Forget about Aaron Hernandez, Tom Brady; Stevan Ridley, et al., propel Patriots

      June 27, 2013 @ 19:05:00 PDT

I think we can move pretty quickly to accord: Tom Brady isn't a top-five quarterback in fantasy football leagues this year. He might be done as one for the rest of his days, but there's no need to send him to his fake-sport grave yet.

Michael Jenkins and the rest of the turds littering the New England Patriots' depth chart behind Danny Amendola (a real pillar of health, huh?) at wide receiver aren't going to make up for those who'll be doing the duties for someone else this year. Look, Donald Jones is kind of an intriguing depth play, and Aaron Dobson is one smart cookie (essential if he's going to contribute on offense in 2013), but these cats won't keep Josh McDaniels busy dreaming up elaborate ways to get them isolated or create matchup problems for them half a dozen to a dozen times a game.

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady
Brady just part of low-end QB1 bunch

I'd leave out the names of the dearly departed, but that's really where the SEO benefits of a piece on Patriots pass-catchers lie, so I'll rattle them off real quick: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and the sexiest tight end on this side -- soon to be that side -- of freedom, Aaron Hernandez. Finito.

Frankly, the case that Tom Brady is basically a borderline QB1 isn't that difficult make. As Cory has intimated in discussions about our projections, it appears that the Pats plan to field an offense that more closely resembles their units of a decade ago, give or take a couple of years. They wrote it all over the wall in Sharpie last season by establishing a more balanced attack and preparing to let Welker walk if he wanted too much dough. The loss of Hernandez was obviously unexpected, but I don't think you'll see New England panic and reach desperately into the free agent pool for a handful of prayers in hopes of striking gold to save their 2013 game plans because of it.

Really, the focus should probably be on the Patriots who line up behind Brady in the backfield. Obviously, Stevan Ridley leads that crew. We saw him emerge as a pretty solid RB2 in 2012, and he unquestionably has room to expand his statistical prowess, even if his club doesn't involve him in the aerial attack more often.

Shane Vereen looks like the young, spryer version of Danny Woodhead or Kevin Faulk, at least with the football in his hands. If he stays healthy, he should be a pretty tantalizing RB4 or better in PPR leagues. Maybe he'll be more than that. We'll see.

Brandon Bolden is similar to Ridley in a number of respects. It wouldn't shock me if he turned out to be a more reliable rusher in the long run, but that's a bit of wild speculation, at least right now. Don't rearrange your cheat sheets. LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington provide well-rounded depth.

New England's offensive line has established itself as one of the best run-blocking units in the NFL. Their depth at tight end will still allow this O to be quite versatile, but the skills of most of those men include above-average ability as pushers.

Am I saying that the Pats' top three ball carriers are going to be big-time undervalued or sleeper material? Not necessarily.

But those players, or anyone who might have to step in for them, are probably going to get plenty of opportunities to gain yardage in big chunks, move the chains and punch it in -- at least at a greater rate than the one to which fantasy owners have become accustomed. Target Ridley with the idea that there isn't much downside and more upside than other drafters will acknowledge, and you probably won't be disappointed.

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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