There have been few teams noticeably silent offseason after offseason. Among this small group stand the New England Patriots. Outside of the Darrelle Revis signing a few years ago, there hasn’t been much to get excited about. The team had the Spring of 2007 Free Agency period in which they went absolutely nuts signing Ravens LB Adalius Thomas, WR Donte Stallworth, and trading for Raiders WR Randy Moss and Dolphins wideout Wes Welker. But outside of that, for the most part it’s been crickets.
2016 has been extremely interesting for fantasy football heads following the team. Even as a Patriots fan, when I hear about a signing or trade I immediately think how it impacts fantasy. That’s me doing work for you. You can call me Drake. See what I did there?! There’s no doubt the Patriots, barring an injury to #12 will be competitive this season, but for fantasy purposes when the team traded for Martellus Bennett, the New England faithful rejoiced and fantasy football minds around the world wondered about the opportunities. But before we anoint Martellus Bennett the new Aaron Hernandez in this offense, lets take a closer look..
In the onset New England has the best 1-2 punch at the Tight End position since the Gronk-Hern days. When the team signed Scott Chandler last season, fantasy footballers had similar excitement. Chandler was released this offseason, so it’s obvious the experiment failed. Looking forward to 2016 though, there’s no doubt that Gronkowski would benefit from having another pass-catching TE on the other side of the field to take some attention off him. Conversely so, Bennett would stand to gain from seeing less attention in the red zone where so many defenses key in on Gronk. At worst, with or without Danny Amendola, Martellus Bennett is the third pass-catching option. In many offenses, it’s not good enough to merit fantasy relevance, but in an offense that enjoys spreading the ball around as much as New England, there will always be value for the third, fourth, and fifth receiving options.
Looking at Bennett’s numbers, many could be surprised. He was second on the 2015 Bears team in targets (80). Only Alshon Jeffery had more looks from QB Jay Cutler. You could argue that Bennett was more efficient considering he had only one less reception to Alshon but 14 less targets. The team only scored 21 receiving touchdowns, three of which came from Martellus. For as lauded as the offense was heading into last season, they weren’t really efficient. In 2014 the Bears were better offensively as they scored nine more passing touchdowns. Fun fact: Martellus Bennett was the lone representative for Chicago in the Pro Bowl that year. Anyway, the 2014 Bears saw almost 100 more targets than the 2015 team. Bennett’s number was way up at 128; third on the team behind Jeffery and Matt Forte. He even had more targets than Brandon Marshall by over 20. The 29 year-old out of Texas A&M also saw his touchdowns doubled from 2015. He scored six times in ’14 so there’s no doubt that the offense as a whole was more efficient two years ago. As it relates to Red Zone targets in 2015, Bennett was fourth on the team behind Alshon, Eddie Royal (weird, I know), and Matt Forte. It’s worth noting that Bennett finished above Zach Miller whom the team just re-signed, leading to the trade to New England. In 2014 though, the better offensive year for Chicago, who was the best Red Zone option? You guessed it; Martellus Bennett, whom scored all six of his touchdowns in the RZ on 24 targets. He had more targets and completions than anyone else on the Bears that season.
There’s no doubt that New England has had the more productive offense the past two years, at the very least. Including penalties, the Patriots ran 672 passing plays to Chicago’s 549 in 2015. That’s 123 more pass plays for New England. As it relates to the rest of the NFL, the Bears ran the 9th least amount of passing plays as opposed to New England who ran the 4th most. That’s a stark difference. As it relates to Tom Brady and Jay Cutler in fantasy, there really is no comparison. Brady finished second in the entire league in fantasy scoring with 343 points in standard leagues. Cutler? 26th with 226 points. Scoring the 26th most fantasy points in the league is nothing to laugh at, but Brady scored over 100 points more than Cutler, meaning the offense in New England is more efficient and will allow Bennett more opportunities.
Bennett’s fantasy future in New England looks on the up & up, but a few things worry me; his usage & personality. Allow me to elaborate. Scott Chandler was a known Patriots killer over the course of his career with Buffalo. The idea when New England signed him last season from every fantasy footballers perspective is the exact same one we all have now; heavy two-tight end sets featuring both guys in the pass game. Chandler didn’t see the field nearly as much as we would’ve liked though, and he quickly flamed out. Dion Lewis suffered a torn ACL halfway through the season, Brandon LaFell missed the first six games with a foot injury, and James White was a situational player at best. All three players finished with more targets than Chandler. He was hardly involved in the teams’ offensive game plan. From that perspective, it makes pigskin heads weary on Bennett. From his reported badgering of Bears GM Ryan Pace for a new contract to the many stories of how weird he is, many wonder if 83 can keep his head on straight and his mouth shut long enough to make an impact in New England. That remains to be seen. As for the rest? The proof is in the pudding and if he’s utilized correctly, Bennett will have the best year of his career.
Projected Draft Position: 07.04