The winner of New England's quarterback competition has finally been decided.
In a shocking twist, the New England Patriots released veteran Cam Newton Tuesday, leaving rookie Mac Jones as the team's starting quarterback for 2021.
The transaction has massive fantasy implications for all offensive skill players involved. The move is an absolute boon for the fantasy value of Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Damien Harris. All players should receive a bump up in the fantasy football rankings.
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The Alabama product put up college football's best adjusted completion percentage on non-screen passes in 2020 (80%). He impressed during the preseason, earning a 92.2 PFF grade that ranked first among all quarterbacks, and the offense has skewed more pass-heavy with him under center, passing 61% of the time versus 55% for Newton.
Last season, Newton was the worst-ranked quarterback in accuracy-plus percentage, a metric that considers the ball placement of a throw relative to the receiver (in front of the receiver, behind the receiver, etc.). And with the 2015 NFL MVP under center, the Patriots ran the ball at the second-highest rate in the league (49%), behind only the Baltimore Ravens.
No team finished with fewer expected fantasy points from their cumulative running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. The 2020 Patriots were the league’s least fantasy-friendly offense.
Now that Jones has the reins, this year’s offense won’t nearly be as one-dimensional. The organization spent huge money in free agency to revamp the passing offense with Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. That’s not to say this offense projects to be anywhere close to an even average passing unit, but ranking almost dead last in every passing category won’t be a reality in 2021.
DAMIEN HARRIS BREAKOUT
The chances of Damien Harris breaking out in 2021 also increase substantially with Jones under center. The rookie QB won’t be a threat to call his own number at the goal line, given his relatively non-existent rushing production in college, which gives the Patriots’ No. 1 running back a chance to see larger spikes in fantasy production.
Newton has put a massive damper on Harris’ fantasy upside at the goal-line and in the passing game, which tends to be the case with most mobile quarterbacks. Harris only averaged 9.1 fantasy points per game (41st) last season; he recorded only five catches and scored just two rushing touchdowns.
Any additional high-value touches Harris can garner will go a long way to help him break out in 2021 — the elite rushing ability is already apparent. Harris finished 2020 as PFF’s second-highest-graded running back (90.3), averaging 5.0 yards per carry to tie for eighth at the position.
Considering the entire running back room finished 11th in total fantasy points last season despite losing out on so many opportunities with Newton, there’s massive RB fantasy value to be in New England. And it starts with Harris.
Damien Harris has played a 60% snap share with 88% of the carries (14) with the Patriots starting offense through 3 preseason games.
Harris averaged nearly 18 touches per game when playing at least 50% of snaps last season.
Rhamondre Stevenson has played zero snaps w/ starters
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) August 30, 2021
James White also sees a spike in fantasy value with Jones under center. However, White’s fantasy value is so dependent on whether the Patriots are trailing in games that he can only be trusted in matchups that position New England in comeback mode.
No team is going to run 12 personnel more than the Patriots in 2021. Smith and Henry are being undervalued because the market can’t peg one as the superior option, but each will see plenty of involvement to be fantasy-viable.
Having Jones is also beneficial because he ranked fourth in PFF grade (91.9), first in completion rate (78.1%) and fourth in passer rating (138.4) while operating from 12 personnel last year.
Agholor benefits because Jones is a superior downfield passer. The Alabama passer finished as PFF’s third-highest graded quarterback on throws of 20-plus yards over the last two college football seasons.
Meyers is still the primary wide receiver to target. Yes, the team paid Agholor, but fantasy drafter should be chasing targets, not cash flow. In the Patriots’ second preseason game, Meyers hauled in three balls for 56 yards and one touchdown on just nine routes run.
It would be different if this were the first time Meyers ever played at such a high level, but the kid has been balling out ever since he became a starter for New England back in Week 7 of the 2020 season.
Meyers ranked 12th in yards per route run (2.30), 13th in target rate per route run (25%) and 20th in PFF receiving grade (80.3). He also finished 30th overall in expected fantasy points per game (13.2).