Mohamed Sanu

Fantasy Football Beat: Add Eagles' Carson Wentz to Bill Belichick's list of baffled young quarterbacks?

Fantasy Football Beat: Add Eagles' Carson Wentz to Bill Belichick's list of baffled young quarterbacks?

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

Carson Wentz vs. Bill Belichick
With the way the Eagles offense and Patriots defense are constructed right now, there's no way you can play Carson Wentz this weekend. Even in two-quarterback leagues, he feels like a borderline play. The Eagles simply have no explosive element to their offense at the moment. And that was when Alshon Jeffery was in the lineup. Jeffery could be out due to a calf injury, and there is no one else at the receiver position who will scare the Patriots defense. As a group, Philly receivers have 933 yards receiving this year, putting them on pace for almost 1,700 yards total. Michael Thomas of the Saints is on pace to break that mark all by himself. In their last six games, Philly receivers don't have a touchdown catch longer than six yards. It's not good for Wentz. And his favorite target, Zach Ertz, will certainly be getting extra attention from Belichick's defense. Yes, Wentz may find matchups he likes in Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders (more on them later), and he has the ability to scramble for fantasy points. But you simply can't depend on Wentz, against a very good Patriots pass defense, as anything more than a borderline top-20 option this week. I'd start Matthew Stafford replacement Jeff Driskel over him. 

POPPERS

Julian Edelman
According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles are allowing a league-low 7.6 fantasy points per game to opposing slot receivers, but Julian Edelman still needs to be in your starting lineup. The Patriots will want to get the football out quickly against Philly's pass-rush -- led by the still-ridiculous Fletcher Cox -- and Edelman will be a big-time beneficiary. It's worth noting that Edelman is off of the injury report for the first time since Week 3. 

Mohamed Sanu
One more week in the system. One more week to gain the trust of Tom Brady. There's a reason why both Sanu and Brady have said they're "gonna have some fun" when they get on the same page. Sanu, who played outside against the Ravens but could eventually see more time in the slot, is coming off a 10-catch game in Baltimore and should see plenty more targets this weekend. Even if he plays outside for another week, that'd be a good thing against the Eagles, who allow 29.6 fantasy points per game to opposing outside receivers -- most in the NFL. 

James White
Philly has had some success against pass-catching backs this year. They rank second in success rate allowed to backs, per Sharp Football Stats, but this feels like a game where the Patriots will rely on their excellent receiving back. The Eagles have linebackers who've struggled in coverage at times, and if the Patriots can get a 'backer -- particularly linebackers Nigel Bradham or Nate Gerry -- aligned across from White, they'll have it made. The screen game, which could slow down the Eagles pass-rush, could also be key this weekend. If it's deployed, White is likely to be the beneficiary. Rex Burkhead is someone we have to see contribute regularly -- and stay healthy -- before we could consider starting him. 

Jordan Howard
The Patriots are 26th against the run this season, allowing 4.7 yards per carry through nine games. Couple that with the fact that the Eagles passing game could be stuck in neutral -- explained above -- and Howard could be looking at a nice little fantasy day. He has 42 attempts combined in his last two games and should be used early and often again this week. 

Dallas Goedert
OK so "popping" is a relative term here on the Fantasy Beat. Will Goedert have as many fantasy points as Ertz (mentioned below)? I don't think so. But I expect him to out-perform his expectations, if that makes sense. He's considered to be in Vance McDonald/Darren Fells territory this week by some experts. I'd have him ranked higher. I'd have him ahead of Noah Fant in Denver and ahead of Mike Gesicki in Miami. The reason? I expect him to play quite a bit, since the Eagles have been using more and more two tight end sets -- and since Jeffery is looking like he'll be out or really limited. Plus, the Patriots have had a helluva time trying to stop two tight end looks. We went into detail on the "how" and "why" of things here, but it wouldn't surprise me if Goedert ended up with a top-12 fantasy day at tight end against New England. 

Tom Brady
It looked like the Patriots found something in Baltimore. Their hurry-up offense was productive and allowed Brady and his teammates to get into a rhythm we haven't seen much from them in 2019. They could use it again in Philly to help slow down players like Cox or Derek Barnett or Brandon Graham. If that's the case, Brady will be chucking it all over the lot. He'll need time -- the numbers suggest he's as good from a clean pocket as he's ever been, but he's as bad when facing pressure as he's ever been -- and if he gets it, he'll be a top-10 play this week. The Eagles secondary is flawed and their middle-of-the-field players -- their linebackers and safeties -- have been so aggressive coming downhill that I'd expect Brady and Josh McDaniels to try to toy with them early with play action. 

DROPPERS

N'Keal Harry
Going hurry-up might help Brady's numbers. I'm not sure it'll do wonders for Harry's. The rookie first-rounder was kept on the sidelines in Baltimore as Brady orchestrated a fast-paced offense in a hostile environment. Will one more week of prep have Harry ready to go if the game plan is similar in Philly? It sure sounds like Harry is going to play this weekend, but until we see what kind of role he'll have, you could only play him in the deepest of leagues as you hope for a red-zone target. (That is the type of thing Harry could help them with so it's not completely out of the realm of possibility.)

