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2022 New England Patriots Fantasy Preview

Damien Harris

Damien Harris

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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2021 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 6,008 yards (15th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 51 (11th)
Offensive Plays: 1,052 (t-22nd)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 563 (27th)
Rush Attempts: 489 (8th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 57 (5th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 45 (21st)

Coaching Staff
The Patriots lost longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to the Raiders this offseason. In his place, head coach Bill Belichick seems ready and willing to use Joe Judge and Matt Patricia -- both of whom left the safety of Belichick’s staff and flamed out as head coaches -- as co-offensive coordinators, with Judge working with the team’s quarterbacks and Patricia primarily heading the team’s rushing offense. It’s a curious and certainly concerning arrangement for Mac Jones, who looks to make a second-year leap without the offensive coordinator who helped coax him to a solid rookie campaign.

New England’s offensive language has reportedly been simplified from the McDaniels era as Patricia and Judge get their bearings. Two coaches committed to tough-nosed offensive football should mean the Patriots remain among the league’s run-heaviest teams in 2022. New England in 2021 had the NFL’s seventh-lowest pass rate over expected and had the fourth lowest pass rate while holding the lead (46 percent). Investing considerable draft capital in the offensive line and continuing to pay Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry like elite tight ends should mean the Pats deploy heavy offensive sets whenever they can in 2022.

Passing Game

QB: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Bailey Zappe
WR: Jakobi Meyers, Ty Montgomery
WR: DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor
WR: Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton
TE: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Dalton Keene

With the NFL’s sixth-lowest early-down neutral pass rate -- and the lowest over the season’s final two months -- the Patriots in 2021 showed they were more than comfortable with a hyper-conservative, ground-based offense. It’s an approach that propelled them to the postseason after a one-year absence; fantasy managers should expect more of the same in 2022. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Mac Jones is able to support more than one every-week fantasy wideout with New England’s slow pace of play and its commitment to establishing the run on early downs.

That likely leaves Jakobi Meyers, the team leader in route running rate and targets per route run last year, as Jones’ No. 1 receiver and the lone wideout fantasy managers can feel (somewhat) comfortable starting in 12-team formats. Don’t let Meyers’ relative lack of touchdowns fool you: He led the Patriots in targets inside the 20 yard and inside the 10 yard line last season. With a mere two touchdowns on 168 career receptions, Meyers has sneaky touchdown upside.

Kendrick Bourne -- the Patriots’ most efficient pass catcher in 2021 -- could have spiked weeks with big gains on limited targets. His playing time and usage fluctuated wildly last season, however. Meanwhile, newly acquired DeVante Parker has demonstrated an almost total inability to separate from defenders and has fleetingly little chance to emerge as a reliable fantasy producer unless Meyers or Bourne miss time in 2022. Parker does, however, have a better shot at being in the team’s two-wideout sets than Bourne.

Speedy rookie WR Tyquan Thornton will probably be the team’s kicker returner and an occasional deep threat for Jones, who was 19th in downfield throws in 2021. Jones was low-key excellent on those deep balls, ranking tenth in EPA per drop back on throws of more than 30 air yards. Thornton could hold some appeal if he overtakes Parker on the depth chart at some points this season.

Although Hunter Henry was deployed as the Patriots’ clearcut pass-catching tight end last year, it was Jonnu Smith who posted elite marks in targets per route run and yards per route run. This isn’t new for Smith, who was hyper-efficient as a little-used pass catcher in Tennessee. If fantasy managers get any indication that Smith will be more heavily utilized as a pass catcher, he’ll be worth rostering in 12-team leagues. Henry should suffice as a touchdown-dependent borderline TE1 in 12-teamers -- just like every other tight end in fantasy outside the top-tier options.

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Running Game

RB: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong, James White
OL: Isaiah Wynn, Cole Strange, Mike Onwenu, Trent Brown, David Andrews

The source of eternal fantasy frustration, New England’s backfield again shapes up as something of a guessing game for fantasy gamers brave enough to roll the proverbial dice on a Patriots back. Damien Harris will probably enter the season atop the team’s running back depth chart after leading New England in carries (202), rushing yards (929) and rushing touchdowns (15). Harris in 2021 absorbed a team-high 40 percent of the backfield’s high value touches (touches inside the ten yard line plus receptions). Harris, like any early-down banger, will once again rely on positive game script. In 2021, he averaged just 13.2 rushes in Patriots losses. Another year of dominating goal line opportunities should help Harris -- who last year finished sixth among running backs in rush yards over expected per attempt -- maintain his status as a fantasy floor option though.

Stevenson, who quickly fell out of favor with Belichick in 2021, proved explosive and productive in his sporadic usage as a rookie when he finally crept out of the head coach’s doghouse. He’s the favorite to inherit lead back status for New England if Harris struggles with injuries in 2022, and was nearly as efficient as Harris in 2021, finishing ninth in rush yards over expected per attempt in 2021. Stevenson’s lone 2021 start saw him go for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against the Browns. He’ll be running behind a stout Patriots offensive line that got even better this offseason. Stevenson -- graded by Pro Football Focus as the league’s seventh most elusive back in 2021 -- is an essential draft pick for fantasy managers who largely fade running back in the early rounds. He should have some weekly usefulness as the team’s RB2.

An explosive ball carrier and excellent pass catcher in four years at South Dakota State, Pierre Strong -- taken with the 127th pick of the 2022 NFL Draft -- could be a natural fit to eventually supplant James White as New England’s pass-catching back. White, of course, is entering his age-30 season, coming off a catastrophic hip injury in 2021. Praised for his pass-blocking acumen -- a skill that can endear a back to Belichick -- Strong could force the team to deploy him as a pass-catching specialist. Strong, who totaled 4,527 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns in 48 career games at South Dakota State, is an intriguing end-of-bench stash in deeper fantasy formats.

Win Total

The Patriots’ win total sits at 8.5, tied for the 17th highest in the NFL. Considering they had the league’s third highest point differential and won ten games in Mac Jones’ rookie year, New England -- with the NFL’s eighth toughest strength of schedule, per Warren Sharp’s analysis -- should be expected to eclipse their win total, barring disastrous regression from Jones and his new offensive coaches. The team’s strong offensive line and dependable defense and special teams units should allow the Pats to operate the way they prefer, and once again challenge for a playoff spot in the AFC.