A normal roster cutdown day can accurately be described as a roller-coaster ride. And for the couple days leading up to Aug. 31, 2021, the slow trickle of mostly-predictable cuts looked like we were rattling up the first leg of (insert your favorite roller coaster from back in the day here), getting ready for that first magnificent drop that’d blow your hair back and get you that sweet, sweet adrenaline rush in spades.
Then, at approximately right between first and second breakfast on Tuesday morning, for at least two generations of New England Patriots fans, it turned into your first time skydiving.
First-time jitters? No worries, there’s no time to be nervous when your instructor says it’s go time and you’re hurtling towards the earth at 120 mph!
All that is to say, now that the 2021 Patriots’ talk-of-the-town quarterback competition and 53-man roster is more or less set, there’s another time-honored tradition on the calendar between now and kickoff at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 12:
“To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”
By that we mean dominating your fantasy football drafts.
Yes, draft-S, plural, because if you somehow can limit yourself to one (1) fantasy football league, you have TB12-diet-level discipline. That is not most of us.
And speaking of most of us, a key component of every fantasy football squad is as follows, and the analytics all back this up:
Drafting players you think are fun is good.
If they are fun players and they play for your real-life team, that’s even better.
And if they are fun players and play for the Patriots and you can draft them at a good value and not overspend while stealing one from your league members in plain sight, well, that’s about as good as it gets.
To that end, we’ve put together this helpful guide on where every Patriot is getting drafted in both PPR and non-PPR leagues this season, along with some relevant deets that we’ve gleaned from training camp, joint practices, and this year’s three preseason games. Whether you’re looking for early-round blue-chip starters or late-round high-upside dart throws, we’ve got you covered. And even if you’re drafting in a league full of Patriots fans, which is entirely likely if you’re here at the Pulpit in the first place, use this to your advantage — if you know your league is overdrafting Patriots, yeah it’s annoying, but guess who gets to reap the spoils when someone drafts Hunter Henry three rounds too early? You, that’s who.
For the average draft positions below, we’re going to be going off Fantasy Pros, which aggregates 150-plus expert rankings and gives us an average draft ranking. So while your rankings on your platform of choice may be a bit different, hopefully this’ll help you keep a cool head instead of having a nervous breakdown when the inevitable run on tight ends kicks off in Round 2 after Travis Kelce gets drafted with someone’s back-to-back picks at 12th and 13th.
Let’s get it rolling with arguably the most precious position in all of fantasy football:
New England’s famously magic-8-ball backfield got notably clearer this past week, with 2018 postseason legend Sony Michel being shipped out to the Los Angeles Rams in an entirely predictable “I just think I’m a different person now than when I met you” move.
That only leaves a few running backs for your draft board, which, all due respect to the apparently immortal Brandon Bolden, is probably quite a bit clearer than it has been in years past when it seemed like the Patriots could realistically give a literal handful of guys most of the carries on any given week. Let’s start with the guy that appears to be The Guy after Sony Michel’s departure:
Average Draft Position: 60th overall
Average Draft Position (PPR): 70th overall
Position Ranking: RB24 (standard), RB27 (PPR)
You’re gonna have to pony up pretty early if you think Damien Harris, who is a joy to watch on both a technique level and a violence level, is going to be a force on the Patriots’ offense this season. His slightly worse PPR ranking should tip you off that while Damien is plenty capable of catching out of the backfield, he only has five NFL receptions to his name on seven targets, so analysts pretty clearly want to see some passing game production and a more consistent week-in, week-out workload before they bump Harris up to the company of RBs like the Philadelphia Eagles’ Miles Sanders or the Jacksonville Jaguars’ James Robinson.
Harris will probably cost you a fourth-rounder, maybe a fifth if you’re lucky, but if you believe he’ll be dealt a LeGarrette Blount/Stevan Ridley-esque workload, he’s the only Patriots running back that has RB1 upside.
Average Draft Position: 194th overall
Average Draft Position (PPR): 203rd overall
Position Ranking: RB59 (standard), RB60 (PPR)
Rhamondre’s preseason has been nothing short of spectacular, garnering preseason awards from analytics dorks and diehard fans alike. That being said, no matter what scoring system you’re in, the draft positions above are either in “extreme dart throw, screw it, YOLO right?” territory at best, and really, they’re telling you Stevenson shouldn’t be drafted at all.
Preseason heroics notwithstanding, there’s just not a clear path to significant carries or any work in the passing game for Rhamondre, despite him appearing to be quite adept at both this August. Damien Harris appears to be the firmly entrenched early-down RB1, and displacing Super Bowl legend James White in the Patriots famous/infamous passing-down back role seems highly unlikely. It’ll certainly be tempting to draft Stevenson as a potential stash, and hey, if you can snag him with a Mr. Irrelevant pick, and you have enough room on your bench to stash him, more power to you.
