Bill Belichick will coach his 22nd season for the Patriots with a chip on his shoulder after missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 and seeing his former QB Tom Brady lead Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl title. Belichick has a 244–92 record in New England with six Super Bowls and three other trips to the big game. The Patriots have gone 30–11 in the postseason since 2001. Belichick needs 49 wins to pass Don Shula for the most in NFL history.
The Pats won the AFC East 11 times over the past 12 seasons (16 titles over the last 18 years). New England saw its streak of 10 or more wins end at 17 seasons in 2020.
New England fell to 27th in yards gained, which tied their lowest showing in franchise history. They scored 326 points (27th), 94 points fewer than 2019.
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 17 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 lost multiple players last year on their defense due to COVID-19 concerns, which led to them slipping to 15th in yards allowed and seventh in points allowed (353—128 more than 2019).
New England may go without a defensive coordinator for the third straight season. They brought back Matt Patricia after he struggled as the head coach for the Lions (13-29-1). Belichick should make the final decisions while relying on his defensive coaches for support.
New England addressed its emptiness at the receiver positions in the offseason. It signed TE Hunter Henry, TE Jonnu Smith, WR Nelson Agholor and WR Kendrick Bourne. Each of these players forces defenses to defend a more significant part of the field.
Henry has top-tier talent at the tight end position. Injuries cost him some development time, but he should be a massive upgrade for New England in the passing game.
Smith gives the Patriots a second tight end who improves the scoring at the goal line, plus he’ll test defenses over the long field.
Agholor is a former first-round draft pick (2015) who found his groove last season in the deep passing game for the Raiders. He’ll drop some passes, but Agholor will get open at the third level of a defense. In a way, he could be the Ted Ginn type player that Cam Newton had success with in 2015 (44/739/10) and 2016 (53/787/4).
Bourne excels in two areas (run blocking and scoring in the red zone). His opportunity will be small while doing the dirty work at wide receiver for New England.
The Patriots lost G Joe Thuney to the Chiefs. He has been a top-tier player in pass projection over the last three seasons. CB Jason McCourty left to sign as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins.
The top upgrade on the offensive line was C Ted Karras. He returns to New England after one season in Miami. His ceiling is a league-average player.
Their impact signing on defense was DE Matthew Judon, who abandoned the Ravens’ ship. New England brought him in to get after the quarterback and shorten the passing window. They expect him to see most of his action on passing downs.
LB Kyle Van Noy struggled in his one season with the Dolphins. His play was exceptional in 2019 for New England, thanks to his ability to slow down the run and pressure the quarterback.
The Patriots bought into S Jalen Mills' growth as a player after switching to safety in 2020 for the Eagles. His issues in coverage came over the long field, where his lack of speed exposed him. Mills handles himself well in press coverage, which should be a win for New England's red zone defense.
LB Raekwon McMillan posted 105 tackles for the Dolphins in 2018 after getting drafted in the second round. He struggled in coverage while being a non-factor rushing the quarterback. In 2020, he added no value to the Raiders’ defense while seeing minimal action. McMillan projects to be a part-time player.
There was a lot of speculation in this year’s draft that the 49ers would take QB Mac Jones. New England desperately needed a young upside player to fill the void after losing Brady. Jones slipped to 15th overall, and the Patriots quickly added him to their roster.
QB Mac Jones
Jones is a pocket passer with no upside in the run game (54/42/2). Most of his college highlights are from long throws while sitting in an uncontested pocket. His ball placement was exceptional while also delivering a very catchable ball. Jones played with multiple pro-level wide receivers, which helped his bottom line.
His challenges will be his decision-making and success when given a smaller passing window. Jones needs to prove he can beat the blitz with a weaker core of receivers, never mind the expected downgrade on the offensive line.
