What fantasy value can we find in New England as the Patriots transition from Tom Brady to Cam Newton?

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the eventual start of the 2020 draft season. Here, we’ll tackle pressing fantasy questions, #FantasyHotTaeks, and team win totals. Next up, the New England Patriots.

Considering Cam Newton is on a new team coming off an injury, what is his ceiling in an offense that lacks talent around him?

Dalton: Cam Newton has never been the most accurate quarterback (career -3.3% CPOE) and is coming off a couple of major surgeries, one of which could affect his running ability (Lisfranc). He’ll also be learning a new system during a shortened offseason and competing against someone the Pats are seemingly sold on in Jarrett Stidham, so I don’t view this QB situation quite the same way as the rest of the world. Newton’s ADP is a hard pass for me, and in Superflex leagues, there isn’t a better sleeper/target than Stidham (who’s free). 

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Liz: For a deep dive on Cam as well as his shoulder/foot issues check out my Rest vs Rust series. Per the reasons outlined in the article, I’m not particularly worried about his health. In fact, I’m expecting Cam to pick up where he left off in 2018. He is, lest we forget, on a one-year bare-minimum deal. And to that end, the Patriot Way certainly includes squeezing every ounce of upside out of veteran players. Cam’s mobility — which Belichick has oft-praised — provides the football genius with the one modern era advantage he’s been lacking for the last 15-plus years. Cam will carry this squad because Belichick (and Josh McDaniels) will orchestrate it accordingly. He's a low-end QB1 for fantasy purposes.

Scott: I’m unlikely to draft Newton. The Patriots have a mess at the skill positions, and Newton’s body has been through the ringer. It was a reasonable low-cost gamble for the Patriots to take, but fantasy players will put a tag on Newton because of his rushing upside — perhaps ignoring his checkered history as a passer. And this offense doesn’t have skill talent to elevate him. 

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Julian Edelman finished as fantasy’s WR10 in .5 PPR leagues last season. Where does he finish in 2020?

Scott: I’ve pushed Edelman outside my Top 30 at the position and I’m not targeting him at all. He’s entering his 11th year and his age-34 year. The mind-meld that he had with Brady will unlikely carry over to Cam Newton, especially in a limited-preparation summer. And even in his salad days, Edelman has always been a modest touchdown guy. When you think about Edelman in those middle rounds, why not take one of the buzzy sophomore receivers instead?

Dalton: What Edelman did last year was quite the feat considering Tom Brady’s dramatic decline in play, although the eighth-highest target share obviously helped. Still, his upside is limited as a 34-year-old who’s never scored more than seven touchdowns in a season and with such uncertainty at quarterback. He’s a fine WR3 in PPR formats, but with a new QB at this stage of his career, it wouldn’t be surprising if N’Keal Harry or Mohamed Sanu surpassed Edelman as NE’s No. 1 wide receiver.

Liz: Not only was Edelman an WR1 for fantasy purposes last year, but he also posted a career campaign (100-1,117-6) with a separated AC joint and torn rib cartilage. The shoulder issue required surgery, but all reports indicate that Edelman will be fully rehabbed ahead of training camp. I understand that a 34-year-old slot receiver heading into a season without his bestie screams boring, but he’ll still likely exist as a dependable target in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Plus, he’s already made an appearance on Cam’s grid. There’s no reason a player as consistent (especially given this corps’ lack of experience and/or depth) as Edelman can’t post WR3 FF stats. He’s my WR32.

How are you playing this backfield? Looks like a bunch of meh options. Are we missing something here, or is there a clear option to buy into?

Liz: Sony Michel is still working through a foot injury. Damien Harris is a multiple talent with upside. Given the change in QB, however, James White appears to have the safest floor. While he’s no Christian McCaffrey, White is a pass-catching specialist who averaged 43 receiving yards per game (RB3) and managed RB2 fantasy numbers in 2019. His activity in the red zone also comes via the air, not the ground (just 2 goal line carries in 2019), which means he’s unlikely to be vultured by Cam Newton at the goal line, but certainly utilized as a safety valve in the passing game. For reference, Newton targeted McCaffrey an average of 7 times per contest in 2017 and 2018. Similar aerial deployment would keep White on the RB2/RB3 bubble in PPR friendly formats, making his current eighth round ADP a solid value. 

Dalton: Sony Michel’s status remains uncertain while recovering from foot surgery, while Damien Harris is the all-time leader in YPC at Alabama, so the latter is the easy RB to target in NE’s backfield. Michel is also coming off a season in which he hurt fantasy managers who kept starting him, as he somehow finished 114th in fantasy points per opportunity despite benefitting from the second-best game script. He also finished bottom-10 in elusive rating, has a chronic knee issue that could return at any moment and finished with fewer than 100 receiving yards while playing in all 16 games last season. Harris is a complete unknown, but he’d hardly be the first Patriots back to succeed after essentially redshirting their rookie season, just like James White and Shane Vereen did. 

Scott: I'm still fading the backfield, even with Cam Newton in town. First, I'm not convinced the Patriots will be a primary contender again, so the game scripts of the past are likely out the window. We love the correlation between winning teams and easy fantasy points on the ground; this year, the signal appears weaker. Second, there's a collection of talent here and usage could be highly variable. It's hard to call the shot ahead of time. And finally, if Newton does have juice left, he's going to gobble up some of the rushing touchdowns. For the first time in a long time, New England is not a backfield target for me. 

[2020 Draft Rankings: Overall | QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | DST | Kickers]

New England Patriots 2020 lineup
New England Patriots 2020 lineup

#FantasyHotTaek

Liz: N’Keal Harry was a divisive player heading into last year’s NFL draft. Some analysts dug how physical he was, while others knocked his ability to separate. Both things can be true. 

Admittedly, Harry’s rookie year was bust. He had a rough camp, got injured in the preseason, and opened Week 1 on IR. Given the lost practice time, lack of on-field reps, and limited time to develop chemistry with Brady … it makes sense that he wasn’t effective. But things in New England have changed. And Harry has an opportunity to establish himself as the team’s best red zone threat. A player with a breakout age in the 95th percentile and the ability to win in contested situations, Harry could draw upwards of 80 targets and post solid WR3 fantasy numbers.

OVER/UNDER on 9.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Scott: Most pundits and players are forever petrified to go against Bill Belichick, and I understand that angle. Belichick has won double-digit games an astounding 17 years in a row, and he’s posted a winning percentage of .683 in New England. He’s even covered an obscene 59.4 percent over that span (with a much tidier number if you start the grading after Brady emerged). Normally, when you bet against Belichick, you set your money on fire.

But most things in life end badly, or else they wouldn’t end. Not that the Patriots have to collapse to miss this number; even a 9-7 season won’t feed the cat.

The Newton signing plays well on the front page, but look at the depth of the team — a ton of defensive talent has left the club or opted out for 2020. There are cracks in the interior here. Belichick is a history buff and mindful of his own legacy, even as he'd never admit that second thing. Belichick probably has more glory ahead in New England, but it's unlikely to come this year. UNDER

Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

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