlook series from high-stakes legend Shawn Childs aims to break down the New England Patriots to evaluate the offense, defense, coaches and everyone in between with a fantasy-slanted analysis.
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Coaching Staff

Bill Belichick returns to the New England Patriots for his 21st season. His road to success will be much harder with QB Tom Brady no longer on the team. Belichick has a 237-83 record in New England with six Super Bowls and three other trips to the big game. The Patriots are 30-11 in the postseason since 2001. Belichick needs 56 wins to pass Don Shula for the most in NFL history.

New England won the AFC East in each of the past 11 seasons (16 of 17 years). They have ten or more wins in every season since 2003.

New England fell to 15th in yards gained, which was their lowest showing since 2002. They fell to 7th in points scored after nine straight seasons with a top-four ranking.

Josh McDaniels returns for another season as he looks positioned to take over as head coach when Bill Belichick retires. McDaniels worked in New England’s system for 16 seasons after a brief two-year run as head coach for the Broncos (11-17) and one season as the offensive coordinator for the Rams.

The Patriots finished with the best defense in the league in points allowed (225) and yards allowed. They improved by 20 spots from 2019 in yards allowed (21st).

New England will go without a defensive coordinator for the second straight season. Belichick handled the job in 2019, and he will again this year.

Free Agency

The loss of Brady can’t be replaced in 2020. New England had too many questions at the receiver position, which may have been part of Brady's departure.

The Patriots’ defense lost LB Kyle Van Noy, LB Jamie Collins, LB Elandon Roberts, and DT Danny Shelton.

New England signed S Adrian Phillips, DT Beau Allen, S Cody Davis, and LB Brandon Copeland to their defense.

Their offense didn’t have any other significant changes in any direction.

Draft

After trading out of the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft, New England selected S Kyle Duggar and LB Josh Uche in the second round.

Duggar comes to the NFL with an explosive skill set while owning an edge in size (6’1” and 217 lbs.). He played at a small school (Lenoir-Rhyne). His playmaking skill set will have further growth at the next level once he improves his reads on the quarterback. Duggar should develop into a beast with his best value coming when attacking the line of scrimmage. His next step is expanding his vision to help create better timing in his pursuit.

The Patriots bought into Uche’s athletic ability with the hopes more playing time improves his feel for developing plays. His attacking style plays well when moving forward with a chance to add value in coverage. Even with strength, Uche will be stalemated on interior rushes if faced with a big body between him and the quarterback.

New England pushed again on the defensive side of the ball with their first pick in the third round (LB Anfernee Jennings). He came to college with a pass-rushing skill set that was built on power. Jennings plays with pop, and the vision to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. His foundation skill set grades well, but his ceiling may be limited when asked to retreat on his first press to the line of scrimmage.

The next order of business for the Patriots was adding a pulse to their tight position with two additions in the third round – Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.

Asiasi battled his body early in his career at UCLA. Last year his commitment to the game helped him make a significant step forward. Asiasi looked good, making plays downfield with some open field ability. He played faster than expected, and his hands and route running played up. Asiasi needs improvement as a blocker.

The combination of speed and strength for Keene makes him a unique option in this year’s draft. He plays with a fullback’s mentality while being tough to cover out of the backfield or in the slot. Keene has work to do in his route running if he wants to develop into a viable pass-catching option at tight end.

The Patriots may look back on their selection of K Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round. At this point in the draft, New England still had a shot at QB Jake Fromm who had ball-control game management skills.

Going bare at quarterback and selecting a kicker would seem like a significant mistake in the fantasy world.

Rohrwasser comes to the NFL with a big leg, but his resume has some flaws. The Patriots have had a great run with kickers over the past two decades. They need Rohrwasser to improve his technique.

With three of their final four picks in the third and fourth rounds, the Patriots added three offensive lineman – G Mike Onwenu, G Justin Herron, and C Dustin Woodard.

Onwenu should be a good fit for a quick-hitting power run game. He’ll own his small piece of real estate on the field if tested with a one-on-one fight. His first step limits his overall value and his ability to have follow-through with his blocks at the second level of the defense. Pass-rushers will test him in space and with counters.

Herron relies on his footwork to gain position in his blocks, but his hands are trailing. He has a nimble, athletic feel that should offer more upside with better technique and coaching. Out of the gate, Herron will struggle with power despite being in the game with his strength.