DT Christian Barmore
New England traded up to select Barmore with the sixth selection in the second round. His quickness, hands, and explosiveness point to an impact player once he falls in line with the Pats' defensive team philosophy. He’ll upgrade the run defense plus add value to the pass rush. His two shortfalls (vision and decision-making) are coachable tools.
In the third and fourth rounds, the Patriots added a pair of players (DE Ronnie Perkins and RB Rhamondre Stevenson) from Oklahoma.
DE Ronnie Perkins
Perkins comes to the NFL with a worker bee mindset while having multiple questions about his ability to win against strength. His speed and quickness don’t separate him from the field, but Perkins has the vision and feel for play development to put himself in a position to make plenty of plays. With a free run at ball carriers or the quarterback, Perkins is going to be dangerous. His challenge comes when matched up in tight quarters against bigger bodies.
RB Rhamondre Stevenson
Stevenson shows nimble feet in tight quarters with better than expected quickness for his size (6’ 0” and 230 lbs.). He’ll finish runs with power and flash stutter steps in space to make defenders miss. Stevenson has sneaky upside as well in the passing game. His ability to feel open space when the quarterback is under duress increases his chances to be on the field on third down.
The Patriots added LB Cameron McGrone and S Joshuah Bledsoe in the fifth and sixth rounds.
LB Cameron McGrone
McGrone has limited experience in college, which led to his flying under the radar on draft day. His early play at Michigan painted him as an attacking player in the run game with the vision to see the development of plays. His risk comes from his eyes in the backfield style, which leads to mistakes on pass action and misdirection runs. McGrone has risk in coverage, putting him on the sidelines early in his career on passing downs. He is young enough to develop while owing the skill set to be a competitive player at the next level in due time.
S Joshuah Bledsoe
Bledsoe has a press cornerback feel, but his lack of speed leaves him exposed over the long field. The Patriots should move him to safety, where his coverage duties will come against slower-footed receivers. Bledsoe should match up well in slot coverage in the red zone, where a small passing window helps his game. His game needs growth in tackling while bringing risk defending the run.
OT Will Sherman
Sherman needs to make up for his weakness in strength to fire off the snap. His aggressiveness can lead to him opening a losing window in pass protection. He works hard with the quickness to excel in a fast-hitting run game. Sherman will be better served by developing patience to his attack after adding more power to his game.
WR Tre Nixon
New England took a swing at Nixon as a potential slot receiving option. He shows the ability to create out of his release with the route running ability to test a defense over the short areas of the field and surprise in the deep passing game. His biggest question will be his hands while under duress.
The Patriots climbed to fourth in rushing yards (2,346) thanks to Newton adding value to the run game. Their ball carriers gained 4.7 yards per carry with 20 touchdowns and 13 runs over 20 yards. New England fell to 30th in passing yards (3,124) with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 37 sacks.
LT Isaiah Wynn
After getting drafted 23rd overall in 2019, Wynn blew out his left Achilles in mid-August, costing him his rookie season. In 2019, a toe issue led to eight missed games plus another seven contests last year with an ankle issue and a knee injury. When on the field, Wynn shined in run blocking while playing well in pass projection. The Patriots need him to stay healthy to reach his potential.
LG Mike Onwenu
Despite coming to New England as a sixth-round pick in 2020, Onwenu made 16 starts at four different positions. He allowed minimal pressure on the quarterback while excelling in the run game. 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 ability to follow through with his blocks at the second level of the defense. Pass-rushers will test him in space and with counters.
C David Andrews
In 2019, he missed the whole year due to a blood clot in his lung. Andrews suited up for 12 games last year due to a thumb injury and calf issue. He lost his rhythm in pass protection with some regression in the run game.
RG Shaquille Mason
Mason signed a five-year, $50 million extension in 2018. Run blocking has always been his strength, which played well with Newton starting at quarterback. Mason tends to be an asset in pass protection despite a step back in play in 2020.
RT Justin Herron
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. He’ll battle multiple players for the final spot on the Patriots’ offensive line.
