• Inside the Locker Room
With Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe
Over/under: Wes Welker catches 100 passes in 2011.
Under — but not by much. After three straight seasons with 111 or more receptions, Welker had a still-impressive 86 catches in ’10. The drop can likely be attributed to two things: The veteran underwent ACL surgery in February 2010, and though he was back in time for training camp, he admitted that he had a hard time trusting his knee, which likely affected his play; and the additions of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (who had 87 catches between them) and Danny Woodhead (34 catches) meant that Tom Brady didn’t have to look to Welker as often because he had other options. Still, Welker is a favored target of Brady’s, and with this being the final year of his contract, he’ll be looking to show he’s still dangerous.
What do the additions of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley mean for the fantasy value of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Woodhead?
It means that fantasy players really shouldn’t have a Patriots running back on their rosters, at least not to start the season. There aren’t as many one-back offenses these days, but there hasn’t been a true workhorse back in New England since Corey Dillon in 2004, and therefore having a Pats running back on your fantasy team has been frustrating ever since. Green-Ellis did crack 1,000 yards last year but got precious few chances as a receiver. Ridley is looked at as a power back, and Vereen is considered another third down option. If one — or both — of the rookies proves early on that he can contribute, it will affect the numbers of Green-Ellis and Woodhead.
What’s the most intriguing question regarding fantasy football and the Patriots in your opinion?*
Will the defense have a player worth picking up? As a unit, the Patriots’ defense was a decent option last year, particularly as the season went on: it had 25 interceptions and 36 sacks, and allowed just 47 points over the final five weeks. But Mike Wright was the leader in sacks at just 5.5 — and he missed the final six games. Jerod Mayo led the league in tackles, but doesn’t get the other stats that help drive up fantasy value. The best bet could be at defensive back and picking up cornerback Devin McCourty or safety Patrick Chung. *Editor’s Note: The Patriots traded with the Redskins for DT Albert Haynesworth
• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: @WAS, @DEN, MIA
Tom Brady owners, feast your eyes on this: He starts the fantasy playoffs against defenses ranked 27th and 28th in points allowed to fantasy QBs a season ago. And if you can't decide between Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, use them both, as the Pats face defenses that were 19th, 27th and 18th against TEs, all allowing over 9.3 points per game to the position.
• Athlon Best Bets Sleeper: Tight ends Deep-Sleeper: Brandon Tate, WR Overvalued: Danny Woodhead, RB/WR Top Rookie: Shane Vereen, RB Bounce-Back: Stephen Gostkowski, K Top IDP: Jerod Mayo, LB
• Try to Avoid
Danny Woodhead, RB/WR
The cult hero of Foxboro will be hard-pressed to repeat his 2010 production with two elite tight ends, Wes Welker, two rookie RBs and BenJarvus Green-Ellis heavily involved in the offense. WAIT UNTIL: 12th RD
• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
Even though running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead were solid last season, Vereen and Ridley were added to the mix. Ridley could factor in around the goal line, while Vereen is more likely to serve as a change-of-pace option to Green-Ellis. Ryan Mallett could be used as future trade bait, while serving as the No. 3 quarterback this year.