Fantasy football owners seem to get smarter every year. The leagues seem to get deeper. The competition seems to get 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 filling out the back ends of fantasy depth charts.
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That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps. Every week, we'll look at the Patriots matchup and try to help you decide which players to start and which to sit - or which to invest in if you're playing in a daily format. You know you're playing Tom Brady every week. You know you're playing Rob Gronkowski. But this is where we'll delve a little deeper with the information we've gleaned by being on the beat. We're hopeful that someone finds it helpful.
James White, RB, Patriots: With Julian Edelman out, Tom Brady will be looking for trusted targets in critical situations, and there may be no pass-catcher Brady trusts more (outside of Rob Gronkowski) than White. He should see plenty of touches in an offense that will still try to figure out a way to keep the ball in Brady's hands even with the receiver picture looking relatively bleak. White, who's more receiver than runner, will benefit. Injuries to other pass-catchers at the position -- Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel -- could also make it an especially busy day for White against the Texans. And a busy day should mean a productive day. White had the lowest drop rate (1.75) of any back in the league last year with at least 45 targets. His usage may tail off when Edelman returns, but for right now he's worth a flex play in PPR leagues and he's a good value in daily.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Patriots: Be careful here. I'm not saying Hill should be your No. 1 back. Or your No. 2 for that matter. But if you had Jerrick McKinnon, and now you're thinking about playing Matt Breida -- particularly in non-PPR formats -- as your flex? If you were going to roll with a rookie like Rashaad Penny in Seattle, or even Sony Michel, take a look at Hill as your flex instead. He's the Patriots big back. That was Mike Gillislee's role at the start of last season (three touchdowns Week 1) before Dion Lewis took over as the every-down guy. Before that, it was LeGarrette Blount's job. Those guys got in the end zone when they had the opportunity. And they had their opportunities. The Patriots love to go heavy down at the goal line, making use of their extra tight ends and fullback James Develin. Who should get the ball in those spots on Sunday? It should be Hill. He isn't in line for 15-20 touches, but the touches he gets could be very valuable. If you're in a bind and want to gamble on someone with touchdown upside, I'd say look at Hill. Just how strongly I feel about this one will depend on the health of the other backs on the roster, so keep an eye on the injury report late in the week. But Hill is worth a waiver claim if he's available in your league and you're one of those unlucky few already scrambling for help.
Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots: It can't be ALL about the tight ends and backs with Edelman suspended. Hogan is the receiver left standing with the most experience in the Patriots offense and should play just about every snap on Sunday if he can. Even with Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola eating up targets last year against the Texans, Hogan ended up with four catches on six targets for 68 yards and two scores. The target number could double this year. The Texans secondary is OK -- Johnathan Joseph has given the Patriots some issues in the past -- but not spectacular. Particularly on the outside, away from middle-of-the-field defenders Tyronn Mathieu and Aaron Colvin, the Patriots may be able to find some room to throw. I think Phillip Dorsett could end up running many of the inside routes Edelman typically handles, leaving Hogan available to work on the outside against Houston's lesser defenders. On volume alone, Hogan should be a WR2 in 10-team leagues this week, and a FLEX play in deeper leagues.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans: For me, this isn't a no-brainer. I'm of the opinion that Watson is due for a regression. He was, as he was at times at Clemson, reckless with the football as a rookie and got away with it. His completion percentage was just shy of 62 percent last season, placing him in Jay Cutler and Eli Manning territory. But he hit on enough big plays that his yards per attempt finished up at a very impressive 8.3. Despite the fact that he may come back to earth statistically, the Patriots had enough trouble last year slowing down quarterbacks who can extend plays (Watson, Cam Newton) that I'd be comfortable rolling with Watson here. The Patriots bottled up both Tyrod Taylor and Marcus Mariota late last season, but Mariota is a mobile quarterback who doesn't throw well on the run, and Taylor's weapons in Buffalo were so putrid that even when he could extend plays, his receivers had trouble finding open space. Watson has one of the best receivers in the league at his disposal in Hopkins (a no-doubt starter this week; we're not wasting your time writing about him) and a deep-ball specialist in Will Fuller who will keep the Patriots secondary honest. There's an element of the unknown to New England's defense in 2018 with Brian Flores calling the plays. Will they be more aggressive? Will they be more likely to create turnovers? That's a possibility. And I think the Patriots have improved talent-wise on the defensive side since the end of last year. But I'm still willing to play Watson, even in his first game coming back off of an injury. Speaking to Bill O'Brien on Tuesday, the Texans coach seemed very confident in his quarterback's ability to create with his legs from the jump in Year 2.
Sony Michel/Rex Burkhead, RB, Patriots: This is all about availability. Neither player has practiced much this summer. With Michel, especially, that leads me to believe it's going to be very difficult for him to make any significant impact early this season. White told me this week that the best way to earn Brady's trust is to be out there and doing the right things over, and over, and over, and over again. Michel may know what he's doing. He may be incredibly trustworthy for someone in his first year of professional football. But he hasn't been out there. That would worry me if he was on my fantasy roster, and I wouldn't feel comfortable starting him. Burkhead, meanwhile, has Brady's trust. He was dynamite when healthy last season. But he wasn't always healthy last season. Like Michel, he didn't play a snap in the preseason. Both Burkhead and Michel have practiced this week, and if either is listed as a "full" participant -- or avoids the injury report altogether -- then I'd change my tune.
Phillip Dorsett, WR, Patriots: Dorsett will have opportunities. He's the No. 2 receiver with Edelman out. And I'd anticipate Dorsett running his fair share of the same routes Edelman would handle. He's quick enough in short spaces to uncover quickly. We just haven't seen him do it much. He had a nice night in preseason game No. 3 -- catching all four of his targets from Brady, including one on fourth down -- but I'd still like to see him produce in a regular-season game before I'm OK starting him. Would I pick him up and add him to my roster based on his role in a high-powered passing offense? I would. (And I have.) He could be someone who puts up nice numbers for you in Weeks 1-4, and then would be a trade candidate before Edelman returns. Even then, he may carry fantasy value as the No. 3 in New England.