Woodard looks the part of an athletic center with quickness, but he comes to the NFL undersized (6’2” and 285 lbs.). He needs to improve his base while letting some plays come to him. At times, his quest for fire after the snap puts him out of position and at risk.

The Patriots added LB Cassh Maluia with their third selection in the sixth round. Big bodies in the NFL will challenge his game. Maluia adds the most value when having a clean run at the ball carrier with speed to cover his side of the field. Without better strength and improved vision, Maluia projects as a special teams player.

Offensive Line

The Patriots fell to the 18th place finish in rushing yards (1,703) with their ball carriers gaining only 3.8 yards per carry with 17 TDs and six runs over 20 yards. New England slipped to 8th in passing yards (3,961) with 25 TDs and nine Ints. Their offensive line allowed 28 sacks and 90 QB hits despite losing their left tackle for half the season.

LT Isaiah Wynn

After getting drafted 23rd in 2019, Wynn blew out his left Achilles in mid-August, costing him his rookie season. Last year a toe issue led to another eight missed games. He struggled in run blocking while playing well in pass protection. Coming into the NFL, Wynn offered value in both run and pass blocking while falling short of NFL measurables for the left tackle position. The talent to be an edge, but he may need some time to develop at the next level.

LG Joe Thuney

Thuney has experience as well at tackle, but he’s just finding his way at guard. In his fourth year in the league after getting drafted in the third round, Thuney continued to show growth in pass-blocking with neutral value in the run game. His game is built on attacking quickly with an edge in speed and quickness. Thuney started 16 games in all four of his seasons. He is an improving player who will be helped by a better player at left tackle.

C David Andrews

Andrew is another player from the University of Georgia who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015. In 2019, he missed the whole year due to a blood clot in his lung. Over his previous three seasons, Andrews started 46 of 48 games. His pass blocking is now considered an edge, but he did regress to his previous levels in the run game in 2018. Overall, Andrew is a neutral player with enough on his resume to expect more growth going forward.

RG Shaquille Mason

Mason signed a five-year, $50 million extension in 2018. Run blocking has always been his strength, but New England did regress in the run game last year. Mason tends to be an asset in pass protection. His career started in 2015 at left guard. The switch to his new position led to growth in his game.

RT Marcus Cannon

Cannon has only once started all 16 games in his nine years with the Patriots. In 2016, Cannon played great in his only full season of work. Over the last three years, he’s been a league-average player at best while missing 13 games. I expect him to be a placeholder until incumbent Yodny Cajuste, who missed his rookie season with a quad injury after getting drafted in the third round in 2019.

The loss of Tom Brady and his quick release may lead to a significant regression in the play of the Patriots’ offensive line. The run game was a mess last year, even with production in touchdowns. On paper and based on their previous success, New England's offensive line grades above-average.

Offensive Schedule

The data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).

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This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.

2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.

2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.

2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league-average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.

New England has three below-par matchups (BAL and NYJ X 2) for their rushing offense and three other mid-tier games (LV and BUF X 2). Their best success on the ground should come against Miami (2) and Kansas City.

The Patriots start the year with three decent matchups (MIA, SEA, and LV) for their passing offense. Over the next 13 games, they have two winnable games (HOU and ARI) plus five tough contests (SF, BAL, LAC, and BUF X 2). Overall, New England has the ninth most challenging passing schedule.

Offense

Ideally, New England would like to be productive in the passing game while having the talent to control the clock late with their run game. The change at quarterback in 2020 will lead to a game management approach with the hopes that their defense keeps this in games.

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Here’s a look at the early projections for New England, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:

Quarterbacks

QB Jarrett Stidham, NE

Over three years in college, Stidman passed for 7,217 yards with 48 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Over his final two years in college, Stidham minimized the damage in interceptions (11) while lacking a top opportunity in the passing game (27.4 passes per game). His best year came in 2017 (3,158 passing yards and 18 TDs). Even with 103 rushes that season, he gained only 153 yards (1.5 yards per rush) with four TDs.

Filling the shoes of Tom Brady will be a tall task for any QB. Last summer, Stidham flashed in the preseason (819 combined yards with four TDs and one Int). He completed 67.8 percent of his passes while gaining 8.1 yards per pass attempt, Surprisingly, his legs (17/88) played better than expected. I’m intrigued by his skill set and upside, but he may need some time to develop into a viable starting QB in the NFL. For now, just a player to follow until we see success on the field.