Zach Ertz
I think there's a decent chance we see Stephon Gilmore take Ertz the way we saw Aqib Talib take Jimmy Graham back in 2013.b

Miles Sanders
I wouldn't hate Sanders as a FLEX play in deep leagues, but if you're doing that, you're doing it in the hopes that as Wentz and the Eagles get away from receivers in the passing game, they start to move targets towards someone like Sanders. Still, he's had just three targets in each of Philadelphia's last four games. He could hit them for a few long ones, as he did in Minnesota in Week 6, but so far the Patriots have been pretty effective against backs in the passing game. They're fifth in the NFL, allowing just 5.0 yards per target to opposing backs. If they come at Wentz with zero-blitz pressure, that might be an effective way to neutralize Sanders in the passing game since it would likely require him to stay in the backfield to help as part of the pass-protection scheme. Wentz is smarter than most of the passers the Patriots have seen this season, but all the Patriots have to do to generate pressure is confound someone like Sanders or fellow rookie left tackle Andre Dillard. 

Sony Michel
If you're playing Sony Michel, you're hoping for a touchdown. And there's a chance you'd get one on the goal line, but the Patriots have been throwing more lately from down in close, which has meant fewer opportunities for New England's big back. He has just five red-zone carries in the last two games, and he's averaging 1.2 yards per attempt on those, with no touchdowns. What happened to Michel in the passing game in Baltimore, with one drop and one snap where it looked like he ran an incorrect route, there just doesn't seem to be much opportunity looming for him. 

Phillip Dorsett
The hurry-up might be a good thing for the Patriots passing offense, but the emergence of Sanu and a potential Harry debut make Dorsett's role a little less certain. He's dependable when he's thrown to, but he doesn't see enough targets to make him a must-start in any week. This week is no different. 

Eagles receivers
Just don't do it. 

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Patriots' Mohamed Sanu has advice for 'special kid' N'Keal Harry: 'Don't think too much'

Patriots' Mohamed Sanu has advice for 'special kid' N'Keal Harry: 'Don't think too much'

FOXBORO — Mohamed Sanu sounded as though he was talking about someone who might take the field soon. But hard to be sure. He was talking about fellow Patriots receiver N'Keal Harry, who has yet to play in a regular-season game.

"He’s a special kid," Sanu said Thursday. "He (should) just go and be himself and let his abilities take over. Don’t think too much. Have fun. He’ll be good."

Is that "he'll be good" as in "he'll be good" on Sunday? Or "he'll be good" eventually? Or "he'll be good" as a practice player the rest of the way?

Harry was left off the game-day roster in Week 9 as the Patriots took on the Ravens — his first opportunity to play in a game since hitting injured reserve at the start of the season — and now the question is whether or not he'll be ready to make his debut against the Eagles on Sunday afternoon.

In his first meeting with reporters since hitting IR, he was asked how it feels to be ready to get back on the field. 

"It feels great getting out there with my team," Harry said. "Just getting better every day with them, just looking for my role and they way to help the team."

Harry was taken with the No. 32 overall selection in the spring out of Arizona State and looked like a fit as a contested-catch weapon — someone who could bail out Tom Brady in tight spots — for a Patriots offense that was going to be without one of the best contested-catch pass-catchers of the last decade in Rob Gronkowski.

And Harry's start with the team this summer was promising. He had one practice with several drops, but otherwise seemed to make an impressive reception just about every day. He was injured in a practice against the Lions and then played in the preseason opener later that week. He made two catches — both on the outside, both against physical coverage — before getting hurt on the second. 

He left the game and was not a participant in Patriots practices for the remainder of training camp. His next practice was after sitting out the required six-week period for players designated by their teams to return off of IR. 

"It's been great," Harry said, "just going out there with the mentality to get better every day. Just going out there, trying to do my best to get better and get better at something every day. It's been good."

Harry didn't dispute the fact that he might've tried to play through something in Detroit to get on the field for the first exhibition game of the season against the Lions. He said he had no regrets about how the early portion of his rookie season played out, though.

"No, I don’t have any regrets," Harry said. "I don’t need to show anything. Me going out there and playing hard, playing through stuff, that’s just the type of mentality I have and that’s the type of mindset I grew up having. It wasn’t me trying to show anything, show toughness, it was just me."

He's had an opportunity now to be him -- someone described by Tom Brady as "tenacious" and as having an "edge" -- at practice for about a month.

Whether or not the rest of the world should expect to see him be him during a game this weekend remains to be seen. 

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Better late than never for Patriots with Mohamed Sanu

Better late than never for Patriots with Mohamed Sanu

This is Mohamed Sanu’s eighth season in the NFL and – prior to Sunday night – he’d never been featured in a game like he was against the Ravens.

In just his second game with the Patriots, Sanu played every offensive snap – all 67 of them – and was targeted with throws on 14 of those snaps. He caught 10 of them.

