Fantasy Football Beat: Why Stephon Gilmore could shadow Travis Kelce in Patriots-Chiefs rematch

Fantasy Football Beat: Why Stephon Gilmore could shadow Travis Kelce in Patriots-Chiefs rematch

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.


How the Patriots opt to match up with Kansas City this weekend will be fascinating. There are a variety of options, which will be dependent on the availability of starting corner Jason McCourty, who's missed time lately with a groin injury. 

What we saw in the AFC title game last year was a) Stephon Gilmore matched up with Sammy Watkins and J.C. Jackson matched up with Travis Kelce, then b) the opposite later in the game with the season on the line and the Chiefs in more passing situations. The Patriots could start the game off similarly this year, but the McCourty injury complicates matters. The Chiefs like their three-receiver, one-tight end looks. If McCourty is available, he might be a matchup for Demarcus Robinson. That would leave Jackson for Watkins (who has been largely a non-factor this season and has just two catches total in his last two games) and Jonathan Jones combining with Devin McCourty to double Tyreek Hill. That would free up Gilmore to take on Kelce, who's considered by the Patriots — based on how they've covered him — to be a big receiver rather than a true dual-threat tight end. 

If McCourty isn't available, that could throw things into flux. Then perhaps Devin McCourty or Patrick Chung would be called upon to take Kelce, with Gilmore on Watkins and Jackson on Robinson. Jones and a safety (either McCourty or Harmon) could check Hill. If Gilmore ends up on Kelce, he's totally capable. We saw him frustrate Zach Ertz in Philly earlier this season. 

"I gotta slow myself down a little bit because they're so slow," Gilmore said after the game when asked about covering tight ends. "But they're big and they push off a lot. Just gotta slow myself down a little bit because I'm used to covering faster guys. If I do that, I can play them pretty tight..."

"You can see it on film. Ertz is a fast guy, but like I said, I've guarded faster guys. I gotta really slow down and not get on top like I play receivers. Let him beat me a little bit. If I play on top he'll push me off. That's the game plan I had."

That plan worked in limiting Ertz's truly effective moments. He didn't touch the ball on third down or in Patriots territory. But Ertz still ended up with nine catches for 94 yards on 11 targets. 

Allowing Gilmore to run with Kelce — Kansas City's money player in tight situations — might be the best move for the Patriots. But there's still an opportunity for him to get his numbers. And since this is a fantasy article, I'd suggest you go ahead and start the best fantasy tight end in the game. The position is so weak there's little chance you have anyone better to play. Just be prepared for a down day. 


Julian Edelman: He's banged up. He's getting double-teamed. And yet still he puts up numbers. It's the same story every week. He's seen double-digit targets in seven straight weeks. The Chiefs aren't great at defending slot receivers, either, allowing over 70 percent completions. 

James White: New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his pattern-match zone coverages have helped this defense improve ever so slightly against the pass. Last year they allowed 7.5 yards per attempt. This year they're allowing 7.1. Where they've struggled most is in defending pass-catching running backs, allowing 7.6 yards per attempt to backs, which is 31st in the NFL. They're also, according to Sharp Football Stats, allowing a bottom-third success rate (24th) to backs in the passing game. Whether as a receiver or as a runner taking advantage of the lighter boxes he's seen of late — 5.6 yards per carry against the Texans — White should do some damage.

Sony Michel: The Chiefs have one of the worst run defenses in football. They allow 5.1 yards per carry (30th) and allow 141.3 yards rushing per game (30th). This could be the Michel breakout game you've all been hoping for. (Unless your fantasy team has to face Michel this week.) He showed positive signs last week in Houston, rushing for 4.5 yards per carry until the Patriots got down in the game and got away from running the football. 


Tom Brady: Will the Patriots get this thing figured out eventually? I believe so. I believe a healthy Mohamed Sanu will help. I believe utilizing N'Keal Harry a little differently will help. But until you start to see some signs of real improvement, you can't depend on Brady as your fantasy quarterback going into the fantasy playoffs. The situation around him is simply too messy at the moment. 

Patriots receivers not named Edelman: While the Chiefs play a lot of zone coverages, they pattern-match. That means it's zone that eventually looks a little like man. They aren't necessarily just dropping to a spot and reading the quarterback's eyes. They might also simply play man. The Cowboys played way more man than normal a few weeks ago and it worked because they believed they could match up with the talent the Patriots had on the field.

If the Chiefs do the same, who's beating one-on-one coverage if Edelman is doubled? Sanu might be able to if healthy. Harry might be able to on certain routes. But it's hard to envision anyone filling up the stat sheet from this group. And that includes the tight ends. The Chiefs have actually been pretty good against tight ends this year, allowing just 6.7 yards per attempt to that position, which is fifth in the NFL. 

Tyreek Hill: The Patriots were lit up by Hill in the regular season last year, allowing seven catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns. They made a point not to allow that to happen again in the AFC Championship Game, doubling him everywhere on the field and giving up just one catch for 42 yards. Expect a similar plan Sunday. Plus, Hill hasn't exactly looked like himself of late. He's dealt with a hamstring injury at different points this year, and though he played 52 snaps last week against the Raiders, he had five catches for 55 yards on mostly short catch-and-run plays while aligned primarily on rookie Trayvon Mullen. It looked like he wasn't able to open it up and step on the gas.