QB Brian Hoyer, NE

Hoyer looks like a veteran insurance policy for the Patriots. Over his last 12 starts over four seasons, he went 1-11. Over this span plus games off the bench, Hoyer passed for 3,111 yards with 14 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.

Other options: Brian Lewerke, J’Mar Smith

Running Backs

Here’s a look at the running back data for the Patriots over the last three seasons:

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The Patriots' running backs averaged about 166 targets over the past three years, which led to 123 catches for 1,032 yards and eight passing TDs. Their backs lost almost a half a yard per carry in 2019 while maintaining value in rushing touchdowns (15.3 per year).

The downside here is that New England tends to rotate in multiple running backs.

RB Sony Michel, NE

The excitement of Michel being an upside runner on early downs is dwindling. He continued to offer no value in the passing game. Over 456 rushes in his NFL career, Michel gained over 20 yards on just seven plays. His yards per carry dropped to 3.7, painting him as a grinder back going forward. Last year Michel lacked the wheels to make big plays when reaching the second level of the defense. He averaged 16.2 touches per game. Trending down, which points to RB Damien Harris stealing plenty of his chances on early downs. A downgrade at QB is also a negative.

His early ADP (97) paints him as a late RB3 in PPR leagues. Michel is projected for 770 combined yards with six touchdowns and 11 catches.

RB James White, NE

White wasn't nearly as impactful in 2019 after finishing seventh in RB scoring (277.1) in PPR leagues in 2018. His one impact game (177 combined yards with two TDs and eight catches) came in Week 13, but White didn’t score over 16.0 fantasy points in any other contest. Last season, the Patriots completed 121 passes for 1,133 yards and six TDs to the running back position. With Tom Brady no longer behind center, New England will have some decline in RB chances in the passing game. Only a steady short-term injury or bye week cover heading into the draft season.

His initial draft value comes just behind Michel with a step back in his early projections (640 combined yards with four TDs and 54 catches.

RB Damien Harris, NE

Harris has the "it factor" an NFL team should be looking for in a lead back. He gives off the appearance of a bigger back than his size (5'11" and 213 lbs.). His first step acceleration after downshifting in tight quarters gives him many winning plays. Harris drives through contact with a unique feel for finding more open field. He tests defenses when reaching the second level with his vision and power. His pass-catching opportunity was short due to Josh Jacobs shining brighter in this area in Alabama. Harris doesn't fumble, and his game grades well in pass protection. Last year New England gave him only four touches while battling a hamstring injury over the final seven weeks. Breakout potential.

Other options: Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor

Wide Receivers

Last year New England struggled to find a viable second wide receiver. Phillip Dorsett finished second on the team in catches (29) and receiving yards (397). Despite little produced behind WR Julian Edelman, the Patriots’ wide receivers had growth in catches (219), receiving yards (2,552), and targets (367).

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WR Julian Edelman, NE

Edelman has been a great warrior for the Patriots and is coming off his second-best fantasy season (100/1117/6). His chief left the pow wow, pointing to regression in his opportunity. He had a floor of six catches in ten contests in 2019, but the Patriots’ fading offense led to a quiet final four games (13 catches for 137 yards and no TDs on 23 targets). Edelman averaged 6.4 catches for 70 yards and 0.39 TDs over his previous 83 games.

Fantasy drafters priced him as the 39th wide receiver off the board in PPR leagues in the early draft season with an ADP of 101. Fluctuating player based on who earns the starting job at QB. I have him projected for 81 catches for 901 yards and five touchdowns.

WR N’Keal Harry, NE

New England fans came away from 2019 wondering if Harry would be a stud or a dud. In his limited playing time last year, he struggled to get on the same page with QB Tom Brady, which led to him catching only half (12) of his targets (24). Harry missed the first nine games with his recovery from his right ankle injury. In his seven games played, he gained fewer than 30 yards receiving while failing to catch over three passes in any week. Talented player, but the Patriots’ offense is full of cloudiness this year. Viable flier as WR6 if the summer reports remain positive.