New England has four players that grade well with their strength coming in the run game. The Patriots upgrade their receiving core, which bodes well for their passing game; therefore, their pass blocking should be league average at a minimum.
New England will challenge for second-best in the AFC East with the Buffalo Bills appearing to be the favorite. The Pats own an edge with their coaching staff while looking positioned to be a top defense and have success running the ball. Last year the Patriots ran the ball 53.3% of the time and improvements in the passing game should come with new talent arriving.
Newton didn’t do much to endear Patriots fans after losing Tom Brady. Their fans have a long history of winning, so anything short of that was a failure.
He finished with eight passing touchdowns while averaging only 177 passing yards per game. He set a career-high in his completion rate (65.8), which is impressive when considering the weakness in the receiving core. The coaching staff likely avoided putting Newton in position to make bad decisions or force passes. He ran the ball well (137/592) while making up for his shortfall in scoring via the air with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Newton passed for more than 300 yards in two games (397/1 and 365/1) while having more than one passing touchdown in only one contest (242/3).
Fantasy Outlook: The addition of Henry and Smith will be a win in red-zone scoring and make the most of the middle of the field. New England now has a deep threat with Nelson Agholor. If N’Keal Harry can become relevant, Newton has the tools to pass for over 4,000 yards. The Patriots have a talented incoming rookie quarterback, but his window to start will only come with failure by Newton.
In the early draft season, he has an ADP of 202 as the 32nd quarterback draft, which is foolish. His ceiling is a top-five quarterback while owning job loss risk. For example, if Newton passed for 3,500 yards and passed for 16 TDs last year, he could've been a QB1. Point being, there's a lot of room for improvement for what is now a QB afterthought.
Jones is another quarterback coming into the NFL in 2021 with a short resume of success. In a limited role in 2019, he passed for 1,503 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. His star shined last year when Jones led Alabama to the national championship. He completed 77.4 % of his passes for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and four interceptions. His highlight game (464/5) came against Ohio State in the title game.
Fantasy Outlook: Jones found an ideal home for his NFL career. He’ll have a great coaching staff to help build his foundation. For now, the fantasy community needs to watch his progress this summer and listen to the coachspeak out of New England.
Over three years at Auburn, Stidham 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.
In his two seasons as a backup quarterback for the Patriots, Stidham completed 50% of his passes with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Fantasy Outlook: This year, he’ll only be a placeholder as the backup quarterback until Jones is ready to steal the keys to the offense.
New England gained 4.8 yards per carry, but they only scored eight touchdowns due to Newton sniping plenty of scores. Their backs had a sharp decline in production in the passing game (95/772/6 on 122 targets) after the change at quarterback. Despite the appearance, New England still finished with 33.6% of their completions to running backs and 25% of their passing yards, which fell in line with how the Patriots ran their offense over the previous two seasons.
Last year, I owned Harris in many leagues with the thought that Sony Michel lost his explosiveness and had injury risk. Harris ended up missing the first three games due to a finger issue that required surgery.
Over the next nine games, he gained 743 combined yards with two touchdowns and five catches on 137 carries. Harris gained an impressive 5.0 yards per rush while gaining over 100 yards in three contests (17/100, 16/102/1, and 22/121). His lack of value in the passing game was a strike, and Newton stole the rushing production in close at the goal-line. His season ended in Week 14 when Harris suffered an ankle injury.
Fantasy Outlook: The running back situation looks cloudy again in 2021, with Harris battling Michel for the early-down touches. James White should regain the lion’s share of the catches while working as the change-of-pace option when the game score gets out of line. This leaves Harris as a dull option despite offering plenty of upside. His early ADP is 106 as the 36th running back drafted. I wouldn’t view him as a viable RB3/flex play unless Michel were out of the equation. He has an outside chance at 1,000 combined yards with short touchdowns and catches if things break his way.
