The New England Patriots will have a revamped receiving corps in 2019, notably without its most recognizable, always grinning face, Rob Gronkowski.
Chris Hogan is also out of the mix, and Josh Gordon is facing an uncertain future after being indefinitely suspended last year. The Patriots spent a first-round pick on receiver N’Keal Harry to inject young blood into the stable. Veteran Julian Edelman enters the season as the top target for Tom Brady.
Incoming veterans Demaryius Thomas and Dontrelle Inman join on the outside, while one-time Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson returns to where it all began. Where do these guys fit into the Patriots’ offensive roles, and is there anything to be found here for fantasy football purposes?
Watson’s 16th season will begin with a four-game suspension, and he turns 39 in December. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was signed and released after a brief stay, making the Pats awfully thin at the position.
Thomas, while only 31 years old, has declined in skills and separation ability the past two years. The once-dominant former Denver Bronco is coming off of a second torn Achilles tendon in his career, suffered Dec. 24, 2018. The first time around, in 2011, he returned after six months. This recovery won’t be as smooth eight years later, and it is questionable if Thomas makes the roster.
Inman stepped up in 2016 with the then-San Diego Chargers when Keenan Allen went down, registering 58 receptions for 810 yards and four touchdowns. Inman was released the following spring and posted a 25-343-1 line with the Chicago Bears in 10 games. Indianapolis signed him in 2018, and he logged 28 grabs for 304 yards and a trio of touchdowns in eight games — plus a fourth score in the playoffs. Inman finished with three TDs in his final four total games last year.
The 2018 Pats dispersed 196 targets to the trio of Gordon, Gronk and Hogan. Edelman (9 targets/game in ’18) will dominate the target share, and James White figures to be second in line (5.9 targets/game). Phillip Dorsett has a chance to up his game after flashing at times in 2018. While he came on strong to close out the year, volume doesn’t align with his skill set.
The offense has shifted to the early days of Brady’s career, emphasizing the ground game. This team is built for the run and will throw when required, often setting it up with play-action passing. The overall volume of passing will be depressed, suggesting anyone behind Edelman and White will be fighting for scraps.
Fantasy football outlook
Thomas’ involvement rests solely on his health. He should be ready for Week 1 from a timing front; will he be in game shape as well as up to speed on the playbook? How about having chemistry with Brady? After displaying separation issues prior to the injury, why are we to expect this will change? All of these factors have DT going undrafted, on average, and there is little reason to suggest he warrants inclusion at this point. Watch how his situation plays out, in the event he surprises late in the summer.
Watson has a decent shot at posting lineup-worthy numbers once he returns from suspension. There’s a great deal of downside, obviously, but the opportunity to lead the tight end position on this team. In conventional formats, Watson isn’t worthy of being drafted. He should see enough targets to matter and is a reasonable waiver option as his suspension nears an end.
Inman is in the prime of his career and has the best chance of these incoming veterans to stand out. He benefits the most from Thomas missing time in the summer and gains the opportunity to build a rapport with Brady. Inman is mostly going undrafted, making the journeyman a pure-play upside flier.