There are lots of moving parts here, starting with the quarterback. My conservative projections for Harry in his sophomore season are 52 catches for 677 yards and four TDs. He has an ADP of 168 as the 61st wide receiver in mid-May in the high-stakes market.

WR Mohamed Sanu, NE

Over his last four seasons, Sanu has a floor of 59 catches. His game looked rather dull (26/207/1) with New England while gaining only 8.0 yards per catch (8.8 on the year). He gained fewer than 30 yards with three catches or fewer in 10 of his final 11 games. Sanu had surgery in February to repair an issue with a high ankle sprain that bothered him over since late November. His best season came in 2018 (882 combined yards with four TDs and 66 catches). Sanu may start the year as the WR2 for the Patriots if WR N’Keal Harry doesn’t hit the ground running. Below a replacement level floor at this point in his career while lacking a playable ceiling.

WR Marqise Lee, NE

Lee will try to reinvent his career with the Patriots after missing most of the past two seasons with a torn ACL in his left knee and a left shoulder issue in 2019. Lee flashed a possession skill set in 2016 (63/851/3), but he’s failed to live up to expectations after getting drafted in the second round in 2014. Waiver wire player if the Patriots show a pulse in their passing game in 2020, and Lee works himself into a WR3 role.

WR Jakobi Meyers, NE

In his rookie season, Meyer caught 26 of his 41 targets for 359 yards over 15 games. In his only start, he gained 74 yards with four catches on nine targets. Meyers played well in Week 6 (5/47) and Week 7 (5/47) when he caught all nine of his targets off the bench. Last preseason with Jarrett Stidham behind center for most plays, Meyers caught 20 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.

In his junior season at North Carolina State, he finished with 92 catches for 1,047 yards and four TDs. Meyers runs good routes, and his hands graded well, coming out of college. There’s intrigue here if he earns a starting role.

Other options: Damiere Byrd, Gunner Olszewski, Devin Ross, Quincy Adeboyejo

Tight Ends

The decline in production for the Patriots’ TEs started in 2018. That season Rob Gronkowski (47/682/3) played in 13 games, but he finished with only 5.5 targets per game. In 2019, New England struggled to find opportunities for their tight ends, leading to only 37 catches for 419 yards and two TDs on 53 targets.

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TE Devin Asiasi, NE

Asiasi looked in better shape in 2019, after weighing in at almost 280 earlier in his college career. He showed the talent to make plays (44/641/4 on 70 targets – 14.6 yards per catch) at all three levels of the defense. His best value appears to be when moving forward with the ability to sit down vs. zone coverage. Asiasi loses some separation when asked to work back to the ball out of breaks over the field's short areas. His hands should be assets, and he offers deceiving speed and quickness downfield. Asiasi grades as a neutral option in the blocking game, which will improve with better foundation skills. The Patriots have a big void at TE, which gives Asiasi a chance to be semi-productive in his rookie year. Player to follow with the opportunity to develop into a TE2 option in fantasy leagues.

TE Dalton Keene, NE

Over three seasons at Virginia Tech, Keene caught 59 of his 70 targets for 748 yards and eight TDs. His best opportunity and production came in 2018 (28/341/3). The Patriots will look to use him out of the backfield or on movement plays at tight end. His next step is developing his pass routes, which will help improve his playing time.

Other options: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, Jake Burt

Kicker

K Justin Rohrwasser, NE

Over two seasons at Marshall, Rohwasser made 33 of his 42 field goals (78.6 percent) while showing growth (18-for-21) in his senior year. His college career started at the University of Rhode Island, where he saw limited field goal chances (15-for-20) over two seasons. Before last year, Rohwasser only made three of his ten kicks from forty yards or more (no tries over 50 yards). The Patriots’ kicker typically ranks in the top-ten, but the change at quarterback points to a regression in scoring. Rohrwasser improved in 2019, but his resume is short. Only a flier and he may not win the job over the summer.

Defensive Schedule

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In their division, the Patriots have four games (NYJ X 2 and MIA X 2) against teams that struggled to run the ball in 2019. New England also has three contests (KC, LAR, and LAC) that ranked below the league average rushing the ball. Their biggest struggles against the run will come against the Ravens and the 49ers.

