Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New England Patriots

<p> Fantasy Football 2012: Breaking Down the New England Patriots</p>

What can the New England Patriots do for you this fantasy season? Check out Athlon Sports' team report as we break down the rookies, veteran players to watch and avoid, fantasy playoff schedule and more to help you get ready for the 2012 season.

Inside the Locker Room
with Shalise Manza-Young, Boston Globe

Does Brandon Lloyd take away from or add fantasy value to Wes Welker?
He likely hurts it. Lloyd figures to take away some catches and touchdowns from Welker. But a drop in receptions for Welker is still a good season for many receivers, and he’ll still be a good value, particularly in PPR leagues.

Will there be any lingering affects of offseason ankle surgery and rehab for touchdown machine Rob Gronkowski?
It’s hard to know if Gronkowski will be affected come August or September, but in May, he wasn’t on the field taking part in Patriots’ organized team activities. He was spotted going through rehab drills with the team training staff, and it’s likely the team will be very cautious about his recovery.

Can Aaron Hernandez be an every-week fantasy starter despite being the No. 2 tight end on the roster?
Yes. Hernandez has lined up all over the field for New England — split wide, in the slot, near the line, in the backfield — and that looks to continue. And now that the team signed a third tight end, Daniel Fells, Hernandez can be used in even more creative ways. He’ll get plenty of touches.

Will Stevan Ridley get the bulk of the carries and break the mold of the Pats’ RB-by-committee approach?
Not likely. The Patriots have gone with a committee approach at running back since 2006, and while Ridley was the team’s most explosive back last year (all of the Pats’ 20-plus yard runs were by Ridley), fellow 2011 draftee Shane Vereen missed almost his entire rookie season to injury. If Vereen is healthy, it’s hard to believe that he won’t get his share of carries.

Athlon's Best Bets

Sleeper: Brandon Lloyd, WR
Deep-Sleeper: Stevan Ridley, RB
Overvalued: Aaron Hernandez, TE
Top Rookie: Dont'a Hightower, LB
Bounce-Back: Brandon Lloyd, WR
Top IDP: Jerod Mayo, LB

2012 Draft Class

1. Chandler Jones DE 6-5 265 Syracuse
1. Dont’a Hightower LB 6-4 260 Alabama
2. Tavon Wilson S 6-0 205 Illinois
3. Jake Bequette DE 6-5 274 Arkansas
6. Nate Ebner S 6-0 205 Ohio State
7. Alfonzo Dennard CB 5-10 205 Nebraska
7. Jeremy Ebert WR 5-11 200 Northwestern

Fantasy Impact: The Patriots owned one of the NFL’s worst defenses last year, so it was no surprise that the first six selections in the draft were devoted to fixing that side of the ball. Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are expected to contribute immediately, and both players will add playmaking ability and speed to the defense. Jake Bequette will help with the pass rush, while Tavon Wilson provides depth at safety. Jeremy Ebert faces an uphill battle to make the team and is unlikely to have any fantasy value in 2012.

Fantasy Playoff Run: Weeks 14-16 (HOU, SF, at JAC)

The Pats start the playoffs against a Texans team that was top five against fantasy QBs, RBs and TEs and top 10 against receivers. They then play host to a 49ers team that was top seven against QBs, RBs. However, the 49ers and the Jaguars both struggled against tight ends last season. That’s certainly good news if Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are on your team.

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