Speaking of the man who would’ve been a Super Bowl MVP if it wasn’t for that guy that used to play quarterback here ...
Average Draft Position: 141st overall
Average Draft Position (PPR): 124th overall
Position Ranking: RB48 (standard), RB44 (PPR)
With a more traditional pocket passer under center, eyeballing Sweet Feet’s 2018 and 2019 production should make you smile if he’s still on your draft board in the waning moments of your draft when half the league is already five beers deep. In 2018, White accumulated almost 1,200 total yards and added seven receiving touchdowns to go with his five scores in the ground game. 2019 wasn’t quite as productive, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at with 908 total yards and six total touchdowns.
White’s real value, as always, lies in PPR leagues, or even half-PPR, where he’s capable of adding a few or several points to your bottom line just by catching the ball out of the backfield. Given his propensity for third-down and obvious-passing-situation work, White’s not a sexy pick, and you’ll probably forget he’s even on your roster a few times, but those weeks where you need a plug-and-play at the Flex position or one of your main backs is on bye, you’ll be glad you spent a pick to have him.
Again, with all due respect to J.J. Taylor and Brandon Bolden, that’s it for running backs. Let’s save quarterback for later and move on to the Patriots’ arguably weakest group on offense: the wideouts.
This group is almost certainly the biggest wild card on the 2021 Patriots roster, and despite all the money Bill Belichick shockingly threw at wide receivers this offseason, the steadiest option is probably still their most productive pass-catcher from last year. We’ll start with the man that’s doing his part to bring the good name of Jacoby/Jakobi back to New England:
Average Draft Position: 146th overall
Average Draft Position (PPR): 144th overall
Position Ranking: WR56 (standard), WR57 (PPR)
A darling on dark-horse lists from more than a few fantasy analysts, Jakobi Meyers led the Patriots in receiving yards with 729, although, ironically, the only times he found the end zone in 2020 were when he was slinging the rock to Cam Newton and Rex Burkhead. His fantasy utility for 2021, though, took a significant hit when the Patriots uncharacteristically gave the bag to two top-15ish tight ends and also fellow wideouts Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Meyers is the definition of a late-round dart throw this season — he may well pace the Patriots’ wide receiver group again, but given the team’s obvious desire to run some heavier packages and throw to the tight ends and the pedigree of Jakobi’s primary competition at wide receiver, he’s worth a draft-and-stash and not much else.
Average Draft Position: 142nd overall
Average Draft Position (PPR): 151st overall
Position Ranking: WR58 (standard), WR61 (PPR)
A pretty brutal ranking for the man coming off a career season of 896 yards and eight scores with the Las Vegas Raiders, but understandable given the following:
Agholor’s deep-threat nature tend to result in a delightful yards per reception average (18.7 in 2020, for example); the problem is, his catch percentage (cue the Catching Babies clip) is a middling 59.6 percent for his career and even a tick worse than that in 2020 (58.5 percent). That being said, Patriots QB Mac Jones proved in college that he’s a particularly adept thrower of the deep ball. Whether you prefer Meyers or Agholor as a late-round flier in your draft simply depends on your tolerance for boom-or-bust versus the player that’ll almost always net you between five and 12 points a game; Agholor proved last year that his game-breaking speed can still get him in double-digit fantasy scores in a hurry if he gets behind a defense hauls one or two passes in. If that dice roll is worth it to you, go bananas.
Average Draft Position: 292nd overall
Average Draft Position (PPR): 287th overall
Position Ranking: WR102 (standard), WR100 (PPR)
Kendrick Bourne may be a top-five Patriot in terms of spreading good vibes on the Instagram, and his utility as an over-the-middle chain mover is probably going to be a godsend for this team in real life. But having said all that, you should probably not be using a fantasy draft pick to select him. Put it this way; the run on defenses and maybe even kickers is going to start before Bourne even pops up on your “Remaining Players” list.
If he pops early in the season — and he certainly might — set yourself an iCal alarm to put in that waiver claim, but until then, don’t kid yourself.
No. Just no. Please do not tell me you need me to tell you to not spend draft capital here.
Fortunately, you can retain all of Gunner’s All-Pro punt return prowess by drafting the Patriots Defense/Special Teams, and not for nothing, he did find the end zone on a punt return last year. So, there’s that.
(Note: N’Keal Harry is not included due to his current injured reserve status)
Now let’s move along to the question everybody north of Danbury is probably wrestling with; which tight end to draft first?
A great problem to have in real life becomes an infuriating fantasy problem; which tight end is going to be on the field getting targets as the de facto TE1? As much as Patriots Nation appreciates a stellar tight end pancake block, that doesn’t fill in the fantasy stat sheet, and red zone targets may already be at a premium if this team runs the ball half as much as they seem to want to. Let’s start with the tight end that we all heard about first in free agency, the tweet/push alert bright and early on the first day of “agreeing to terms” that made you think “... wow maybe all those reports about the Patriots being uncharacteristically aggressive are true?”
