Patriots Offense Pre-Gronk
Patriots Offense Pre-Gronk
Rob Gronkowski has been a fixture in the New England Patriots offense since being drafted with the 42nd pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The Arizona Wildcat graduate made an immediate impact in his rookie season, scoring 10 of his career 79 touchdowns that year. His dominance continued over the next eight years and the offense will look different without the stud tight end creating mismatches all over the field.
Using the coaching history tool available from FFS, this article will cover the fantasy finishes of the New England skill players over the five years before Rob Gronkowski arrived in Foxborough. The hope is that this will give us an idea of what coach Bill Belichick’s offense may look like in 2019 at each position. Let us dive in.
From 2005 to 2009 Tom Brady was well, Tom Brady. The six-time Super Bowl champion finished as a top 10 quarterback all five seasons prior to Gronkowski’s arrival. The Michigan Wolverine alumn went on to have seven more top 10 finishes in nine years paired with Gronk. His worst finish during that time was QB19 in 2016. You can see from the QB1 chart courtesy of FFS, the position has always fared well for fantasy purposes.
We see by using the splits tool at FFS, that Brady was a superior quarterback when Rob Gronkowski was on the field terrorizing defenses. The QB6 projection without the stud tight end is promising as well. However, Brady is entering the twilight of his career and has to slow down at some point.
Tom Brady has struggled two of the last three years with finishes of QB19 in 2016 and QB12 in 2018. For his career, Brady has an average finish of QB8. For 2019, the veteran quarterback is ranked as the QB19 in the FFS staff consensus redraft rankings. In our dynasty rankings, he drops all the way down to QB23. As you can see, his best years seem to be behind him for fantasy purposes.
The pass catchers for the Patriots raise a lot of questions as well. There is not a lot of experience at the wideout and tight end position. The players that do have experience are past their prime or just have never lived up to their potential in the league. The pass attempts have stayed pretty flat over the years that Brady and Belichick have been together with an average of 548 per year.
Brady’s ADP is right in line with the FFS staff consensus rankings with an ADP of QB15 in redraft and QB25 in dynasty. The former sixth-round pick can be avoided in most formats with younger, higher upside quarterbacks to be had.
In the five years prior to Gronkowski arriving with the Patriots, the RB1 had an average finish of RB26. In the nine years, the partying tight end was with New England, the RB1 averaged a finish of RB21. You can see that the impact was not felt that much in the running game, but a look at some splits later show a possible different narrative.
The RB1 position has seen a nice increase in production over the past few seasons under Belichick. This also happens to correlate with Brady’s decline in two of the past three years. Back in 2016 when Brady was the QB19, the RB1 was the RB9 and in 2018 when Brady was the QB12, the RB1 was the RB7. For the prior 16 seasons, the RB1 only had two top 10 finishes under one of the best coaches of all time.
In 2016, the 18 rushing touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount were a huge part of him being the RB9. A big reason the RB1 finished in the seventh spot last year was the 87 receptions James White collected in 2018. Do not expect a repeat performance of either stat from any of the backs this season with New England drafting Alabama running back Damien Harris with the 87th overall pick this past April.
While White and 2018 first-round draft pick Sony Michel shared time as the RB1 on the official depth chart, Michel ended up being only the RB34 in PPR formats. This is RB3 territory for fantasy purposes.
Looking at the splits for White, the receiving back does not appear dependent on Gronkowski playing or not. In fact, White is actually better without the big tight end on the field. This could bold well for his production in 2019, but again, do not expect another 87 catches. White’s career high in receptions prior to last season was 60 in 2016.
While it is a small sample size, it is a little concerning how Michel performed with Gronkowski off the field in 2018. You can see while it was only two games, Michel struggled mightily without Gronk on the field with him.
The backfield is crowded for the Patriots entering 2019. The trio of Michel, Harris, and White will cannibalize touches from each other. Rex Burkhead is still in the mix as well. As far as rankings go, Michel actually comes in ranked higher than White at the RB15 for redraft and RB29 for White. For dynasty purposes, Michel is the RB14 and White RB36. The rushing attempts have declined for the RB1 the past couple of seasons under Belichick as well. The coach has a tendency to hover around league average year in and year out for rushing attempts. There were a few spikes here and there, but for the most part, the volume of carries is simply not there.
This is interesting considering the data provided above. ADP for the two paints a similar picture with Michel going as the RB22 and White at RB27 in redraft leagues. Dynasty ADP tells the same story with Michel being RB17 and White the RB33 off the board. Both backs carry some risk for usage loss with the addition of Harris in the draft. Perhaps Belichick will go run heavy without Gronkowski creating mismatches all over the field to open up the other pass catchers.
The RB2 on the depth chart has only been a fantasy RB2 once in 19 seasons under Belichick. As with the RB1, Gronkowski had little impact on the fantasy ranks of the RB2. The position toiled in the 30s and 40s with and without the former Wildcat. The duo of White and Michel are essentially a 1a and 1b at the position. As mentioned above, they both spent time as the RB1 on the official depth chart in 2018. The chart using the coaching tool shows the poor overall fantasy rank for the “official” RB2 in a Belichick coached offense.