The Patriots limited Michel’s snaps over the first three games, leading to 196 combined yards and one touchdown, and two catches on 26 carries. He broke a couple of long runs in Week 3 (9/117 with two catches for 23 yards, setting up some excitement with his value/opportunity. Unfortunately, Michel missed the next seven games with a quad issue while only having one snap in Week 12.
Over his last five games, he gained 367 combined yards with one touchdown and five catches on 53 rushes. Michel had six runs over 20 yards on his 86 chances compared to seven over his 473 touches in 2018 and 2019. New England didn’t pick up his option for the fifth year, which may be a sign of a short role in 2021.
Fantasy Outlook: His usage almost matches how New England featured Harris in 2020. Michel showed scoring ability over his first 29 games (13 touchdowns) while regaining a bounce in his step last year. He’ll get his chances, but Harris should lead the team in carries. Michel will be tough to start in fantasy leagues while having a handcuff feel. He has an ADP of 230 in early May.
White's seventh-place PPR finish in 2018 should be nothing more than a long distant memory.
In 2020, he finished with 496 combined yards with three touchdowns and 49 catches over 14 games. After catching 15 passes for 103 yards in two games in Week 4 and Week 6, Newton struggled to get him the ball over the final 11 games (31/242/1) while also dealing with the loss of his father.
Fantasy Outlook: The Patriots will be a better team passing the ball this year, and White should see close to 70% of running back catch opportunities. I’m setting his bar at 700 combined yards with about 60 catches and a handful of touchdowns. He is a spot player in PPR leagues only.
Despite limited touches (193) over two seasons with the Sooners, Stevenson does bring intrigue. He has a fullback build (6’ 0” and 245 lbs.) with surprising speed (4.63 forty) for that size. Stevenson finished with 1,478 combined yards with 13 touchdowns and 28 catches with Oklahoma. His 2020 season was cut short by five games due to suspension (failed drug test). He started his college career at Cerritos College (2,286 combined yards with 16 touchdowns and 13 catches in 2018).
His path at the next level will start as a short-yardage, goal-line player. If given the right opportunity in a high-scoring offense, Stevenson has the tools to exceed expectations. The key is staying within his frame and focusing on winning between the tackles.
Fantasy Outlook: Stevenson is a player to keep an eye on in training camp. He needs an injury or two to receive a playable fantasy opportunity in 2021, which isn't a stretch given the injury troubles with Harris & Michel.
Other Options: Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor
The Patriots’ wide receivers in 2020 (168/2,063/4) had almost the same production as 2018 (175/2,250/16). Well, except for that massive decline in scoring (down to four from 16 in 2018. They finished with 59.4% of the quarterback completions that led to 66% of their passing yards.
The slot baton in New England’s passing game is now in the hands of Meyers after Julian Edelman retired.
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.
Meyers caught 26 of his 41 targets for 359 yards over 15 games in his rookie season. 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. In the preseason in 2019, with Jarrett Stidham behind center for most plays, Meyers caught 20 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Last year he only had one catch for seven yards over the first five weeks. Meyers was New England’s best wide receiver over their final 11 games (58/722 on 80 targets), highlighted by two contests (12/169 and 7/111). His catch rate (72.5) commands more chances.
Fantasy Outlook: Meyers is the clear-cut top passing option for New England this year. I expect a minimum of 80 catches for 1,000+ yards and about five touchdowns. He has almost a free ADP (241) in the early draft season in 12-team leagues.
I’d love to say that Harry is a third-year breakout player, but it would take a lot of faith in his game after two quiet seasons (12/105/2 and 33/309/2). In his short career, he’s gaining only 9.2 yards per catch with two catches over 20 yards.
Over his two best seasons at Arizona State, Harry caught 155 catches for 2,230 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Patriots added with the 32nd pick in the 2019 draft.
Fantasy Outlook: Harry has a lot to prove, and he will be found in the free-agent pool in just about every 12-team league. The only bet here comes with positive reports out of training camp.
