Fantasy Football Target Practice: The 2020 New England Patriots
You know that awesome feeling when you thought you were going to write one thing and then the team you were writing about signs a new QB and CHANGES EVERYTHING! Hello Cam Newton! I had already planned for the New England Patriots to be the next team in our Target Practice series, where we will try to guess at the target distribution of some of the more interesting teams in 2020, and then the Patriots made themselves a lot more interesting.
While trying to guess a player’s target floor and ceiling, a few things come into play. The coaching staff and scheme are the first things I look at, but the Patriots have been as solid as they come in the NFL for many years in that department. Next, I look at the QB, his performance, rapport, and history. This was going to be a bit of a challenge with Jarrett Stidham, as he had no history, but his familiarity with the system might have made the predictions easier, Booty-Scootin’ Cam changes things up a bit. His playstyle couldn’t be further from the departed Tom Brady so we will be looking at a competition. Cam’s comfort zone vs the Belichick/McDaniels offense that has fared so well for so many years.
The only two “losses” on this team are WR Phillip Dorsett and TE Benjamin Watson. Neither of them had more than 60 targets and, all in all, we are looking at just under 125 vacated targets from the 2019 season. As mentioned previously in the series, research has shown that a good portion of vacated targets find their way to RB position. The Patriots already throw to the RB a lot, more than any team in the NFL over the last three years, and #2 in the league last year, so this may not be 100% accurate with them, though a small bump can be expected.
Julian Edelman– Floor: 120 | Ceiling: 150
The hardest thing about predicting Julian Edelman is projecting him to play 16 games. He did do it last year, but it was only the 3rd time in his 11-year career. The last time the Patriots played a season without Brady, Edelman was still in college. In 2016, Brady did miss four games due to suspension, and Edelman was targeted 32 times in those games. He is just about a lock for 130 targets and the only way he’ll hit his floor is if the Patriots lower their passing volume. Cam Newton has only thrown the ball more than 500 times in a season twice in his career. If the Patriots throw it the 600+ times they did last year, there is no reason to expect Edelman to dip much from the 153 targets he registered in 2019.
N’Keal Harry– Floor: 75 | Ceiling: 100
Harry showed next to nothing as a rookie but the high-draft capital has expectations high for 2020. Those expectations rose further with the addition of Newton. Cam is not afraid to throw the long ball and that will be Harry’s role in this offense. Three players were taken into account when looking at N’Keal Harry. In 2019, though a very different type of player, Phillip Dorsett was the deep-threat in this offense and was targeted just 54 times in 14 games. Adding to that Harry’s own 24 targets and we arrive at his floor for 2020. However, in 2018, in this offense, Josh Gordon was averaging six targets per game, and also in 2018, in Carolina the last time Cam played a good portion of the season, Devin Funchess averaged almost six targets per game. Gordon and Funchess aren’t perfect comparisons, but they aren’t bad either and I think they help establish the ceiling for a deep-threat in the 2020 version of this offense.
Mohamed Sanu– Floor: 70 | Ceiling: 100
Sanu will be the jack-of-all-trades in an offense that ran 3-WRs (or more) 66% of their snaps in 2019. The passing volume will likely play the biggest role in determining what we might see from Sanu. The interesting thing about this team is that if they throw it 600+ times, every player on this list could easily hit their ceiling. They all do different things. Last year, Sanu played eight games with the Patriots and was targeted 47 times, pretty well establishing his ceiling as the WR3 in New England. Looking at the 2018 Panthers, Sanu would be in the Curtis Samuel role, though much, much slower. Samuel was only targeted five times per game that year and if the passing volume declines, that is a pretty fair floor for Sanu, adjusted for his lack of Samuel’s speed.
“Starting TE”- Floor: 25 | Ceiling: 70
Could be Matt LaCosse, could be one of two rookies, Devin Asiasi or Dalton Keene. More than likely it will be a mix of the three and give us the putrid floor we saw last season. However, this offense has produced greatness at the position and if one of these guys were to establish themselves early, my bet would be on Asiasi, they could approach a respectable season. Rob Gronkowski was around 6 targets per game when he last played in this offense but the Panther’s TE1, a combination of Greg Olsen and Ian Thomas, was only at about four targets per game with Cam in 2018. None of these guys are Gronk but one could approach those Panthers’ numbers.
James White– Floor: 90 | Ceiling: 125
While Christian McCaffrey is the undisputed best pass-catching RB in the NFL, James White definitely has a case for 2nd place. His floor is just about as safe as they come. He was at 95 targets last year and if there is any drop from that, it would be minimal. His ceiling is well established and very exciting. During his last season with Cam Newton, CMC finished with 124 targets. In 2018, James White had 123 targets in this very offense. If White maintains the role he has long held in this offense, he will be top-5 in RB targets and end up a steal in PPR fantasy leagues.