2013 Outlook: What's the world coming to, when Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan both stick to their lead rushers and make fantasy stars of them? While Alfred Morris was tearing it up in D.C., Ridley became the latest goal-line monster in New England, except unlike his predecessor BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Ridley has legitimate between-the-tackles explosiveness. We hesitate to call Ridley a fantasy first-rounder because he doesn't play on third downs. But New England has 14 more rushing attempts from inside an opponent's 10 than any other NFL franchise over the past three seasons combined. Provided LeGarrette Blount doesn't get involved on the goal line (and we don't think he will), Ridley will post 10-plus TDs again this season, many of the short variety.
2013 Outlook: Brady just keeps breaking the rules. Top fantasy QBs aren't supposed to rank 19th among NFL signal callers in average yards at the catch. They aren't supposed to rank 23rd in completion percentage on throws of more than 20 yards. And they aren't supposed to achieve excellence without an above-average outside receiver. But in '12, Brady kept doing all those things. He might have the fastest release in the NFL, and his production inside the numbers (17 TDs, 5 INTs and 3,017 yards in '12) is almost unmatched. Sure, he'll be 36 in August. But this rule-breaker shows no signs of slowing down; if anyone can overcome the loss of as many offensive weapons as the Patriots could be missing in Week 1, it's him.
2013 Outlook: Amendola has the opportunity of a lifetime, joining the Patriots and becoming Tom Brady's weapon of choice, replacing Wes Welker. Now, despite the fact that Amendola and Welker both went to Texas Tech and have had success playing out of the slot, they're not exactly the same guy. Amendola is a bit bigger and has better deep speed, which is good. But he's also injury prone, where Welker has been an ironman. Amendola played in 11 of a possible 32 games over the past two seasons with the Rams. The upside is huge, but we'll believe in a healthy Amendola when we see him.
2013 Outlook: The Gronk is open even when he's covered. He might be the most lethal red zone weapon in NFL history; he has 29 red zone TDs over the past three years, nine more than any other player. And despite the fact that he missed most of 2012's final six games, he still finished second in fantasy points among TEs. The downside? He does get hurt; he was hobbled in Super Bowl XLVI with a high-ankle sprain, broke his arm last year and needed back surgery this summer. It now seems likely that Gronkowski will miss games in September, but we still view him as fantasy's No. 2 TE. Select him, make sure you get a serviceable backup (like Zach Sudfeld) for the first couple weeks, then bask in the draft-day value.
2013 Outlook: Vereen's fantasy fortunes took an upward turn when Danny Woodhead signed with San Diego. Though Stevan Ridley is locked in as the starter and goal-line back, the Patriots have a ton of supplemental work available. In '12, Woodhead and Vereen combined for 186 touches from scrimmage, and if those all go to Vereen by himself, he'll make a fantasy dent in '13. He proved a natural as a no-huddle back in January when Woodhead missed time, scoring three TDs in a game against the Texans, and his quickness and pass-catching chops are legit. Vereen is more than just Ridley's handcuff.
2013 Outlook: By recording 41 takeaways -- good enough for second in the league -- and drastically reducing their yardage allowed per game, Belichick’s ball hawks certainly showed progress in '12. The midseason snag of Aqib Talib was an immediate difference maker, Devin McCourty has turned into one of the best free safeties in the game, and the linebackers are stout against the run. Weaknesses include cornerback depth, strong safety play, and generating a pass rush in key situations. If Chandler Jones builds off a strong rookie year, it's possible he becomes a sack master, but overall we still do worry about this pass defense a bit.
2013 Outlook: Thompkins is a nontraditional rookie; he played two seasons at the University of Cincinnati after transferring from community college, and went undrafted this spring. But the Patriots may have uncovered a gem; Thompkins has average size but above-average speed, and could be an answer as a sure-handed outside receiver. Fellow rookie Aaron Dobson comes with more hype, but Thompkins has apparently edged past him into the starting lineup to begin the year. Any starter catching passes for Tom Brady certainly deserves to be drafted in all leagues.
2013 Outlook: Gostkowski is our No. 1 bootsman because he gets an acceptable number of field goal attempts, and an extraordinary number of extra points. Since '06, he's been top-five in extra-point attempts in four of six seasons, including '12 when he bested every other NFL kicker by nine. The Patriots offense should continue to number among the league's best, and Gostkowski was an impressive 11-for-15 on kicks 40 yards or longer. But he gets you two-plus fantasy points more than the average kicker each week from extra points alone, and those are points you can put in the bank.
2013 Outlook: Dobson still has a chance to make an impact as a rookie, but he's apparently been passed by Kenbrell Thompkins on the Pats' depth chart. Dobson does have the most dangerous raw combo of size and speed in New England, plus has highlight-reel hands and good football intelligence. In a best-case scenario, he bypasses Thompkins during the year and provides a spark to your fantasy team. But until he's in New England's starting lineup, he's not usable in fantasy.
2013 Outlook: Undrafted after three seasons as a frustrating platoon runner at Notre Dame, Wood will try to make the Texans' roster with his high-upside skills. A 213-pounder with burst and a sturdy enough frame to take on defenders in the box, Wood will find Houston's coaching staff unwilling to accept his backfield dancing, during which he tries to break a big play rather than get up hard into the hole. The good news is that Wood overcame a crowded preseason depth chart, and will be the No. 3 runner behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate. He's an injury away from decent value.
2013 Outlook: Edelman briefly flashed playmaking ability to start 2012, temporarily starting ahead of Wes Welker before injuring his left hand in Week 3. By the time Edelman got healthy, Welker was on fire and playing time was no longer available. But while Danny Amendola signed with the Pats, Welker and Brandon Lloyd have left New England. Plus, Rob Gronkowski needed surgery this winter and Aaron Hernandez was cut. Edelman will inherit part of Welker's slot role if he's healthy, and that could put him on the fantasy radar at times.
2013 Outlook: After running for 1,007 yards and six scores as an undrafted rookie in '10, Blount's production cratered. A huge guy at 247 pounds, Blount tries to avoid tacklers rather than take them on, and his instincts and speed are lacking. The Pats acquired him for Jeff Demps and a seventh-rounder in April's draft, but we're skeptical Bill Belichick will find that Blount is his kind of player once he sees him up close. If Blount ever got his power game going, he could make an imposing goal-line back, which would threaten Stevan Ridley's fantasy value. But we don't believe that will happen.
2013 Outlook: Bolden, an undrafted rookie from Ole Miss, found himself starting for the Patriots in Week 4 last year and ran for 137 yards and a TD. He served as Stevan Ridley's primary backup for a couple more weeks, but then flunked a drug test and served a four-game suspension. When he returned, he'd been bypassed by Shane Vereen, and that's how we expect New England's depth chart to look Week 1 this year, though LeGarrette Blount will get a look in camp. If he stays on the straight and narrow, Bolden could work his way back into the mix.
2013 Outlook: Ryan Mallett's fantasy potential most likely will not be realized in a Patriots uniform. That's what happens when you're Tom Brady's caddie. But we said the same thing about Matt Cassel in '08, and after Brady went down in Week 1 that year, Cassel became an honest-to-goodness fantasy factor. Mallett has as many interceptions as completions in his regular-season career (one apiece), but he also has a rocket arm and prototypical NFL size. Plus should the Pats decide to deal Mallett this summer, he could become someone's starter of the future.