The Patriots are headed into 2023 with an actual offensive coordinator, so if nothing else happens, the hiring of Bill O'Brien should be an improvement over what was a pretty disastrous 2022. Whether it ends up being merely an improvement by default will likely be tied to whether they can get Mac Jones pointed in the right direction after his sophomore season regression.
Record: 8-9 (17)
PPG: 21.4 (17)
YPG: 314.6 (26)
Pass YPG: 208.0 (20)
Rush YPG: 106.6 (24)
PAPG: 31.8 (21)
RAPG: 25.0 (22)
2022 Fantasy finishes
*No longer with team
Number to know: 0
That's how many offensive coordinators the Patriots had last season, as they opted for a combination of Joe Judge and Matt Patricia to lead the offense, with no official offensive coordinator. Judge was the QB coach, while Patricia was the offensive line coach. To the surprise of nobody outside of New England (and probably few in the building, if we could give them truth serum), it was a mess. The offense was about as vanilla as they come these days, and there was an utterly bizarre flirtation with making rookie fourth-rounder Bailey Zappe the starter after Mac Jones missed time with injury. Bill Belichick has earned a long leash and the benefit of the doubt, but last year was a weird, self-inflicted disaster. The hope is that Bill O'Brien's return will offer a steadier hand on the wheel. This offense probably doesn't have enough talent to be one of the best in the league, but if they can avoid being a laughing stock, that would certainly represent an improvement.
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1. (17) Christian Gonzalez, DB
2. (46) Keion White, DL
3. (76) Marte Mapu, DB
4. (107) Jake Andrews, OL
4. (112) Chad Ryland, K
4. (117) Sidy Sow, OL
5. (144) Atonio Mafi, OL
6. (187) Kayshon Boutte, WR
6. (192) Bryce Baringer, P
6. (210) Demario Douglas, WR
6. (214) Ameer Speed, CB
7. (245) Isaiah Bolden, CB
106 RB carries, 23 RB targets, 154 WR targets, 38 TE targets
Rankings and projections
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Mac Jones||PA: 550, YD: 3849, TD: 22, INT: 12; RUSH -- ATT: 43, YD: 130, TD: 2|
|RB||Rhamondre Stevenson||CAR: 194, YD: 875, TD: 7; TAR: 66, REC: 52, YD: 360, TD: 2|
|RB||Pierre Strong||CAR: 151, YD: 635, TD: 5; TAR: 22, REC: 17, YD: 120, TD: 1|
|WR||JuJu Smith-Schuster||TAR: 121, REC: 81, YD: 867, TD: 5|
|WR||DeVante Parker||TAR: 72, REC: 43, YD: 584, TD: 3|
|WR||Kendrick Bourne||TAR: 44, REC: 32, YD: 383, TD: 2|
|TE||Hunter Henry||TAR: 60, REC: 39, YD: 520, TD: 3|
|TE||Mike Gesicki||TAR: 55, REC: 34, YD: 379, TD: 2|
Will they commit to Rhamondre Stevenson?
Even in a pretty rough season for their offense, the Patriots still produced 389.1 PPR points from their running backs, the 14th-highest mark in the league. Stevenson was a solid RB1 for much of the season, though his usage dipped late in the season -- he averaged just 9.8 carries and 4.2 targets over his final five games. That did coincide with an injury, but we've also got Belichick's history with running backs to consider -- he tends to treat them as even more disposable than most coaches. If Stevenson is the unquestioned three-down back here, he could be one of the best values in drafts, but the addition of Ezekiel Elliott suggests this is going to be more of a committee than we might like. Stevenson should be the clear lead back, but Elliott could be asked to take on some of the passing downs work, which could cut into Stevenson's targets, which would be a bad thing. If Elliott is the goal-line back, too, Stevenson might just be an RB2.
One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
Thornton showed us very little as a rookie, but this is an opportunity to buy very low on a recent second-round pick with arguably best-in-the-NFL speed. The Patriots track record with wide receivers in the draft is pretty miserable, but Thornton has very little competition for playing time and fits a niche nobody else on the roster really does. This offense probably won't be good enough for multiple WR to matter, especially with how much they figure to feature their running backs and tight ends, but Thornton could matter if he can earn 100 or so primarily downfield targets.
There really aren't many breakout options here, but Stevenson feels like a pretty good choice. Arguably, we already saw it, when he averaged 18.7 PPR points per game from Weeks 3 through 13, while playing a legit three-down role. Stevenson isn't necessarily the most natural pass-catcher, but he's effective enough, and is a pretty elusive runner who tends to get the most out of what the offense creates for him. If he enters the season with little real competition for playing time, it's going to be hard for him not to be a top-12 RB.
I think there's an assumption most Fantasy players are making that, at the very least, the Patriots figure to throw to their running backs a whole bunch this season. That's been the case for nearly 20 years, but one notable exception stands out: In 2011, when the Patriots threw just 9.5% of their passes to running backs. That was O'Brien's lone year as the team's offensive coordinator prior to his hiring in Houston, and his Texans teams didn't throw much to their running backs either, ranking 31st out of 32 teams in RB target share between 2014 and 2020. Part of that is about personnel, as the mobile Deshaun Watson was O'Brien's primary QB for much of that team, while guys like Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller weren't exactly the best pass catchers at the position. However, in 2020, when he had David Johnson and Duke Johnson, they combined for a 16.3% target share, a below-average mark despite two very, very good pass-catching running backs. Which is to say, even if Stevenson is a true three-down back for the Patriots, there might not be as much upside as we've gotten used to here. Add in Elliott's presence and what that could mean for Stevenson both in the passing game (if Elliott is asked to take on some of the pass-protection duties) and near the goal line, and it's not hard to see how Stevenson could end up being a pretty big disappointment this season. I wouldn't draft him until Round 4.