The New England Patriots paid the piper in 2020. They had eight players opt out of the season, the most in the league. They also went from Tom Brady to Cam Newton. Oh, and they drafted a white nationalist kicker, two tight ends, and nary a running back, quarterback, or tight end. Nobody is quite sure what the mad scientist, Bill Belichick, has cooking in Foxborough. They finished with fewer than ten wins for the first time since 2002 when they went 9-7. It feels like a gap year while Belichick retooled, but what should we remember about this iteration of the New England Patriots for 2021? Is there anything we can glean for 2021 fantasy football?
What to Remember from the 2020 New England Patriots Season
- Let’s start with the man who replaced Tom Brady, Cam Newton. Cam threw the ball 368 times in 15 games in 2020. That was the lowest figure for a QB who started at least 15 games since Mark Sanchez threw the ball just 364 times in 2009. The shocking part: Cam Newton ran the ball 137 times. Cam’s 137 rush attempts rank fourth all-time, behind two Lamar Jackson seasons and a Cam Newton season. 25.6% of Cam Newton’s touches (pass attempts + sacks + rush attempts) ended in a Cam Newton rush attempt. Shockingly, this was not the highest in the NFL this season, which went to Lamar Jackson’s 28.2%. Jackson’s 2019 (29.3%) holds the post-merger record for rush attempts per touch for QB. The game plan ended up far different in New England this season compared to the last two decades with Tom Brady.
- Jakobi Meyers found himself as the main beneficiary of the limited number of Cam Newton’s pass attempts. He ended the season with a 28.67% target share, which ranked fifth in the NFL, behind Davante Adams, Michael Thomas, Stefon Diggs, and DeAndre Hopkins. He had 81 targets. If you toss out players who missed a massive chunk of the season (Michael Thomas, George Kittle, Will Fuller, and Saquon Barkley, he was the only player in the top-thirty in target market share to have fewer than 85 targets. Who was number 31 in target share? Teammate Julian Edelman.
- Julian Edelman played in just six games this season, as injuries sapped him of basically everything he had left outside of his mind-meld with Tom Brady. Edelman will be 35 before the season starts, and has played just three full seasons by the time 2021 seasons roll around. That having been said, if you look at Edelman’s pre-injury games, he still paced out for 64 yards and 966 receptions in 115 targets. Depending on who is under center for the New England Patriots in 2021, he could be a late-round flier who returns top-36 PPR value through volume a la 2020 Cole Beasley. Or he could be toast. If Edelman leaves, Jakobi Meyers should vault up the ranks as literally the only wide receiver in New England worth anything.
- Speaking of which, it turns out that N’Keal Harry wasn’t this year’s DJ Chark. Newton turned flameout WRs Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess into fantasy football options, but couldn’t do that with Harry. Now, Cam threw the ball fewer than 25 times per game, so there wasn’t exactly a ton of passes to go around. Still, Harry did nothing to inspire any faith in him going forward. He ranked #106 in fantasy points per target, #74 in target separation, en route to ranks around 100 in yards per reception, target, and route run. His 56.9% catch rate ranked #87. It’s not like he had a lot of deep balls, either. His average depth of target was just 8.2. He has exactly one tantalizing statistic: his 71.4% contested catch rate was top ten. Which is good for him, because he can’t get open to save his life.
- Running back Belichickanery reared its ugly head again in 2020. Three different running backs led the team in carries throughout the season. Mercifully, Rex Burkhead was never one of them, so we were saved The Discourse on that front. Unfortunately, due to James White (and Burkhead) sucking away the passing game, the leading running back in carries for the Patriots rarely had enough carries to worry about. The leading running back from each game the Patriots played this season averaged 12.6 carries per game. Cam Newton averaged 9.1. It was never a winning play to start a Patriots running back. Despite leading the team in carries ten times, Damien Harris averaged just 13.7 carries per game, which ranked seventeenth. Unfortunately, he had half a catch per game. His touches per game ranked 28th in the league, between Salvon Ahmed and and Frank Gore. That just isn’t going to cut it.
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