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: Josh Gordon vs. Xavien Howard
Here's what we know: This shouldn't be much of a game. The score could be out of hand early, which means if Josh Gordon doesn't put up numbers before the Patriots start to lean on the running game then he could end up with a disappointing fantasy day. Take last week's win over the Steelers, for example: He ended up with 73 yards receiving and a touchdown. Very good day. But he only was targeted three times, and the game was over by the end of the third quarter. Maybe even earlier. That's a situation that looms if you're a Gordon fantasy owner. Only a handful of targets before he's no longer needed isn't ideal.
Here's another: Xavien Howard. Look at what Howard (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) did to bigger wideouts last year, according to Pro Football Focus: one catch for 17 yards versus Corey Davis; one for eight yards versus Amari Cooper; two for 29 versus A.J. Green; one for eight versus Allen Robinson; three for 23 (and a touchdown) versus DeAndre Hopkins; two for 44 (and a touchdown) versus Davante Adams. I'd expect with a serious Patriots influence on the Dolphins sideline that we'll see a lot of man defense from Miami. And I assume Howard will see Gordon.
Would I really suggest benching a Patriots player about to go against a defense that just lost 59-10? No. I won't. Go ahead and play Gordon if you have to. But don't expect huge numbers. He's so talented that he'll get his, and the Patriots may move him around a bit so that he avoids Howard occasionally. But between the matchup, Gordon's low target number in Week 1, and Antonio Brown potentially in the lineup to get his own share of looks from Tom Brady, this doesn't look like a massive day for New England's biggest wideout. True boom-or-bust week for him, in my opinion.
SEE 'EM POPPING
Sony Michel: Did I even watch last week's game? Michel ran 15 times for 14 yards. He didn't bowl over defenders at the second level to create yards on his own. When things weren't blocked up properly for him, he had a hard time doing anything positive. So why is he here? He led the Patriots in carries by a wide margin. (Rex Burkhead had eight.) He's still their goal-line and short-yardage back. And the Dolphins struggled stopping the run against 21-personnel packages last week, something the Patriots love to roll out. If the Patriots are playing with a lead early and looking to run out the clock, you could see a nice bounce-back fantasy day here.
Julian Edelman: Hard to look at a team like the Dolphins — with a new scheme and new personnel — and relate much from last year to this year. But there were few answers for Edelman last year as he caught 9 of 12 for 86 yards and a touchdown in Miami last year. His two drops that day were really what did him in more than any coverage he saw. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a very good young player who is more than competent in the slot and could see Edelman, but he's a better matchup for bigger bodies — more of the modern-day tight end defender — and could have issues with Edelman's quickness. Howard saw a good deal of Edelman in 2016, but there were no other No. 1 receiver candidates on the team other than Edelman at that point so that made that matchup the default one. Some combination of safety Reshad Jones, former Patriots corner Eric Rowe, Walt Aikens, Chris Lammons, or former Patriots practice squadder Jomal Wiltz shouldn't slow him down. Play Edelman and don't think twice, even if you're concerned about how Antonio Brown might cut into his workload.
Tom Brady: He wasn't one of the first quarterbacks drafted in your league. But after two weeks of the 2019 season he's going to be right there among the league leaders in fantasy points. I know Brady's record in Miami isn't great, but you can't possibly sit him down after seeing what Lamar Jackson did to that defense last week. It won't be easy deciphering where Brady's targets will go — as we'll point out below — but they should be productive.
Patriots defense: You know why. They might be the No. 1 defense in fantasy this week. The Bears might top 'em in some people's eyes. Both teams are on the road in tough environments — tough climates more than anything — but both should be dominant.
SEE 'EM DROPPING
Antonio Brown: This isn't to say I don't think he'll make an impact if he plays Sunday. This is to say that I have no earthly idea how much he'll play Sunday if he's in uniform. He'll have three practices in with the team. At most. he'll likely be tasked with learning a handful of plays and a select few routes and asked to execute those before more is loaded onto his plate. Might he take any target to the house at any given moment? Yup. But you might be better off stashing him on your bench for a week until you can realistically expect him to play often enough to be fantasy dependable.
James White: This is about game flow. If the Patriots are ahead by three scores going into halftime, that's not going to lend itself to very big numbers for their pass-catching back. White could score early and be part of the first-half pounding we expect the Patriots to hand Miami, but if he really only sees 30 minutes or so of meaningful work then how much can you really expect of him? Same goes for Rex Burkhead to an even greater extent.
Kenyan Drake: If you've gotta, you've gotta. But, again, game flow is going to hurt his chances of putting up much in the way of numbers. What might help him is that he ran 18 routes last week against the Ravens and played 26 snaps — both tops among running backs for the Dolphins in the blowout. But without much in the way of true receiving threats at the wideout position, New England should be able to single up most Miami receivers and then have a couple of defenders at the second level keeping an eye out for Drake leaking out of the backfield. He's worth consideration in PPR leagues as a safety valve for Ryan Fitzpatrick, but you can't depend on him as anything more than a FLEX.
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