Cracking the Headaches of the New England Patriots Backfield – Fantasy Football
By: Jarred Riccadonna @ricco_3733
There are quite a few headaches and uncertainties NFL teams can expect to bring fantasy football owners this year. The most notorious is none other than Bill Belichick’s running back stable. I grimace even typing that as I’ve fallen victim to owning some of these Patriots backs in the past. I’ve since sold my Sony Michel stock in dynasty this past off-season, acquiring an over-haul for him. However, I’m going to dissect this migraine by using some intriguing numbers and my thoughts to help you make an informed decision should you decide to roll the dice on any of these backs.
First, we have to look at the stable of contributors: Sony Michel, Damien Harris, James White and Rex Burkhead. I’ll start with my bias as mentioned above.
- The knee issue is worth monitoring. It cut his production short last season even though he performed well in the Super Bowl and during the regular season (13 games played 931/4.5/6).
- He only had seven receptions last season. This is a huge concern for me. Let’s reflect on guys like LeGarrette Blount and Mike Gillislee, both of whom showed some great promise as the grinding, non-pass catching backs in the Patriots offense. The most receptions Blount had in a Patriots uniform in one season? 7. Gillislee’s in his lone season in New England? 1. I’m aware neither of those guys have the talent of Sony Michel. However, Belichick tends to use these bruising backs to burn the clock once the Pats are comfortable with a lead. With Tom Brady aging and Gronk retiring on top of the injury question marks of the Pats along the offensive line, I don’t expect the Patriots to be able to ice contests quite as frequently nor as early as is typical for New England. The lack of receiving production makes the Pats too predictable offensively when he is in the game, much like Blount and Gillislee when they were in the lineup. I’m fully aware that Michel had a combined 48 receptions in his sophomore and junior seasons at Georgia, mainly because Nick Chubb was the bruising back and his receiving abilities were even less than that of Michel’s.
- Sony Michel’s average ADP in a 12-team PPR format is in the 5.02-5.04 range. A few names you can select over Michel whose production isn’t as big of a question mark? Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Carson, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, Chris Godwin and Evan Engram.
2019 Projection: 710 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns; 8 receptions, 74 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown
I’m buying Damien Harris for the opposite reasons of Sony Michel.
- The injury history isn’t as bad and he has a lot less mileage on his body while still bringing solid production to the table. Not to mention, no serious knee issues like that of Michel.
- He CAN receive out of the backfield. In a part-time role splitting the backfield with Josh Jacobs in Alabama, Harris had a respectable 22/204/9.3 reception stat line and 52/407/7.8/2 in his college career. Harris stayed consistent and actually grew into that role catching balls out of the backfield whereas Michel actually regressed, totaling only nine receptions his senior year. Simply put, Harris adds another dynamic at the position and makes the Pats offense less predictable having Harris in the game over Michel.
- Harris had a strong spring at OTAs while Sony was still injured back then. His ADP jumped nearly a round from 11.05 end of June to 10.06 as of today. He has the value. I see him overtaking the other back duties with James White rather than Michel, at worst, by next season. At the very least, stash him in dynasty.
EDIT: Yes, I’m fully aware Harris hasn’t taken first team with Michel back. There is plenty of football to go and a long season ahead. There will be plenty of games for Belichick to elect to rest Michel’s knees.
2019 Projection: 714 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns; 26 receptions, 221 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns
It’s no secret. James White has made himself quite the fantasy football PPR value selection coming off a stellar season as PPR RB7. Having a career best in carries (94), targets (123), receptions (87), YPC (4.5), total scrimmage yards (1,176), and total TDs (12), James White is the RB to keep your eye on and the main Patriots back to target if you’re going to select one. Look for White to continue to be the go-to in the offense other than Edelman. With an ADP of 5.01, I’m selecting White at this spot.
2019 Projection: 397 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns; 84 receptions, 725 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns
No disrespect to Rex, but he is currently on the outside looking in as the jack of many trades, but the master of none. Brandon Bolden has solidified his spot on special teams as he’s done year in and year out. I expect Burkhead to be dealt in a trade or cut barring any injuries to the Pats backfield. He’s nothing more than a “what-if” stash in the deepest fantasy football dynasty leagues and can be left undrafted in redraft formats.
2019 Projection: Released if all other Patriots’ running backs remain healthy.
In summary, fantasy football owners should sell on Sony Michel, acquire and ride Damien Harris come late 2019 or next season the latest (dynasty leagues), and buy/draft James White to help win this season.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further.
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