New England Patriots Wide Receiver Fantasy Outlook

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The New England Patriots came into the 2017 NFL season with a surplus of wide receivers. In the preseason they were suddenly down with the loss of top wide receiver Julian Edelman for the season with a torn ACL. However, that led to opportunity for promising second-year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
Mitchell came to New England from Georgia where he had experience running the option routes preferred in the New England offense and was a great fit for their scheme. His ability to understand what coverage the defense is playing got him on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady and avoided the mistakes of trying to bring in receivers like Brandon Lloyd, Chad Ochocinco and Joey Galloway in the past.

Mitchell beat-out former second-round draft pick Aaron Dobson and competed with Chris Hogan for snaps as a rookie at the outside receiver. He showed the ability to run pro style routes immediately, showed off his wingspan, deceptive speed and his excellent hands. As a rookie, he finished with 32 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns.

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Mitchell finished the Super Bowl with a number of big catches in the fourth quarter as the Patriots mounted their historic comeback. Mitchell finished with six receptions for 70 yards and flashed his value as a potential depth pick in keeper leagues and a late round pick to stash after having a strong game on a national stage.

With Edelman out for the season, Mitchell became a trendy late round pick in deeper fantasy football leagues as it seemed to indicate his playing time was increasing. Last season as a rookie Mitchell played 538 snaps on offense (48.1 percent) and despite the addition of New Orleans wide receiver Brandin Cooks, that number seemed prime to increase.

Now, with Mitchell on injured reserve and missing at least eight games, there is a gap in the New England offense. For fantasy football players, there are a number of passes going to receivers in a high-powered passing offense that you can grab to increase the points for your team.

Brandin Cooks was long-gone by the third round in almost every league. Yahoo Sports ranked him as #5 overall in their wide receiver rankings. In fact, in my dozen leagues he was gone in the first and second round each time. Going from Drew Brees to Tom Brady may not increase Cooks’ yards and receptions much, but with Edelman out he may top 90 receptions and 1,200 yards rather than the expected 80 catches and 1,050 yards.

The biggest beneficiary of Edelman’s absence may well be Chris Hogan. Hogan had just 38 receptions last season but averaged 17.9 yards per reception and tallied 680 yards. Hogan was used as a deep threat in the offense and had a number of big chunk plays, but he is more versatile than that and with another season in the New England offense working with Brady he could expand his role and show-off his ability to run the entire route-tree.

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Hogan had just one reception for eight yards versus the Chiefs in week one. He drew a lot of coverage from Marcus Peters and was not used in the slot. Hogan could find himself on the waiver wire after this week one disappearance and is still a worthy pickup. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will find a way to get the ball to Hogan in the passing game without Mitchell in the coming weeks.
With Edelman out, the expectation in New England is veteran Danny Amendola will step-up as the primary slot wide receiver; however, he has struggled to stay healthy and also has to pick-up the punt return duties with cornerback/returner Cyrus Jones out of the season. Amendola is brittle and has never been able to stay healthy for a full season as a full-time starter.
That was on display Thursday night against Kansas City. Amendola had six receptions for 100 yards and then exited the game with a concussion. Amendola’s status for next week will depend on his status in the concussion protocol. In one just game, Amendola showed exactly why he cannot sustain the role of primary slot receiver in the New England offense.

New England also traded for Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Phillip Dorsett last week. Dorsett is a speedster who is coming in cold to try and pick-up a difficult offense. In addition, not only will he have to learn the playbook but he has to earn the trust of quarterback Tom Brady. Dorsett was forced into action on Thursday night against Kansas City and predictably had no receptions.

Another avenue of improvement is involving the New England tight ends in the offense. Rob Gronkowski was another first/second round draft pick like Brandin Cooks. He was a little rusty after missing most of last season and had just two catches against Kansas City for 33 yards. However, second tight end Dwayne Allen was shut out after being targeted on the first play of the game and being overthrown by Brady.

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Allen has red zone skills that were not exploited against Kansas City. Allen was relegated to a blocking role and barely drew a glance from Brady with just one other target the entire game. Allen may be available on the waiver wire this week and is a good play to stash on the bench until New England figures out what to do with him in a two tight-end set.

Where the Patriots were expected to replace the production of Mitchell (and Edelman) was with the running backs. Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James White combined for just five receptions for 46 yards on Thursday night despite being targeted 15 times total. New England has a wealth of talent at running back in passing situations and failed to take advantage of it on Thursday night.

Although Kansas City’s defense shut down the high-powered New England offense on Thursday night, it is a hiccup more than a trend. Tom Brady and the Patriots are still going to score a lot of points in 2017, even without Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell. Those injuries showed this is an offense in transition–but this is nothing new in New England.

The loss of Mitchell showed his value to the offense in New England after one year. In the Super Bowl last year it was Mitchell who stepped up at the end of the game. In week one, the loss of Mitchell was apparent.

Despite a rough showing in week one, the New England passing offense is going to adapt and get back on track. Danny Amendola is going to be have to be managed with a limited role due to health and Brady is going to have to adapt and use their other weapons and that means there are players you can grab to improve your fantasy football team.
Dwayne Allen at tight end, Chris Hogan at wide receiver, and running backs Rex Burkhead and James White should have a bigger role moving forward working to replace the production New England lost with Malcolm Mitchell going on injured reserve. If any are to be found on the waiver wire after an impatient owner lets them go after week one, it is a great time to pounce and reap the benefits later.
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Hal hails from Southeastern MA just a stone's throw from Gillette Stadium and the New England Patriots. A lifelong sports enthusiast and writer for over a dozen years about football, baseball, basketball and hockey, Hal has focused on the NFL for the past few years. Hal has been involved in fantasy sports for so long that he used a pencil and paper and tracked statistics from boxscores in the newspaper. When not consumed by all things football, Hal is happily married with two children and for a local government agency.

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