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.
Continued from Part 1
TE Ben Watson
Many believed that TE Benjamin Watson was ready to breakout in 2006. Even though he ended the season as the Patriots second-best receiver (643 yards receiving and 3 TD's) and ranked eight among NFL tight ends in receiving yards, it wouldn't be wrong to state that we all expected more. Yes, he did miss the final three games of the season due to injury, however, 9 of the 13 weeks in which he did see action, Watson posted 5 or less fantasy points in most standard-scoring leagues. Reverting back to one of the "Golden Rules" of fantasy football, consistency is what helps to build championship-caliber teams something that Watson didn't possess in '06. Now surrounded by a heap of new receivers, as well as Maroney's ability to make plays in the short passing game, Watson's fantasy value is somewhat in limbo right now. Couple that with the fact that players such as Randy McMichael (STL) and Jeremy Shockey (NYG) had "off" years in 2006, and it most likely makes Watson one of the last starting tight ends to be taken (if taken at all) in many fantasy leagues.
Stephen Gostkowski was not a Top 10 fantasy kicker in his first year in the NFL. Filling the departed Adam Vinatieri's shoes was no easy feat, and though he only muffed one extra point, Gostkowski was questionable from close-range - 10-11 (20-29 yards) and 7-10 (30-39 yards) - leaving his FG Percentage at 76.9 on the year. In standard-scoring fantasy leagues, those missed field goals can be the difference between a win and a loss in any given week, as many scoring systems implement a point deduction (increased as the yardage shrinks) for missed field goals. Nevertheless, with the offense looking pretty remarkable for the Patriots 2007 campaign, Gostkowski remains a viable fantasy kicking option. This offense should see the endzone a lot this coming season, resulting in a number of PAT's for the second-year player. And if the Patriots somehow don't find the endzone, Gostkowski should find himself well in range to put up solid fantasy numbers.
WR/KR Wes Welker
DEFENSE /SPECIAL TEAMS:
First and foremost, often times, fantasy owners forget just how important the Special Teams aspect of this equation is. Think of it this way in 2006, Bears return man Devin Hester posted an astonishing 5 Special Teams touchdowns (2 kickoff returns and 3 punt returns for TD's). In most standard-scoring leagues, that's an additional 30 fantasy points added on to an already stellar defense. The Patriots were atop the NFL in 2006 for Average Return Yards (26.8). Just as in all other aspects of the game, New England values and excels when it comes to Special Teams. This year's addition of Wes Welker will undoubtedly provide headaches for opposing kicking teams. Welker tallied an impressive 1,442 combined return yards last season, and having him in the mix will make this aspect of the Patriots that more effective.
New England finished the 2006 regular season with the sixth ranked defense in the NFL. We cannot forget that Bill Belichick is a defense-minded head coach first, and that the Patriots have had a Top 10 defense in three of the past four years. Their offseason endeavors will pay dividends yet again, as the addition of LB Adalius Thomas will solidify an already potent corps of linebackers. Defensive veteran leaders DE Richard Seymour, LB Tedy Bruschi, and SS Rodney Harrison are still there and so is Asante Samuel, albeit perhaps a little bitter, but still touted as one of the Top 10 defensive backs in the NFL. All of these pieces to the Patriots defensive puzzle should once again fit together perfectly, and build further upon a unit that ranked 2nd overall in points allowed per game (14.8), 4th overall in interceptions (22), and 5th overall in total sacks (44.0) last season.
There is no doubt that the New England Patriots have a whole crew of fantasy standouts on the roster. There are those who have always provided consistency (Brady and the New England DEF/ST), those who are bound to breakout in '07 (Maroney), and those who look to reestablish themselves in New England as dominant fantasy options (Moss). However, what else would you expect from a team that has won three of the last six Super Bowls? The talent is there for the taking in your fantasy draft this year - be sure to capitalize on the wealth of viable fantasy options that the Patriots have to offer.
Be sure to read Part 1 (QB, RB, WR)
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.