Can you feel it? The anticipation building - less than two months before the start of the 2007 NFL season. And what does that mean for us, the fans? Tailgating, lazy Sunday afternoons, and of course, fantasy football. That's right it's our time to shine, as fantasy owners across the nation get their minds churning and begin endless hours of researching for upcoming drafts. Of course, you never want to play favorites, and definitely want to throw picking with emotion out the window. Yet, when you're dealing with a team like the New England Patriots, you can't ignore the fact that there is a wide array of potent fantasy options on the roster. So, in this installment of Fantasy Insider Online's Fantasy report, we zero in on the Patriots fantasy outlook for 2007. The offseason has been very good for New England, and hopefully, you'll be able to reap all of the benefits in your fantasy league this year.
QB Tom Brady
Since taking over the starting role as the Patriots offensive field general in 2001, QB Tom Brady has never had the number of weapons at his disposal as he will when he enters the 2007 season. Brady has typically been a "quiet" fantasy stud at quarterback, as he has never been in the same breath as players like Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. However, one key to succeeding in fantasy football is consistency - and New England's front-man has just that. Over the last five seasons, Brady has passed for 3,500+ yards and 23+ touchdowns. His QB Rating dipped below 90.0 (to 87.9) in 2006 for the first time in two years (92.6 and 92.3 respectively). Though his passing yards dropped off fairly drastically from 2005 to 2006 (4,110 to 3,529), we must remember that Brady had very limited receiving options. The Patriots never truly had a downfield threat, and though that's really not their game in the first place, having a receiver who can go and get the long-ball helps to keep opposing defenses honest.
The offseason acquisitions of Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker will surround Brady with all the necessary tools to step his game up to the next level. As previously mentioned, head coach Bill Belichick won't start chucking the ball downfield every other play - but the option is now there! Undoubtedly, this is the best wide receiving corps that Brady has ever had the opportunity to play with. You can't argue with the fact that guys like Troy Brown and Deion Branch (both of whom previously served under Belichick's regime) were valuable assets to the Patriots in the past. However, neither of those two, nor any other players who have ever received a pass from Brady, possessed the athleticism and playmaking ability that this new crop of receivers has. In turn, Brady's fantasy value has definitely shot up the charts with these offseason moves that took place in New England. He has the opportunity to put up career numbers across the board in 2007, and can definitely be listed as one of the Top 5 fantasy quarterbacks in the game right now.
Now that Corey Dillon is totally out of the picture in New England, RB Laurence Maroney will have to carry the full-load in only his second NFL season. Nevertheless, the Patriots organization feels that Maroney is fully capable of doing so and so should you. Though the Patriots brought in veteran RB Sammy Morris as somewhat of an insurance policy, Maroney is now "the man" in New England. And rightfully so - on numerous occasions in '06, the former Golden Gopher showed glimpses of greatness. Even while splitting time with Dillon and missing two games (Weeks 14 and 15) due to injury, Maroney was still able to post a respectable 745 yards rushing and 6 rushing touchdowns. Yet, what really makes this second-year player valuable is his ability to catches passes out of the backfield. Maroney is a dual-threat, similar to that of San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson and New Orleans' Reggie Bush he is both a hard and effective runner, as well as the perfect safety valve to compliment New England's passing game. This makes Maroney a viable first-round selection in any fantasy football draft, and an even more attractive option if your league carries Points Per Reception (PPR).
Another format that truly increases Maroney's value is if your league is a "keeper league" - one that allows you to hold on to players for future fantasy seasons. As aforementioned, 2007 will only be Maroney's second year in the NFL, and already, the Patriots have instilled the workload on him. New England has the confidence in Maroney, and we all know that he will be surrounded by perennial winners year in and year out. There is no doubt that Maroney can truly establish himself as a fantasy stud for years to come in the 2007 season.
WR Randy Moss
There's no need to repeat things - New England definitely capitalized this offseason, especially in the receiving department. For a team that has been typically known not to go out and spend money in free agency or to make big offseason moves, the Patriots proved all skeptics wrong this year. To take it into perspective, think of things in these terms - three of the Patriots current top 4 receivers were #1 WR options on their former teams Moss in Oakland, Stallworth in Philadelphia, and Caldwell in San Diego. Throw Wes Welker and Kelley Washington into the mix, along with Jabar Gaffney, and this could be one of the deepest wide receiving corps in the NFL.
The biggest question, however, is will Randy Moss circa 2003 show up, or will Brady be throwing to Randy "553 yards receiving and 3 TD's" Moss of the 2006 Oakland Raiders? The true reason why Moss never excelled in Oakland is plain and simple - there was no reason why to. The Raiders were never a powerhouse while he was there, and we all know how Moss' attitude towards his surroundings affects his game. Yet, in New England, the playoffs always seem to loom in the near future, and now the thought of actually "playing for something" will no doubt pay dividends and help resurrect Moss' career. With stability both on the team and with the quarterback, watch for big things out of Moss in 2007.
As was previously stated, the Patriots concentrate on the short passing game, however, reports out of New England are suggesting that Moss, a typical long-ball receiver, is adjusting well. Both he and Stallworth are sure-handed WR's who will provide the necessary tools for Brady to take his game to the next level. Having the option of Welker coming in as a slot receiver only adds to the potential of this offense. Moss surely saw his fantasy stock rise this offseason when he signed with New England, and will have the opportunity to reestablish himself as a dominant fantasy receiver. Both Stallworth and Welker are great "plug-and-play" options (possibly #3 receivers, if your fantasy league is set up in that format), with Stallworth getting the slight edge due to athleticism and past performance.
Continues in Part 2 (TE, DEF/ST, K)
This article was provided by the staff at Fantasy Insider Online (FIO) as a courtesy to Patriots Insider readers. Members of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA), Matt Hinzpeter and his staff cover the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA and more at FantasyInsiderOnline.com.