The New England Patriots were the only team in the NFL with three players that averaged 12+ fantasy points per game (FPG) in 2015: TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Julian Edelman, and RB Dion Lewis.
These three combined for 17 missed games in 2015, which makes them less desired assets in fantasy football, but this creates an opportunity for the savvy team builder.
The Falcons (WR Julio Jones, RB Devonta Freeman), the Bills (WR Sammy Watkins, RB LeSean McCoy), the Texans (WR DeAndre Hopkins, RB Arian Foster), and the Steelers (WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell) were the only other teams with two skill players to post 12+ FPG. Foster played 4 games, while Bell played 6.
Now there are some easy question marks to raise about the viability of Gronk, Edelman, and Lewis all attaining 12+ FPG in 2016. An obvious question is whether or not the injuries to these players opened up opportunities and a spike in a production.
Over the first eight games of the season, prior to Lewis’ season-ending ACL tear, the trio all exceeded 12+ FPG. Lewis stood at 12.03 FPG, while Edelman averaged 13.28 FPG and Gronkowski averaged 13.91 FPG. For the record, RB LeGarrette Blount also averaged 11.96 FPG over this time frame.
It turns out that these players were less productive when the others were injured, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Having three dynamic and game-changing players on the field can demolish a defense since one will generally be open at all times. A rising tide raises all boats.
Another concern would be how these players return from injury. TE Rob Gronkowski has been practicing and should be fully ready to dominate the league. RB Dion Lewis is already back on the practice field and is eyeing a return for week 1. WR Julian Edelman has yet to practice this offseason due to his foot injury and the Patriots won’t rush him back to the field like they did in the 2015 postseason.
And then there’s the question about whether or not QB Jimmy Garoppolo will hinder the offense for the first four games of the season (if he even plays).
Gronkowski is the surest bet to exceed 12+ FPG. He’s one of five players to average 12+ FPG in four of the past five seasons (no one is five for five), along with four running backs in Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte.
Lewis would be my second option to also crack 12+ FPG. First, he’s back on the field which gives him a leg up on Edelman. Second, the Patriots did very little to address the running back position this offseason, leaving the door wide open for Lewis to kick it down.
Compare the situation to the wide receiver group, where the Patriots signed Chris Hogan and Nate Washington, and drafted Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien, and the picture gets a little more muddied.
I still think Edelman can exceed 12+ FPG if he’s fully healthy. In his three years as a starter, he’s improved his yards per game from 66.7 to 76.1 to 79.4. He’s averaged the 13th most FPG of active WRs since the start of the 2014 season and three receivers ahead of him are currently in the midst of an ugly quarterback transition (Broncos WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, Jets WR Brandon Marshall).
A healthy Edelman could finish the season as a top 10 wide receiver and is certainly a weekly-starter in every fantasy league.
Five teams have had three players averages 12+ FPG in the past five seasons. The 2015 Patriots are joined by the 2014 Packers, 2013 Broncos and Bears, and the 2011 Lions. Injuries and free agency prevented those earlier four teams from repeating.
Don’t be surprised if the Patriots buck the trend and repeat the production in 2016.