Many in the fantasy industry were willing to write Brady off after a disappointing 2013 campaign. Man crush bias aside, I disagree, even considering that last season was tough to stomach. There were many factors at play a year ago. Brady didn’t have his favorite target, Rob Gronkowski on the field until week 7. Gronk tore his ACL shortly after, ending his season and removing him from New England’s already shaky receiving core. Furthermore, Shane Vereen was in and out of the lineup, Brady had rookie wideouts dropping passes left and right and Danny Amendola had a very hard time staying on the field.
Even with all those issues, Brady still finished as the #13 QB via ESPN’s Player Rater system. As President of the Tom Brady fan club I’m here to tell you how Tom Brady will once again return to the top 5 at his position.
1. Gronk needs to stay on the field:
This is the most important factor. Gronk may be even more important the Patriots than Brady and that’s saying a lot. Brady is a different man when Gronkowski is healthy and on the field. Tom Terrific has 11 300+ yard performances with Gronk in the lineup and only 4 without him. Take a look:
Brady with Gronk (18 games): 5,047 passing yards (296 YPG), 64.2 CMP% and 36 TD
Brady without Gronk (14 games): 3,705 passing yards (264 YPG), 58.8 CMP% and 24 TD
The numbers don’t lie. The 6 foot 6 Gronkowski makes a world of difference, not only catching passes but opening up the perimeter of the field for the other receivers. Gronk had 10 20 yard catches in 2013, most on the team. The catch? He only played 6 games. Of course the biggest question with Gronk is whether or not he’ll be able to maintain health over the course of a full season. He has only played 18 games in two seasons and without him on the field, Brady just isn’t the same. I’m feeling lucky, I think it happens and the tandem will.
But I am in the positive thinking mood and expect us to get at least 16 (if he doesn’t miss week 1) of Gronk and that would further cement my Brady top 5 theory.
2. New England’s wide receivers need to you know, catch the ball
Julian Edelman really stepped up to the plate last season and had a year no one really expected. He caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards and 6 TD, which included 9 games of 7 or more receptions. He was a PPR machine and filled the role of Wes Welker quite well, the same role that Danny Amendola was signed on to do, yet failed to complete.
Speaking of Amendola, we all know he has all the tools to be a solid fit in this offense. He finished 2nd on the team with 54 catches even while he missed 4 games. He looks to be healthy heading into the season, and will be an important part of the offense. I remain optimistic that we see more out of the former Ram in 2014.
The Patriots also employ young pass-catchers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, who at various points in the season had a real impact in the offense. All signs point to Dobson being healthy after coming out of a boot and practicing, but it’s something to monitor. If healthy, he could be the deep threat that Brady has lacked over the last several seasons. The growth that both of these receivers show will be interesting to watch. Although Thompkins had his ups last season, he dropped a lot of passes and his role remains in flux given the off-season signing of Brandon Lafell.
Lafell has reportedly picked up the Patriots offense quickly. That is a positive sign, given how the coaching staff in New England handles their players. He may not be a big time fantasy contributor unless there are injuries or performance issues amongst some of the other players, however, he could see his fair share of red zone looks.
3. The Running Game
LeGarrette Blount made a huge impact on this team in the 2nd half of the season and was vital in helping pick up the passing game. With Blount now smoking blunts in Pittsburgh, the Pats are left with a myriad of questions at running back. Stevan Ridley can’t hold on to the football, Shane Vereen has had trouble staying healthy and James White, albeit with tons of hype attached is a rookie playing in a complex offense.
Let’s start with Ridley, he has all the talent in the world but found himself in the doghouse too often as he just doesn’t know how to hang onto the football. He is a power back and should see a lot of carries this season but any more fumbles and we could see him buried somewhere inside Gillette Stadium.
When healthy, Shane Vereen provides a much needed pass-catching presence out of the backfield for Brady. He finished 3rd in receptions on the team and only played in 8 games last season. Of course like the rest of the questions I pose, if healthy for all 16, he should be a PPR machine and will help supplant Brady once again as an elite fantasy option.
James White seems poised to take some carries away from Ridley this year as he has impressed coaches during training camp and has been seen taking reps with Brady and the 1st team. White can be a 3-down back; he was the focal point in the Wisconsin offense last year coming out of the backfield catching 39 balls for 300 yards and a pair of TD. He also can make an impact with his pass blocking which is key in the Patriot’s offense. Lastly, he had great ball security in college as he fumbled only 2 times in 754 career touches.
Brady is the 10th QB and 73rd player coming off the board (according to Fantasy Pros). If Brady is available to you in the 7th round, scoop him up. There are question marks on this team, but with any luck Brady’s weapons will stay relatively healthy and this team will look like the New England teams of old.
Ricky Valero is a co-owner and fantasy sports writer at The Sports Script. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @rickygangster!