With Michel and White fully entrenched as starters, look for the rookie Harris and the veteran Burkhead to share duties as the backups. Barring an injury to either of the starters, there is not much value for either outside of Harris in dynasty leagues. Harris is currently being drafted as the RB5 in rookie leagues. With Michel having knee issues in college and already in the NFL, Harris could pay off big time sooner rather than later. Michel only played in 13 games his rookie season. This leaves the door open for Harris to potentially start at least one game in 2019.
The WR1 position struggled in five of the first seven years Bill Belichick and Tom Brady became joined at the hip beginning in 2000. However, in three of the five years prior to Gronkowksi’s arrival, Randy Moss was wreaking havoc on the league. This brought the WR1 average in five years prior to a finish of WR14. In the nine years, the future hall of fame tight end was around, that average finish was WR16.
The WR1 has historically fared well in the past with Moss, Wes Welker, and now Julian Edelman manning the spot. From 2007 to 2012, the position finished in the top 10 five of six years. Edelman was recently signed to a two-year contract extension on May 21st. This solidifies him as the WR1 for at least a couple of more years.
Here we may have the big winner with the departure of Rob Gronkowski. Edelman has played roughly 20 percent of his games without the large tight end. In those games, the Kent State grad has a projected PPR finish of WR3. Brady clearly trusts Edelman. The duo seems to shine when the lights are the brightest. Over the course of his postseason career with Brady, Edelman averages 9.72 targets per game. Last season, the former quarterback averaged exactly nine targets a game in 11 games, finishing as the WR22 in a suspension-shortened season.
Edelman has played just 16 games twice in his 10-year career, including missing the entire 2017 season due to injury. When healthy, he is one of the more consistent leaders in targets. The slot guru has seen over 100 targets in each of the years he has played in at least 10 games. Edelman has finished as a top-24 wideout in four of his last five seasons.
The Patriots did select N’Keal Harry with their first-round pick in April. This may impact the target share some, but keep in mind that Harry is a rookie. Josh Gordon may also come back at some point as well. As mentioned earlier, Brady and Edelman have a chemistry that is rare in the league this day and age. He can still be trusted.
The staff consensus rankings at FFS peg Edelman as the WR29 in redraft and the WR42 in dynasty. That is a little off of his current ADP for redraft. The oft-injured receiver is being selected as the WR15 in redraft. The rankings are more in line for his dynasty value with an ADP of WR37 in that format. He may have one or two useful years left on your dynasty squad and can be safely chosen for your redraft team.
The WR2 prior to Rob Gronkowski gracing us with his antics in 2010 had an average finish of WR26. There was a three-year span where Wes Welker finished as the WR10, WR12, and WR5. Perhaps Bill Belichick is trying to recreate the glory days of Moss and Welker with Harry and Edelman. From 2007 to 2009, the former duo were both top-12 fantasy wideouts each of those three years.
There is not much competition in the way of this becoming a thing in 2019. As mentioned when covering Brady, there are question marks with the other wideouts in Foxborough. Currently fighting for snaps are Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Dontrelle Inman, and the former stud Demaryius Thomas who is coming off an awful injury.
Harry will likely find himself playing meaningful snaps by seasons end. It is unlikely there will be a Randy Moss type rookie highlight reel, but N’Keal is no stranger to making plays himself. The Arizona State rookie has no problem handling a workload as you can see by his market share yards from college compared to some of the other top wideouts to be drafted this year.
The only other wideout besides Edelman worth investing in is Harry. In the staff redraft rankings, the rookie is coming in at WR95. For dynasty, however, he is the WR34 and the number one ranked rookie wideout. His ADP reflects this almost identically across the board.
Prior to Rob Gronkowski dominating the tight end position, Bill Belichick had a tight end break inside the top 10 just once in ten years for fantasy purposes. All Gronk did was accomplish that feat six out of nine times. Two of those three years he finished outside the top-10, he played in less than ten games. Replacing the All-Pro tight end will be impossible.
Ben Watson came out of retirement to rejoin his former team but was promptly suspended for four games by the NFL. Austin Seferian-Jenkins currently sits atop the depth chart. Stephen Anderson and Matt LaCosse are also listed on the depth chart. However, they only have 63 receptions combined between them over five years in the league.
The tight end position may be the weakest spot on the team in 2019 and will likely return to finishes pre-Gronk in New England. There is hope in the fact that the position was heavily targeted over the past several years. Of course, that was because Gronkowski was on the team and was such a mismatch on the field. Do not expect Seferian-Jenkins to live up to his offseason hype. He will likely continue to underwhelm.
There is talk that the retired tight end may come back in 2019. This obviously would be the best case scenario for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Unless this happens, you can ignore the position in most draft formats. ASJ may be worth a late-round flier, but do not invest too much in him early in the event that Gronk unretires.
The offense of the New England Patriots will certainly look different in 2019 sans Gronkowski. Will we see a reversion to the 2007 to 2009 seasons when Moss and Welker terrorized the league? Tough to say. We do know that someone like Gronk cannot be replaced by anyone. Hopefully, this article helped you draw some conclusions as to what we can expect going forward. Best of luck in your upcoming drafts.