Fantasy football players seem to get smarter every year. The leagues get deeper. The competition gets better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in.
But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps by providing you with information we've gleaned by being on the Patriots beat.
Le'Veon Bell vs. Bill Belichick
This is shaping up to be one of those gameplans for Bill Belichick that is eminently predictable yet foolproof. Take away Le'Veon Bell. Let the Jets figure out the rest.
With a young quarterback at the helm -- one whose biggest knock coming out of college was an inability to push the ball down the field or to the sidelines with NFL-caliber arm strength -- you can bet that the Patriots defense will be focused on taking away Luke Falk's most talented offensive teammate.
"He looks pretty good," Belichick said of Bell on Wednesday. "He looks fresh. Yeah, looks good. Catches the ball well, is very good in the open field, he's a strong in-line runner."
Bell has traditionally had big fantasy days against the Patriots: He averages 91 yards rushing and 60 yards receiving on six receptions over the course of his five pro seasons when facing the Patriots.
But this Jets team isn't built like the Steelers teams for which Bell starred. Stephon Gilmore should have little issue locking down Robby Anderson. Quincy Enunwa is hurt. There's simply not much there. And given Falk's limitations, the Patriots would be happy to put the game in his hands. That should mean plenty of stacked boxes for Bell to try to run through, and multiple sets of eyes on him as a receiver out of the backfield.
There's a legitimate chance the Patriots post their second consecutive shutout this weekend. While Bell could still see plenty of volume, the Patriots will make him the focal point of their defensive game plan and force Falk to go elsewhere once the Jets are cornered into pass-happy comeback mode. You can start him if you want. He was probably your first overall pick in re-draft leagues. But just know he's not going to get you very much in the way of points. The way this Patriots defense is playing, and the way the Jets offense is constructed, it shouldn't be all that difficult for Belichick to take him away.
(Accountability check: Through two Marquee Matchups, we've suggested you bench JuJu Smith-Schuster and Josh Gordon in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively. They've totaled 17.7 points in PPR leagues in those weeks.)
SEE 'EM POPPING
Just because Belichick didn't shoot down the idea of adding plays to the playbook for Antonio Brown doesn't mean he will. But it's clear Brown provides Tom Brady with a next-level talent who'll draw more than his fair share of targets. Especially with the Patriots figuring out their offensive line at the moment, Brady will need receivers to throw to quickly. Few players have an ability to uncover hastily like Brown.
Edelman is always going to be Brady's go-to guy in the quick passing game, which makes him a must-start yet again. Were the targets down last week thanks to Brown's arrival? Somewhat. But if there is ever going to be a receiver used in short passing scenarios -- as an extension of the running game in some ways -- then it's going to be Edelman. Don't start going away from him just because there's another big-name wideout in the mix. If anything, Brown's addition should help Edelman by drawing safeties away from the middle of the field.
Now this is a situation that bears watching. Gordon's inability to factor into the passing game significantly with Brown in the fold is more of a concern than it is for Edelman. Instead of being the high-volume threat he was last year when the Patriots were looking for down-the-field answers, Gordon could be relegated to true boom-or-bust status every week. I'd start him as a No. 3 receiver this week, but I wouldn't do it confidently.
The only reason he's in the "See 'em Popping" category is because the Jets have a porous secondary allowing 8.0 yards per pass attempt at the moment. If ever there was a week for three Patriots receivers to go off, this might be it.
What's fascinating about the Patriots passing game through two games in 2019 is that they're not throwing it a ton. They're only 21st in the NFL terms of attempts. But they're among the most efficient passing teams in the league. They're fourth in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (9.8), fifth in pass yards per game and fifth in quarterback rating. Football Outsiders has their passing game rated as the third-best in football, according to their DVOA metric. Brady shouldn't have to throw much in this one, and Josh McDaniels will want to try to get his running game going, but he's still a top-five option at his position in Week 3.
Two factors here worth considering that would make me lean toward starting James White:
1) White brings value to the same quick passing game that should make Julian Edelman and Antonio Brown factors. He may be required to stay in to pass protect against Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' blitz schemes, but if Brady needs a bail-out option in a pinch, White is as good as any. The Jets have been poor in defending backs in the passing game this season, ranking dead last in terms of success rate against pass-catching backs, per Sharp Football Stats.
2) This is less of a sure thing but worth keeping an eye on nonetheless moving forward. White could end up being used as a clock-killing option late in games where the Patriots have the lead. He performed well in that role last season with Sony Michel injured, thanks in part to the fact that he never fumbles (zero in the regular season in his career). He was also the seventh-most efficient runner in the NFL in close-out situations last year, going by ESPN's Win Probability Added metric. Michel fumbled late in the game last week in Miami and sat out the final drive, giving way to White and Rex Burkhead. If Michel is out of the clock-killer role for the time being, that could mean bonus late-game fantasy points for White.
Even if his carries late in Sunday's game are reduced, Michel still has plenty of fantasy value because of the volume he sees. He has 36 attempts through two games, which is fourth-most in football. He hasn't paid huge dividends with the work he's seen, averaging 2.7 yards per carry and 1.7 yards after contact per carry. And though he was among the league's most predictable players in 2018 (76 percent of his snaps resulted in a Patriots rush attempt), he's still not seeing very many defenders in the box. Only 2.8 percent of his runs this season have come with eight box defenders, according to NextGen Stats.
Those aren't incredibly promising numbers, especially with the Patriots offensive line currently dealing with a significant amount of shakeup due to injury. But Michel is still a threat to get into the end zone as the team's short-yardage back, and he's still going to get plenty of work. There just aren't many backs in the league who get the number of opportunities he does, which makes him fantasy viable.
SEE 'EM DROPPING
Simple answer here for why you shouldn't be relying on Anderson this week: Stephon Gilmore. Yes, the Jets are going to have to throw. Yes, Anderson is their top target. And yes, Anderson could end up with fantasy points late in the game with the Patriots playing prevent. Even so, the fantasy dent he makes while working against the league's best corner -- apologies to Jalen Ramsey -- won't be worth a spot in your starting lineup.
Burkhead has seen just enough work to make you question whether or not James White or Sony Michel are worth of a starting gig on your fantasy team, but he's not doing quite enough on his own to be worthy of a play. You should be able to acquire him on the cheap in daily leagues, which might be a good idea any time he's healthy as he's a threat to do a little bit of everything. He's actually been the team's most dynamic back thus far in 2019, averaging 4.1 yards after contact per carry and 12.6 yards per catch (exceeding White's 9.4 yards per catch). But at this point, he's not the lead between-the-tackles back and he's not the lead pass-catching back. As good as he's been, hard to trust him to produce fantasy value.
Crowder could end up being Luke Falk's go-to guy as he makes his first start behind center. Crowder has been a target monster through two games -- though he dropped from 17 Week 1 targets to six in Week 2 -- and could be the security blanket for a young passer looking to get rid of the football quickly Sunday.
But Crowder will be going against a Patriots pass defense that is the best in the league at defending receivers, according to Sharp Football's success metric. In two games, the Patriots are allowing just 4.9 yards per attempt to wideouts. That's almost a full yard less than the next best defense. (Buffalo allows 5.7 yards per attempt to receivers.) Plus, Crowder will have to work against Patriots "star" defender (that's what Belichick calls the slot corner position) Jonathan Jones, who through two weeks has graded out as Pro Football Focus' top corner.
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