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Fantasy Football Team Preview: New England Patriots — Breakouts, Busts, Sleepers & Training Camp Takeaways

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 fantasy value of New England Patriots is a bit up in the air after the addition of first-round rookie QB Mac Jones. Veteran Cam Newton looks to have the inside track to the starting job, but it's tough to expect a ton of fantasy production under his guidance because of his drawbacks as a passer and influence on establishing the run. 

Editor's Note: PFF's 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Guide and 2021 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets are LIVE!

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 the Patriots ran the ball at the second-highest rate in the league (49%) behind only the Baltimore Ravens.

No team finished with the less expected fantasy points from their cumulative RBs/TEs/WRs. The 2020 Patriots were the league’s least fantasy-friendly offense. 

2021 Team Preview

There’s no guarantee that Newton will be under center for the full season. New England selected Jones  No. 15 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, and his insertion into the lineup would be a boost for all pass-catchers in the offense. Jones is more accurate than Newton, having earned college football's best adjusted completion rate with screens removed in 2020 (80%). The offense will skew more pass-heavy with him under center. 

More passing will lead to more overall plays and help New England sustain drives. Last season, the Patriots finished 29th in plays per game — and that was despite the fact that they finished fourth in plays per drive (6.2). 

The discrepancy between low plays per game and high plays per drive suggests the Patriots wanted to run an up-tempo offense but were unable to because they couldn’t keep drives going. They finished 24th in first downs and 19th in first down conversion rate (32%). Running plays also burn more time, making it an uphill battle for players to score fantasy points on limited opportunities.

Head coach Bill Belichick had no option but to turn to the run game in the post-Tom Brady era. In a truncated offseason, building a passing game around an aging Julian Edelman, Damiere Byrd, N’Keal Harry, James White, Jakobi Meyers and Ryan Izzo with Newton at quarterback was asking for the impossible. Instead, he focused the offense around his team’s strengths — quarterback mobility, running back depth and PFF’s third-highest ranked offensive line.

This year’s offense won’t nearly be as one-dimensional once Mac gets the reigns. The Patriots spent huge money in free agency to to revamp the passing offense with the likes of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Newton certainly struggled last season, but having arguably the league’s worst receiving corps did him zero favors. 

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. 

Newton is the starter for now, and the upgraded weapons can make him a fantasy asset, along with this rushing ability. Newton finished as the QB17 in expected fantasy points per game (18.1) in 2020, which is much more predictive of what fantasy managers can expect in the future. His role as the team’s goal-line back was unparalleled.

Newton led all QBs in rushing TDs (12) and carries inside the 5-yard line (22). His tendency to be a touchdown hog supplements his own fantasy value, but it takes away potential rushing touchdowns from the Patriots’ running backs. 

BREAKOUTS

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