Over the final 12 games in 2020, the Patriots face seven opponents (DEN, BAL, ARI, BUF X 2, and NYJ X 2) that ranked poorly last year passing the ball. Denver and Arizona should be improved, and the Bills and Jets added help at wide receiver in the draft or through free agency. New England will be tested in the passing game by Kansas City. I expect the Rams and the Chargers to regress from last year’s stats in the passing game.

Defense

The Patriots allowed 4.2 yards per rush in 2019, but game score led to only 22.8 rushing attempts, and the 7th ranking in rushing yards allowed (1,528). Their run defense tightened up in the red zone leading to only seven rushing TDs. They gave up six runs over 20 yards, but four of those plays gained over 40 yards.

New England finished 2nd defending the pass with QBs passing for 2,886 yards with 13 TDs and 25 Ints. Their defense had only 47 sacks.

CB Stephon Gilmore

In his third year with Patriots, Gilmore set a career-high in interceptions (6) while returning two for touchdowns. Over the past two years, he allowed fewer than a 50 percent completion rate while ranking high in defended passes (20 each year). Gilmore remains a top player in coverage, but opponents continue to test him in the passing game. His play in run support in 2019 did regress.

CB Jason McCourty

In his career, McCourty has shown risk in multiple years, which was the case for him in 2018. Last year he missed four games and a minimal role in two other games. McCourty held receivers to a career-low in yards per catch with no TDs allowed. Only a league-average player for me who was helped by his supporting cast in 2019.

CB J.C Jackson

Jackson played well in coverage off the bench. In his 28 games of action, he already has eight interceptions and 16 defended passes. Jackson minimizes the damage in touchdowns with receivers catching a low percent of passes against him. In 2019, he started the last seven games (including the playoffs) with Jason McCourty banged up.

S Devin McCourty

The Patriots re-signed McCourty for another two seasons in March for $23 million. He continues to be one of the better players in the league at his positions with value in coverage, tackling, and run support. Before last year (one TD allowed), McCourty would give up some TDs. His tackles (58) came in at a career-low level in 2019 while having a spike in interceptions (5).

S Kyle Duggar

Duggar projects as an impact player while expected to take over at free safety once Devin McCourty hangs up his spikes for the Patriots. Duggar should see plenty of action in his rookie season with the talent to make plays all over the field. His most considerable risk early in his career may be in coverage.

New England should fill the strong safety position in 2020 with Patrick Chung and Adrian Phillips. Chung struggled in all areas last year, and he did have an off-the-field incident. When at his best, Chung can help in coverage while being a steady tackler. Phillips will look to regain his 2018 form with the Chargers (94 tackles and nine defended passes) after missing nine games last year.

LB Dont'a Hightower

Hightower can no longer be considered a top player at linebacker. His play vs. the run faded over his last four seasons. He saw a rebound in his success rushing the quarterback (5.5 sacks) and tackles (71). Hightower will give up some big plays in the passing game and TDs.

LB Chase Winovich

In his rookie season off the bench, Winovich picked up 5.5 sacks and 26 tackles. He comes into the league with a linebacker’s frame. His high motor and first step quickness will create edges vs. the run and rushing the QB. Winovich’s next step is improving his field vision while learning a better feel for the developing play. His style works best when attacking the line of scrimmage, which may lead to some early weakness in pass coverage. Winovich should see a bump in playing time in 2020.

The Patriots Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche can be productive in their rookie seasons. Both players will add value to the pass rush. Uche should see the most playing time thanks to some value in pass coverage.

DT Lawrence Guy

In each season with New England, Guy set a career-high in tackles (58, 59, and 61). He made his last 80 starts while offering minimal upside rushing the quarterback. His best play tends to come vs. the run.

DT Adam Butler

Over the last three seasons, Butler worked as a rotational player with improving value in the pass rush. He set a career-high in sacks (6) in 2019 while inching forward defending the run.

DE Deatrich Wise

Last year Wise didn’t play well, which led to the lowest number of snaps in his three-year career. He flashed pass-rushing value in his rookie season while never being an asset in run support.

Team Defense

The Patriots’ defense played great last year, and they added three more players over the first three rounds of this year’s draft. Their secondary remains their strong suit. New England should be improved at the second level of the defense, and they want to rush the quarterback with their linebackers. I don’t see any impact players on the defensive line. I expect regression vs. the run and game score should lead to deterioration in all areas in 2020. Even with a top 2019 billing on defense, this defense falls a few spots in the draft ranking this year.