The New England Patriots decided to break the internet prior to the NFL’s Tuesday, August 31 roster cutdown deadline by releasing veteran quarterback Cam Newton, which thrust rookie first-round pick Mac Jones into the starting quarterback role for New England.
It’s a shocking move given how little trust head coach Bill Belichick typically has in rookie quarterbacks. But it’s also a sign of how quickly Jones has picked up the way things work in Foxboro. That’s great news for those who have already drafted Patriots skill players on their fantasy teams, and unfortunate for those who thought they might get some of those players at a value in their upcoming drafts.
With Newton under center, New England’s overall offensive fantasy value was capped with a low floor, low ceiling outlook. But with Jones running the show, the value of the entire unit rises.
Let’s take a look at each skill position on the Patriots and determine where their value sits with the quarterback change in New England, along with Jones’ value now that he’s the starter.
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The biggest beneficiary of the quarterback change in New England is the backfield. Third-year back Damien Harris, who is locked in as the top running back on the depth chart, would have struggled to be a consistent fantasy asset in 2021 had Newton been under center, simply because carries — more so near the goal line — would have been vultured by the 6-foot-5, 245-pound quarterback. That’s exactly what happened in 2020, which is why Harris, despite being the Patriots’ RB1, only had two rushing touchdowns on the season.
Harris’ FantasyPros ECR (Expert Consensus Ranking) was RB24 prior to Newton’s release. With the veteran quarterback no longer in town, Harris has the potential to be one of fantasy’s top-20 running backs when all is said and done. However, the emergence of rookie fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson over the summer makes Harris’ fantasy production a bit murky, more so in the red zone. But Harris’ production will still be greater than if Newton had been coined the team’s starter.
New England’s top pass-catching back, James White — RB49 in ECR — also gets a bump because of Newton’s release. White could quickly become a favorite check-down option for Jones, which could bring him back into fantasy relevance similar to when Tom Brady was under center in New England. That would also make him a strong FLEX option in redraft leagues.
It was extremely frustrating at times in 2020 watching Newton miss opportunities downfield to throw to an open receiver. However, that didn’t stop one of New England’s rising stars, Jakobi Meyers, from having a very productive season given the circumstances. The former undrafted free agent caught 59 balls for 729 yards — 12.9 yards per reception. With Jones under center, the opportunities to progress in his third season become that much greater.
FantasyPros ECR has Meyers at WR55 prior to Newton’s release. With the potential to crack 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career, Meyers could be a top-35 wide receiver by the end of the 2021 season, making him a consistent FLEX option in redraft leagues.
Another receiver to keep an eye on is newly-added veteran Nelson Agholor. After a very productive 2020 season with the Las Vegas Raiders, Agholor is locked in as the No. 2 receiver in New England’s offense this season. If Agholor’s 18.7 yards per reception last season translates to his tenure with the Patriots, then the seventh-year wideout — currently ranked at WR59 in ECR — will be a boom-or-bust FLEX play.
One of the more exciting risers for fantasy in New England’s offense in the post-Cam Newton era is the tight end position. The Patriots invested heavily in the position this offseason, bringing in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to fill a void that’s been on the team since Rob Gronkowski temporarily retired in 2019.
Though Smith saw a steady uptick in production during his first four years in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans, an argument can be made that he was heavily underutilized by head coach Mike Vrabel — who took over as the HC in 2018 — and his coaching staff. However, now in a tight end-friendly offense, Smith could reach his true potential as a real-life and fantasy asset on the football field.
Smith is currently ranked as TE13 in ECR. With Jones pinpointing him as one of his primary targets in the passing game, Smith could potentially put up numbers that help him crack top-seven fantasy value at the tight end position.
As for Henry, he could also be a great benefiter of the Jones regime. However, because he is lower in the passing game pecking order compared to players like Meyers and Smith, Henry climbing into top-10 fantasy production at the tight end position is an extremely tough task. Being ranked at TE17 in ECR, it’s more likely he will end the season as a top-15 tight end.
As for the man of the hour — Jones’ fantasy value isn’t anything significant. Consider him a bye-week filler, as New England will rely on the running game and strong defensive play to get them wins this season. An occasional big fantasy output from Jones will happen, but nothing consistent enough to consider him an every-week starter in fantasy.
As the QB33 in ECR prior to Newton’s departure, it’s a long shot for him to turn in a top-20 fantasy season among quarterbacks. As mentioned, Jones increases the fantasy production of all Patriots skills players, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to him being a valuable fantasy asset in redraft leagues. Consider him nothing more than a valuable depth piece in Superflex formats.