Patrick Mahomes: I'm not saying you should bench Mahomes. I'm also not *not* saying that. Some numbers! In his last two games against the Chargers and Raiders — the 21st and 29th pass defenses in the NFL terms of yards per attempt allowed — Mahomes did not crack 200 yards passing. He threw just one touchdown in each game. He lit it up against the Titans in his first game back from a knee injury (446 yards, three touchdowns) so that's not an issue. (Which you can see if you watched him run for a touchdown last week against Oakland.) But the recent sample size has not been real encouraging.

The Chiefs have had to shuffle running backs. The offensive line has been spotty at times. And Hill didn't look like himself last week (see above). Against a defense that gave Mahomes a hard time for one half in each of their last two meetings — a defense that has improved since last year — I wouldn't expect this to be a tour de force performance. I think if you have Matt Ryan going against the Ron Rivera-less Panthers or Krik Cousins against the Lions, I think you've got a real decision to make.

LeSean McCoy: He's a big name, but he isn't getting all that much work. He hasn't seen double-digit carries or recorded 70 total yards since Week 7. While the Patriots have had their share of issues in the running game and against pass-catching backs at different points this year, McCoy isn't a reliable option this week for fantasy purposes.

Sammy Watkins: In his team's last two games, Watkins has two catches on six targets despite playing 95 snaps. He has 33 catches and no touchdowns since a monster Week 1 (nine catches, 198 yards, three scores). He's playing. And he's playing a lot. With one of the best quarterbacks in the game. You'd think that would lead to fantasy points. It hasn't. His last best game was in Week 9, when he caught seven passes for 63 yards. Anticipating a bounce-back game against one of the best pass defenses in football doesn't seem wise. 

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2020 NFL Pro Bowl live stream: Watch Skills Showdown online

2020 NFL Pro Bowl live stream: Watch Skills Showdown online

New England Patriots fans haven't had much reason to watch the NFL Pro Bowl in recent seasons, but 2020 is different.

Patriots players haven't participated in the Pro Bowl in each of the last three years because they were playing in the Super Bowl and thus not allowed to take part in the league's version of an All-Star Game.

The Patriots were eliminated from the AFC playoffs on Wild Card Weekend, giving the team's three Pro Bowl selections (cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and special teams ace Matthew Slater) the opportunity to participate in this season's game. Hightower was ruled out due to injury, but Gilmore and Slater are expected to play.

Gilmore also will feature in Thursday night's 2020 Pro Bowl Skills Showdown. The event is basically football's version of NBA Saturday night, which includes the Skills Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Shootout.

Here's the information you need to watch Gilmore compete in the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown.

When: Thursday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live stream: WatchESPN

Gilmore reveals his Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl prediction

Could this former Patriots receiver's son be the next Patriots receiver?

Could this former Patriots receiver's son be the next Patriots receiver?

One way to get a feel for just how long Bill Belichick has been head coach in New England? Players who were kicking around the league in the early portion of Belichick's Patriots tenure have children Belichick has the opportunity to draft in April. 

Last week we touched on the fact that Randy Moss has a son entering the NFL Draft as a tight end out of LSU. Thaddeus Moss could end up being a mid-to-late round option for a team in need of a tight end. 

This week? Another former Patriots receiver has a son who's putting on a show in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl. 

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Belichick never had a chance to coach Shawn Jefferson. The longtime NFL wideout with over 7,000 career receiving yards left the Patriots via free agency for the Falcons after four years in New England.

His first year with Atlanta, 2000, was Belichick's first as head coach of the Patriots. (The two did overlap in Foxboro in 1996, when Belichick coached defensive backs under Bill Parcells.)

But might Jefferson's son end up a Patriots draft target?

Van Jefferson, from the University of Florida, has been one of the most impressive performers at his position at this year's Senior Bowl. The week's practices — thoroughly covered and broadcast by NFL Media these days — has allowed Jefferson to put his nuanced skills on display against some of the best defensive backs in the country. 

After a strong showing on Tuesday in the week's first practice, Jefferson was one of the best pass-catchers on the field again Wednesday.

Despite lacking the athleticism of some of the others at his position who will be considered first-rounders this year — it's thought to be an incredibly deep class at receiver — Jefferson has made plays this week both down the field and at the intermediate level by understanding leverage and making contested catches.

"He is a route technician on a level that has the corners tripping over themselves," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote this week. "And it is tough to blame them because they haven’t faced many players at the college level with Jefferson’s detailed patterns. Instead of pure speed, he relies on pace, tempo and purpose, making every step matter and tying defenders in knots."

Jefferson spent three years at Ole Miss before transferring to Florida. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder finished his collegiate career with 2,159 yards and 16 touchdowns. He caught 49 passes for 657 yards and six scores in his final season.

Belichick and his coaching staff are in Mobile for college football's premier postseason all-star game. Perhaps what they see from the Florida wideout with some Patriots connections will push them to consider him on draft weekend to bolster a receiving corps that needed all the help it could get this season.

Or not. Jefferson's father is currently assistant head coach and receivers coach for the Jets.