The Patriots have long been the NFL’s offensive geniuses, thinking outside the box to create mismatches to put crooked numbers on the board. That genius is about to put to the test.
Following Wednesday’s release of Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots arguably have the worst group of pass-catchers in the entire NFL. What’s Tom Brady to do?
Moving Tight Ends
Jake Ballard is technically next up on the tight end depth chart, but he is not Hernandez’s backup. Last season, Hernandez lined up in the slot 41 percent of the time and out wide on 18 percent of his snaps. He was only a traditional, in-line tight end 36 percent of the time. The lumbering Ballard is not capable of filling that role – very few people on the face of the planet are. Expect Julian Edelman to get a long look at extended snaps. He was eating into Wes Welker’s workload early last season before a hand injury stopped that momentum. Ballard will only have value if Rob Gronkowski (back surgery) starts the year on PUP. Tim Tebow is not a tight end.
Danny Amendola was already in line for a big role as Wes Welker’s clear-cut replacement. Now that Hernandez is gone and Gronk is in doubt, he’s a threat to lead the entire NFL in targets. Amendola was reportedly impressive during spring practices, quickly gaining the trust necessary to play with Brady. The only question left is if he can stay healthy. Owners willing to gamble on that will want to use a third-round pick on Amendola.
The mess at the “F” and “Y” positions in the Patriots’ offense doesn’t directly affect the battle undergoing at “X.” That’s the outside receiver spot where Aaron Dobson will battle Mike Jenkins and fellow rookie Josh Boyce for the starting job. But indirectly, the winner of the battle will project to see even more targets than originally anticipated. As the best talent in the competition, Dobson is the one to watch at camp.
Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard were predictably two of the best players in fantasy basketball last year. There are no such prospects this time around. The two potential No. 1 overall picks, Nerlens Noel and Alex Len, are both rehabbing injuries and very raw offensively. Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter are known more for defense than offense. Trey Burke’s size and athleticism have been questioned. Yawn.
Jedd Gyorko, 2B, Padres – Expected off the DL this weekend. Had eight homers and 17 RBI in the 35 games prior to his injury.
Nathan Eovaldi, SP, Marlins – Finally healthy, Eovaldi has 10 strikeouts in his first 12 innings of the season. Can hit 98 mph on the gun.
J.J. Putz, RP, Diamondbacks – It’s perfect timing for Putz as his elbow is getting close to 100 percent as Heath Bell scuffles.