The Eagles used Agholor close to the line of scrimmage over five seasons, which led to him gaining only 11.2 yards per catch. His best two years in Philly came in 2017 (62/768/8) and 2018 (64/736/4). After signing with the Raiders, Las Vegas featured him as a deep threat. Agholor finished 48 catches for 896 yards and eight touchdowns over 82 targets (18.7 yards per catch). He had 15 catches over 20 yards, with five of those earning over 40 yards.
Fantasy Outlook: Agholor should be the Patriots’ top receiver drafted in the fantasy market in 2021, but he may end up being their fifth option in the passing game behind White, Meyers, Henry, and possibly Harry if he develops. More of a game-breaker with a chance at a 50/750/7 stat line.
A couple of injuries to the 49ers' top receiver options helped Bourne post his best year (49/667/2). He caught 65.4% of his passes over the past three seasons with 11 touchdowns in 47 games. Bourne blocks well, and he will add value to the passing game in the red zone.
Fantasy Outlook: With no elite seasons on his resume after coming into the league as an undrafted free agent, Bourne has a wild card feel. He’s trending upward, but he has to beat Harry to earn a starting job in three-wide receiver sets.
Other Options: Tre Nixon, Gunner Olszewski, Isaiah Zuber, Devin Smith
New England failed to replace Rob Gronkowski in their offense, leading to a three-year struggle in tight end production. In 2020, their production fell to 18 catches for 254 yards and one touchdown on 33 targets. That's like one world-class game from Travis Kelce. Something had to change and the Pats brought in new talent finally. The combination of Smith and Henry caught 101 passes for 1,061 yards and 12 scores for the Chargers and Titans last year.
Over his first four seasons, Henry saw growth in his catches (36, 45, 55, and 60) and targets (53, 62, 76, 93) while missing nine games. He ranked nine (151.20) and 12th (145.30) in tight end scoring in PPR leagues over the last two years. A battle with COVID-19 knocked him out of the final two games.
Despite success in 2020, Henry had four catches or fewer in eight of his final 11 games, with seven of those contests resulting in less than 40 receiving yards. His top output game came in Week 15 (5/65/1). He has 21 touchdowns in 55 matchups in his career while gaining over 20 yards on 28 plays.
Fantasy Outlook: New England looks positioned to have a top run game while relying on a ball-control offense. They will use two tight end sets on many plays, especially in the red zone. Hunter will be a semi-split role, with a floor of a 60/600/5 season with an entire season of games. He has a tenth-round ADP (121) in the 12-team high-stakes market. Hunter may be tough to time as a fantasy option, but he does have plenty of upside if the Patriots’ passing offense shows growth.
Just like Henry, Smith has improved his stats every year. He set career highs in catches (41), yards (448), and touchdowns (8) despite receiving only 65 targets. His season started with 18 catches for 221 and five touchdowns over four games, but Smith failed to score over 12.00 fantasy points over his last 12 games (including the playoffs). He gained over 35 yards in one contest over this span.
Fantasy Outlook: Smith will have some games, and his skill set will work well in the red zone. New England will also use him to stretch the field. His game is trending toward 45+ catches for 500+ yards with some success in touchdowns.
Asiasi's best value appears to be when moving forward with the ability to sit down vs. zone coverage. He does lose some separation when asked to work back to the ball out of breaks over the short areas of the field. 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.
Fantasy Outlook: In his rookie season, he caught two of his seven targets for 39 yards and a touchdown. He's a huge longshot to make a fantasy impact.
Other Options: Dalton Keene, Matt LaCosse
At age 35, Folk had the best season of his career in success rate (26-for-28) on his field goals. He made 11 of his 12 kicks for 40 to 49 yards and 2-for-3 from over 50 yards. Folk did miss three of his 33 chances in extra points. In his career, he made 81.4% of his field goals with less value from over 40 yards (68.4%).