The 2015 NFL MVP could get the first shot at replacing Tom Brady under center
The news about the New England Patriots agreeing to terms with free-agent quarterback Cam Newton on a one-year contract should have come as little surprise. Newton might not be "Superman" or an MVP-caliber quarterback anymore, but he has too much talent for a team to not at least take a chance, especially given the questions at the position elsewhere around the NFL. And did you really think the Patriots were going to go into their first training camp of the post-Tom Brady era with Jarrett Stidham, who has a total of four pass attempts to his credit, and veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer as their top two options on the roster?
Let's start there with the fantasy repercussions. For those of you holding onto Stidham in keeper and dynasty leagues, this was a severe blow. Even if Stidham does somehow beat Newton for the No. 1 job, his market value has taken a severe hit. I'm sure the cost to those who wish to hold onto Stidham is relatively low. However, those with three other viable options at quarterback should not hesitate to drop him. Be aware, however, that Stidham will be the first man up should Newton win the job and subsequently get hurt.
Which brings us to Newton. The 2015 NFL MVP and three-time Pro Bowler becomes a viable QB2 on his talent alone. Yet, I am still concerned about Newton's health. First, there's the matter of the shoulder and foot injuries he sustained last year that limited him to two games. And his playing style, especially as a runner not afraid of contact, has always made him more susceptible to injuries while contributing to his extensive medical file.
There also are concerns about the Patriots' offensive line, which returns all five starters and is expected to get center David Andrews, the primary pivot from 2015-18, back as well. However, legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia is not coming back as he has retired. That's not a good thing, for Newton, or the Patriots as a whole.
On the other hand, Newton's ability to make things happen with his legs, especially around the goal line, certainly impact his fantasy potential; and it's premature to say he's past his prime, considering he just turned 31 in May. But realistically, what should we expect from him? It has been five seasons since Newton has accounted for 30 combined (passing and rushing) touchdowns. Furthermore, are we sure the marriage of Bill Belichick and Newton (and for that matter, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) will go as swimmingly as the Brady years? I'd prefer to take a wait-and-see approach.
However, Newton's new pass catchers, primarily Julian Edelman, definitely get a bump. Edelman's ADP is currently hovering right around the 7th round, but you can expect this to rise. Edelman will not likely see the 150-plus targets he got last year, as Newton tends to spread the ball around, often throwing to whoever is open when he escapes the pocket. However, Newton has always had better arm strength than Brady. I expect Edelman's average depth of target (aDOT) to increase, enabling him to hit 1,100-plus yards again this upcoming season. With defenses also forced to account for Newton's running ability, Edelman should see fewer double-coverage looks and be able to build on the six touchdown catches he had last year.
Should Newton become the starter, the gaggle of New England running backs (headlined by James White and Sony Michel) will obviously be impacted, but not as negatively as you might think. Two years ago (remember, he played only two games last year), Newton finished with 488 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Of those, only one came on a run of longer than five yards. Given the wear and tear he has already accumulated, it would make sense to assume that the Patriots will employ Newton the runner around the goal line only when absolutely necessary.
Also worth noting: nearly a third (seven) of Newton's 24 touchdown passes thrown in 2018 went to running backs. I'm not bumping any New England ball carriers up in my rankings just yet, but the Newton signing is not causing me to drop any of them either.
— Written by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.