Average Draft Position: 113th overall
Average Draft Position (PPR): 113th overall
Position Ranking: TE13 (standard), TE13 (PPR)
Jonnu’s been on a respectable tight end upward trajectory since his rookie season in 2017, but it’s his red zone usage in 2020 that’s eye-popping — a whopping eight scores in 14 games. Smith also saw a career high in targets (65) and catches (41) in 2020; the problem was, when the Tennessee Titans decided to send the ball his way, it was typically on short plays and safety valve/checkdown routes, to the point where Jonnu’s average yards per target was a wee 6.9. For comparison purposes, San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle, one of the game’s unquestioned best at the position, has averaged almost exactly 10 yards per target for the last 3 years.
That being said, you know as well as all of us do what a wasteland the tight end position can be if you don’t spend a precious early pick on Travis Kelce or Darren Waller; if you don’t mind springing for a tight end with top-10 upside in the eighth or ninth round, the payoff could be immense, especially if the Patriots attack the seams from the tight end position again.
Which is also true for, just a few spots lower, the player Bill Belichick’s been watching from a distance (that sounds weird, but in the strictly football scouting sense, it’s true) since the player in question was in high school in Little Rock, Ark.
Average Draft Position: 131st overall
Average Draft Position (PPR): 132nd overall
Position Ranking: TE17 (standard), TE15 (PPR)
Belichick’s scouting crushes live eternal, and in any other year in the post-Gronk era, the Patriots signing Hunter Henry for three years and almost $40 million would be reason enough to believe it’d only be a matter of when, not if, Henry reached the 1,000-yard-season promised land. In the 2021 season, though, Hunter’s seemingly low ranking is probably a jambalaya of a few concerning factors:
— Health (you’re probably aware of this, but Henry already hurt himself in camp, and while he’s supposed to be ready for Week 1, anyone who’s drafted or acquired Henry in fantasy before knows not to believe when he’s supposed to be back and healthy until you see it)
— Target share. In almost any other NFL offense, Henry would be the undisputed TE1, just like he was for most of his time in San Diego and Los Angeles. That being said, most analysts seem to be favoring Jonnu to outpace Hunter in target share and usage, so, make of that what you will.
Average Draft Position: N/A (not ranked)
Average Draft Position (PPR): N/A (not ranked)
Position Ranking: TE73 (standard), TE72 (PPR)
Do not draft Devin Asiasi, unless you’re his immediate or extended family. In which case, go bananas.
And now, for the QB1 for your 2021 New England Patriots....
Average Draft Position: 257th overall
Position Ranking: 33rd
By now, you’ve surely seen every Mac and Cam take under the sun, so we’ll just say that with great power comes great responsibility and leave the now-concluded quarterback competition at that.
For fantasy purposes, though, Mac’s standing compared to a few other rookie QBs is worth a second look: Despite being named the starter, he still ranks considerably behind his fellow class of ‘21 alums like Trevor Lawrence (QB15), Justin Fields (QB21, and even Trey Lance (QB23). For reference purposes, as of Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, it’s unclear if Lance will even turn out to be the full-time starting quarterback for San Francisco.
With that in mind, this surely goes without saying, but since we’re the society that needs CAUTION: HOT warnings on coffee cups, it’s probably not wise to draft Mac as your primary quarterback, even if you’re the type who prefers to let everyone else spend precious high picks on Aaron Rodgers and his elite ilk. Given that Mac’s average draft position has him not getting drafted at all, though, he’d make an excellent draft-and-stash to roll the dice on with your last few picks before your fantasy app forces you to pick a defense and a kicker. Either Mac gets good and can achieve starter-level production quickly, or, worst case scenario, if he’s only logging 10-15 points a week, it’s an easy drop that cost you basically nothing.
Which is an excellent transition to the New England defense and whether they’re still draft-able sans Stephon Gilmore or not!
Average Draft Position: 196th overall
Position Ranking: 8th
The short answer as to whether the Patriots defense can still be drafted is “yeah, probably”, which is probably a testament to just how vastly improved the front-7 should be compared to the 2020 campaign. The team currently has more high-pedigree pass-rushers than they can even get on the field on any given down, and between the return of Mr. February Dont’a Hightower to get everyone lined up and firing on all cylinders and a potential interior game-wrecker in fellow Bama alum Christian Barmore ... we could go on. You get the point.
And hey, if New England D/ST doesn’t turn out to be all that and a bag of chips, you can always fall back on the tried-and-true method of streaming whoever plays the New York Jets.
Finally, time for some kicker talk ... because I suppose we have to?
Average Draft Position: 413th overall
Position Rank: 33rd
Don’t do this. With all due respect to the boys of the Patriots Nation podcast, it’s a fine line between clever and stupid.
That’s all we got. Go forth and dominate your drafts!