Patriots' Top Players to Target in Fantasy Football Drafts

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 2, 2021

Patriots' Top Players to Target in Fantasy Football Drafts

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    For most of the past two decades, the New England Patriots had a powerful offense that made them a perennial Super Bowl contender. That wasn't the case in 2020.

    As the Pats entered the post-Tom Brady era, their offense greatly struggled. Cam Newton didn't fare well in his first season as their starting quarterback, while a lack of playmakers made it difficult for the unit to produce. Those were major reasons why New England went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

    But the Patriots could be poised for a better showing in 2021. There's a lot of new talent on their offense, so they should fare better than last year, when they ranked 27th in the NFL with 327.3 total yards per game. And that also means they should have more players who are worthy of inclusion on fantasy football rosters.

    Here's a look at the top New England players to target in fantasy football to begin 2021.

Damien Harris, RB

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    It's always risky to start a Patriots running back in fantasy because there's usually at least two or three who are splitting carries in nearly every game. And there's a solid chance that will again be the case in 2021.

    But if New England's offense is clicking, there's the potential for several of its running backs to be solid fantasy contributors, especially at a position where it can be difficult to find production as injuries occur throughout the season. This year, it should be Damien Harris who has the most success out of the Patriots backfield.

    After touching the ball only four times as a rookie in 2019, Harris impressed when given opportunities last season, rushing for 691 yards and two touchdowns and averaging 5.0 yards per carry. That should lead to him getting even more touches in 2021. It's also worth highlighting the praise he's received from head coach Bill Belichick.

    "Now he has an opportunity to compete for a lead spot and so he has embraced that," Belichick said, per Glen Farley of the Associated Press. "He's worked hard. He's been here since the day after the season was over. He has worked as hard as anyone has in the offseason."

    Could it be worthwhile to take Harris as high as the fourth or fifth round in a fantasy draft? It would be a risk, but it's also one that could bring a high reward. It's an obvious decision to take him if he's available from the sixth round on.

Jonnu Smith, TE

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The Patriots didn't add a bunch of wide receivers this offseason, but they did add a pair of starting tight ends. One of them was Jonnu Smith, and he should give Newton a reliable target in the passing game, something that was lacking last year.

    Once the first six or seven tight ends get taken in a fantasy draft, you reach a point when those who are still available are much less consistent. The best option may be to stream tight ends or take two you can swap in or out based on the matchups on a given week.

    Smith fits into that category, but he has the potential for even more. He's coming off a career year with the Tennessee Titans, as he set new highs in catches (41), receiving yards (448) and touchdowns (nine). And there may be even more targets coming Smith's way on the Patriots offense.

    With an average draft position of the ninth pick in the 11th round, per Fantasy Football Calculator, Smith is worth taking a chance on during that stage of the draft. No tight end is a sure thing at that point, and he could greatly exceed early projections.

Hunter Henry, TE

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    One of the biggest reasons why Hunter Henry hasn't been a top fantasy tight end in recent years is that he hasn't been able to stay on the field because of injuries. He's played only 26 games over the past three years, so he hasn't been a reliable option.

    But if Henry can stay on the field now that he's with the Patriots, he could turn into one of the top playmakers in their passing game. He was a solid producer for the Los Angeles Chargers when he played, as he had more than 600 receiving yards and at least four touchdowns each of the past two years.

    Even with Smith on the team, there should be enough targets for both of them to excel. The Patriots have successfully utilized two tight ends in the in same offense before, and perhaps they will often have both on the field at the same time because of their lack of big-time players in the receiving corps.

    Henry should likely get drafted around the same time as Smith, and he could also be a player to take a chance on during those middle rounds. It's possible that big things are on the way for these tight ends as they look to help New England's offense improve in 2021.