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.
MARQUEE MATCHUP: LAMAR JACKSON VS. BILL BELICHICK
Yes, Lamar Jackson is arguably your fantasy league's MVP given where he was drafted and the production he's provided. Yes, he's been a top-notch fantasy quarterback even when he hasn't thrown for touchdowns. (He's been a top-10 fantasy quarterback in his last two games with no passing touchdowns thanks to monster rushing performances.) But he's due for a regression this week.
The Patriots have bottled up athletic quarterbacks in Greg Roman's offense in the past, holding Tyrod Taylor to just 6.0 rushing fantasy points per game, per Sharp Football Analysis, and Colin Kaepernick to just 28 yards rushing in 2012. If Jackson is similarly limited on the ground — and the expectation is that Bill Belichick will make that a priority of this week's game plan — then Jackson's fantasy value will be tied to his arm. Of course he can make teams pay that way, as he did against Miami in Week 1. But the Patriots have put together historic numbers when defending the pass this season, and Jackson is coming off of a 9-for-20 performance two weeks ago against the Seahawks.
The Patriots defense has had its issues against the run this season, but when it's a focus of their game plan, they seem to be able to scheme against it. They were run over in December last season by teams like the Dolphins and Steelers, but then made it one of the centerpieces of their game plan in Super Bowl LIII, loaded up their front to cover every gap, and held the Rams rushing attack to 3.4 yards per carry. If you're a Jackson fantasy owner this week, just know this is likely going to be a down week for him. If you have an opportunity to start Dak Prescott or Tom Brady over Jackson this week, I would.
SEE 'EM POPPING
TOM BRADY: The Patriots look like an offense that is better spreading things out and throwing. We now have eight weeks of evidence. They haven't been able to run the football, and there are no reinforcements coming until Isaiah Wynn returns when the Cowboys come to Foxboro. With Mohamed Sanu and potentially N'Keal Harry getting added to the mix, we could see the Patriots use their 10-personnel packages more often. They've utilized those sets more over the last two weeks, and that look arguably allows Josh McDaniels' best players to get on the field. The Ravens allow 7.7 yards per attempt, and if New England can protect Brady, he should have a nice fantasy day. Nobody blitzes more frequently than the Ravens but they're only 14th in pressure rate, per Sharp Football Analysis. If Brady can avoid being pressured quickly in downs, there should be openings in the secondary to attack.
JULIAN EDELMAN: This is the lone true go-to fantasy option for the Patriots this week. Maybe Mohamed Sanu will end up with a big night after getting a little more time in the Patriots system under his belt. He should play plenty of snaps, but it's unclear exactly how many targets he'll see. Edelman has been hammered with targets every week, as our Tom E. Curran pointed out Sunday, and that should continue this week. He may be looking forward to the bye as he now deals with rib and shoulder injuries, but against a defense that allows 8.2 yards per target to receivers, he's a high-end fantasy option once again this week.
JAMES WHITE: It looked like James White ended up a little hobbled after his 59-yard screen catch-and-run against the Browns last week, but he's avoided the injury report and should be good to go for Sunday. The Ravens have had issues checking backs in the passing game this year, allowing a 59 percent success rate — 30th in the league, per Sharp Football Stats — so White should get the green light as an RB2 this week.
SEE 'EM DROPPING
N'KEAL HARRY: We're not even sure yet if Harry will get the nod to play this weekend, but even if he does, it would reek of desperation to have him in your lineup. In a dynasty league, he's totally enticing. In a keeper league of any kind, you should have him on your roster. But start him this week? After missing most of training camp and the first half of the regular season? I don't think so. Even if he's mentally up to speed thanks to all the work he's done in his team's "virtual room," there's a significant difference between being able to line up correctly in your first pro game and understanding how your quarterback is going to read a defense in your debut.
BEN WATSON: Watson impressed with a nice high-point grab down the seam last week, but he's still just averaging 22 yards receiving in his two games this season. If Matt LaCosse and/or Ryan Izzo are back in the lineup — both practiced on Wednesday — then that could hurt Watson's value as well. Unless you're in the deepest of leagues and you're hoping for a play-action pass to go to Watson at the goal line, you'd be better off leaving him be this week.
SONY MICHEL: Perhaps Michel will be a more reliable option after running backs coach Ivan Fears told reporters this week that he simply has to get "downhill" more quickly when things aren't blocked up perfectly for him. Michel's issue is that even if he were to do that, he hasn't proven that he can elude tackles consistently near the line of scrimmage... and there have been a plethora of tacklers near the line of scrimmage week after week when the running game hasn't been blocked up properly. If the Patriots do move more toward a spread style — not altogether ditching the running game but de-emphasizing it — then Michel's value will continue to dip. He's a touchdown-dependent FLEX option for me. Not a bad thing to be as part of an offense that runs as much as the Patriots do inside the five. Still, hard to depend on.
MARQUISE BROWN: We're at the point where it's hard to start any wide receiver against the Patriots defense until someone proves that this secondary can be punctured. Brown is back in the lineup after a long layoff, so he should have fresh legs, and perhaps the Patriots won't be able to double-team him the way they've doubled other diminutive speedsters in the past like Tyreek Hill or T.Y. Hilton because they'll be dedicating more defenders to the box to stop Jackson's running ability. Still, even when paired with a unique threat like Jackson, starting receivers against the Patriots has been a losing proposition this season. Don't count on that changing this week against a quarterback who has been scattershot on occasion.
MARK INGRAM: The Patriots have been generous to opposing backs at times this season, allowing Nick Chubb to go for 131 last weekend and giving up 4.6 yards per carry this season. But Ingram might not get the requisite workload to be fantasy viable on Sunday night. He's averaged 14 carries per game over the last month, and in three of his last four he's averaging 12.6 carries. In part due to the fact that they get off the field quickly (league-leading 15.6 third-down conversions allowed), and in part because they're consistently playing with the lead (leading opponents by a combined score of 87-7 after the first quarter), the Patriots allow the fewest rushing attempts per game in the NFL (18.5). Add it all up, and unless Ingram gets in the end zone — something the Patriots still haven't allowed a running back to do this season — he's not startable.
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