Never before had Sanu played every offensive snap in the NFL. His previous highs were 62 snaps in 2016 and 61 snaps in 2017 and 2018 when he was with the Falcons. The 14 targets and 10 receptions matched his career highs in both categories set when he was with the Bengals in 2014.

We knew Sanu was just what the doctors (in this case, Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels) ordered when the trade was made and we detailed it the day it went down:  he’d have on Julian Edelman’s workload, the way he’d change the color on Tom Brady’s mood ring, the red-zone potency (he caught a touchdown in the first half against Baltimore).

Truth be told, Sanu probably should have been here all along. He was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Rutgers, selected at No. 83. The Patriots went into the 2012 season with newly-signed free agent Brandon Lloyd, aging Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman as their four wideouts. They had Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski as multi-dimensional tight ends so it wasn’t like they went into that season strapped for targets.

But Welker’s deal was going to be up at the end of the year, Edelman hadn’t yet made the strides he would, Branch was at the end and Lloyd was – despite all his skill – mercurial.

The Patriots took Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower with their first two picks in that draft. Home runs. Then they took Tavon Wilson with the 48th pick. Three-pitch K. Backwards K. At 90 – a few picks after Sanu went to the Bengals, the Patriots took defensive end Jake Bequette.

This isn’t 20/20 hindsight. This is what I wrote prior to that draft.

Ridiculously productive at Rutgers where he set Big East records for career receptions (210) and single-season receptions (115 in 2011). At 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, he's got good size and has shown adaptability in the passing game with the ability to run a lot of different routes well and be creative at setting up defenders. Enjoys the physical part of the game - blocking, working inside - and has multi-dimensional skills as both a return man on special teams and as a Wildcat quarterback.

This kid reeks to high heaven of David Givens-ness. Givens, a seventh-round pick from Notre Dame in 2002 who turned into a brilliant receiver over the next few seasons, was 6-1, 217 coming into the league with a 4.56 40-yard dash at the Combine. He had a great build and the potential to get better physically and mentally and he did once he got in the program. Sanu is a more finished version of Givens at 6-2, 211 and -- while his 4.66 time at the Combine concerned people -- he's said to be football fast and is such a technician he makes up for the heartbeat of speed he may be lacking in a straight-line sprint. The Patriots have four targets filling roles for Tom Brady. Wes Welker is the slot; Brandon Lloyd is the downfield X-receiver; Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the versatile tight ends running in the flats and down the seams, Deion Branch is working the sidelines. That would be the role for Sanu the same way it was for Givens. The deep out, the backline drag in the end zone - key spots for a smart, physical player like Sanu who can replace Branch. Plus, he returns punts. And he comes from the Belichick-approved Greg Schiano program at Rutgers.

The 23-year-old junior was seen as a borderline first-rounder until the NFL Combine. But the rise of some other wideouts with better measurables but far less production (Stephen Hill) may drive Sanu down the board. The later it goes, the more likely it is he joins the Patriots. Bill Belichick has said in the past that the second round is a place for gambles. Sanu isn't really that. He doesn't have a ridiculously high NFL ceiling. But the chance of him becoming a total bust is unlikely as well. If he's on the board at 62, the Patriots would be getting a steal.

And they would have. By the time the 2013 season began, Welker was a Bronco, Hernandez was in jail, and Lloyd was released and out of the NFL for the year. The Patriots signed Danny Amendola and got busy at wideout in drafting Aaron Dobson in the second round and Josh Boyce in the fourth.

Neither one of them ultimately worked out. Meanwhile, Sanu was settling in with the Bengals where he’d be a useful player for a mediocre team until hitting free agency in 2016.

The Patriots showed some interest in Sanu then but he was pursued harder by the Falcons. The Patriots brought aboard Chris Hogan and Nate Washington.

Big picture, what did the Patriots miss out on while Sanu was a Bengal from 2012 to 2015? They went to the AFC Championship each of those years, they won a Super Bowl in 2014, they’ve won two more since they didn’t grab him in free agency. Was Sanu the silver bullet that would have delivered a string of uninterrupted Lombardis?

Probably not. And it’s not worth kicking rocks about given the success of the franchise.

But it was a draft-day wideout miss (Aside: I could have been spoonfeeding these guys wideout picks – I was ALL OVER Tyler Lockett in 2015 and Sterling Shepard in 2016 as later-round picks who’d click).

Now that they have him, Brady is over the moon.

"He's done a great job," Brady told Scott Zolak for WBZ's "Patriots All-Access. "Any time someone's forced in, in a short period of time, it's really hard to learn an entire offense that most guys are starting in March and then installing and picking up these things ... It's hard to get someone up to speed in a very short period of time. 

"He's someone that's done everything we could expect and more. Him having the targets the other night, making the plays, not only his hands, his run-after-the-catch, his toughness, we're definitely gonna have some fun working together the second half of the year as he gets more comfortable, confident in what we're doing and we gain more of a shared vision of how we see things. I think our chemistry is going to keep improving."

So maybe all’s well that ends well. With a defense like the one they have and – in Sanu – an asset that can make the offense more consistent and productive, the potential for 2019 ending well is high.

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