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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: New England Patriots

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the New England Patriots.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously, individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day, players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

New England Patriots

Last Year’s Accuracy

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1040495 (47.6%)545 (52.4%)30 (5.5%)290 (56.3%)145 (28.2%)60 (11.7%)
2020 Stats979502 (51.3%)477 (48.7%)37 (7.8%)265 (60.2%)122 (27.7%)33 (7.5%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.

Coaching Changes

Nothing to see here. Bill Belichick is a future Hall of Fame coach who likely won’t leave New England until he retires. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is likely stuck in New England for the foreseeable future after his stunt with Indianapolis basically blackballed him from any other head coaching positions. Strictly speaking, there is no defensive coordinator in New England, but Bill’s son Steve Belichick has been calling the plays the last two years and will likely continue to do so.

Bill Belichick: Jets resignation one of 'great moments of my career'
Daniel Powers/USA TODAY Sports

Coaching History

I could sit here and wax on and on about McDaniels and Belichick’s coaching history, writing endless paragraphs about all their preferences and niche playcalling quirks. Here’s the bottom line, though; the pair are known for adjusting their scheme to fit their talent, and without Tom Brady at the helm, pretty much all of their combined history is moot. As long as Cam Newton is under center for New England, the only relevant year we need to look at is 2020.

So what does a Cam Newton-led Patriots team look like? Well, at least in 2020, the Patriots’ clear strength was in a deep and talented backfield rotation coupled with the best rushing quarterback in the history of the NFL. Not surprisingly, they notched the 2nd highest run rate in the league at 51.3%. It also comes as no surprise that their running backs led the league in positional target share at 27.7% and that their tight ends (led by two 3rd round rookies) tied for the lowest positional target share in the league at 7.5%. The offense moved at a fairly average pace and was actually one of the best teams in the league at extending drives, yet they struggled to record a high total play count thanks to a couple of key opt-outs that left the defense unable get off the field.

Looking Ahead

Of course, that tendency to adjust the scheme to fit talent goes both ways; the 2021 Patriots offense is unlikely to bear much resemblance to the 2020 version after a major offseason spending spree. Specifically, one of the worst tight end groups in the league is arguably the strongest. As a result, count on a huge swing in positional target shares in the tight ends’ favor. It won’t come from the running backs as the Patriots continue to boast one of the deepest backfield rotations in the league (bolstered even further through the draft). That leaves the wide receivers as the likely victim. Yes, New England brought in new talent in an attempt to replenish arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL, but overpaying Nelson Agholor seems like a questionable answer.

Regardless of how the targets work out, the important thing is that Newton will actually have receivers worth throwing to this year. That can only mean good things for offensive efficiency. Additionally, the defense will get several starters back, which means the normally rock-solid Patriots defense should return to being a reliable unit after a bit of a down year. Combining the two, it’s fair to reason that New England should see a noticeable uptick in play volume.

Patriots: Debunking criticism of Cam Newton's horrible 2020 statistics
Billie Weiss/Getty Images

With that extra play volume, the Patriots should continue to be a very run-heavy team with Newton at the helm. The million-dollar question, though, is how long does Newton remain at the helm? First-round quarterback Mac Jones was clearly drafted to be the future of the franchise. Even if Newton earns the starting role for the whole season, his injury history is concerning and could lead to a Bledsoe-Brady-esque transition. For our purposes, it seems likely that Newton will start at least most of the season. However, with Jones likely to get at least a few snaps (if not games) here and there, along with a much improved receiving corps, the team run rate should drop a bit heading into 2021.

2021 Projections

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats979502 (51.3%)477 (48.7%)37 (7.8%)265 (60.2%)122 (27.7%)33 (7.5%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1097534 (48.7%)563 (51.3%)46 (8.2%)235 (45.5%)141 (27.3%)120 (23.2%)

Previous Entry: Minnesota Vikings

Next Entry: New Orleans Saints

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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