Patriots 2011 Fantasy Football Forecast #1

Tom Brady (ADP 21-25)
Few quarterbacks offer more value in this year’s fantasy game than Tom Brady. On average, he comes off the board third among QBs, with Mike Vick and Aaron Rodgers routinely drafted ahead of him. After leading the league in TD passes in 2010, Brady returns all of the important skill position players from last season and most of the offensive line. Add in another strong veteran presence in Chad Ochocinco, a fully recovered Wes Welker and the maturation of TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and it’s easy to foresee Brady approaching 40 total TDs again this year. That is a tremendous value in the late second or early third round of fantasy drafts. Look for a final statline of around 37 TDs, 8 picks and 4,000 yards. That should be late first or early second round production at a late second or early third round pricetag. 
Wes Welker (ADP 46-50)
Welker’s value is weighted heavily by the scoring format. In PPR (points per reception) leagues, Welker is a low-end #1 WR and should not make it out of the fourth round. In non-PPR formats, he’s a #2 WR who should be drafted no later than the 5th. Just a few months removed from ACL surgery, Welker put up a very respectable 86-848-7 line last year in 15 games. His previous two campaigns included 100+ catches and 1,100+ yards. Even though Ochocinco will be stealing a few touches, I think it is reasonable to expect Welker to haul in 95 passes for 1,000 yards and at least a half dozen scores. 
Chad Ochocinco (ADP 65-70)
Ochocinco is the biggest wild card on this year’s team. From 2003-07, the Och posted five straight seasons of 1 ,200+ yards and at least 7 TDs. His production has taken a precipitous drop in the past three seasons as the team’s QB and offensive line play has taken a nose dive and the team has focused more on running the ball to protect Carson Palmer. At 33 years old, Ochocinco may have lost a step, but he still runs strong routes and has among the best body control of any receiver in the league. In a passing game that projects to put up more than 4,000 yards, Ochocinco’s floor is probably 50-800-5 with a ceiling closer to 70-1100-9. On average, he’s being drafted in the 7th round as a #3 WR, and there are not many #3 WRs that offer that kind of upside.

Deion Branch (ADP 100-110)
Branch seems to be the forgotten man in New England’s passing attack. After piling up 700+ yards and 5 scores in 11 games for the Patriots last season, he’s been little more than an afterthought for early drafters, getting picked in the junk bond territory of the 10th or 11th round. His production figures to take the biggest hit with the addition of Ochocinco, but at that price tag, he could return a strong value. He should see plenty of time on the field on the outside matched up against an opponent’s second-best CB, or even a nickel corner if teams move one of their top covermen inside to prevent Welker from piling up yards over the middle. If Welker and Ochocinco stay healthy, Branch should approach 50-700-6, a solid WR3. If either player misses significant time, Branch could end up at the 70-1000-8 territory, entrenching him as a WR2.
New England RBs (ADPs 80-120)
At this point, it is difficult to determine how New England will use BJGE, Woodhead and the two rookies. Green-Ellis tops the current depth chart, with Woodhead handling third down duties and serving as the change-of-pace back. Both backs range anywhere from the 8th or 9th round to undrafted. New England has featured a running back with double-digit TDs in each of the past two seasons, but it is hard to endorse him after watching Ridley have plenty of success at the goal line in the first preseason game. Woodhead is also problematic because it is easy to envision Shane Vereen carving out a substantial role in New England’s offense. After we see these guys in action in a few more preseason games, it will be easier to judge their value. At this point, fantasy owners are better off stashing one on the roster at the end of the draft in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle.
Rob Gronkowski (ADP 95-110), Aaron Hernandez (ADP NA)
On average, Gronk has been the 10th or 11th TE off the board after finding the end zone 10 times last year. He figures to get a steady workload again this year due to his skills both as a blocker and a receiver. He had twice as many catches and TDs in the second half of the season, so it’s hard to envision him putting up anything less than 40-600-6. His upside is only limited by the number of mouths to feed in New England’s offense and the versatility of Aaron Hernandez, who is similarly a nightmare matchup for linebackers and safeties. I would not fault owners in deeper leagues for taking a flyer on Hernandez late in the draft, as it is entirely possible he could improve on last year’s 45-563-6 line. If either player gets hurt, the other one becomes a slam-dunk every week starter. If they each stay healthy, you could make an argument for either player as a fringe starter or a solid bye-week plug-in.
Stephen Gostkowski (ADP 120-130)
It is rarely a good idea to sink a high draft pick into a kicker, but Gostkowski has been extremely reliable and plays for a high-yield offense. He is typically the second or third kicker off the board. Kickers are a dime a dozen, so if you’ve drafted him, chances are strong that you overdrafted him. He’s a virtual lock to be among the top 3-4 scorers at the position, but you won’t lose anything by rotating cheaper options over the course of the season.
New England Defense/ST (ADP 130-150)
New England’s defense is a gray area, but as the 9th defense off the board in most drafts, you can count me as a buyer. Most the value of a team defense in fantasy football is tied to sacks, turnovers and points allowed. The Patriots figure to be protecting a lot of 4th quarter leads this year, and the combo of Wilfork and Haynesworth on a four-man defensive front could free up the defensive ends and linebackers to put more pressure on the QB. A healthy Leigh Bodden will make it more difficult for opponents to move the ball through the air and could lead to a few more picks. On balance, I think the Patriots D could bring owners a top 5 value at a top 10 price. I can’t envision owners taking a loss on this unit late in the draft.