Throughout June and the first few weeks of July, Fanball.com will be taking a team-by-team training camp tour with fantasy previews for each NFL squad. We'll detail the key offseason moves, position battles to watch, and other things to keep an eye as the clubs prepare for the season ahead.
Notable Offseason Moves: The Patriots made very little noise on the offensive side of the ball during the offseason. They added former-Chief halfback Mike Cloud, former-Dolphin and Jet wide receiver Dedric Ward, and former-Charger fullback Fred McCrary. Of the three, only McCrary is slated to start, and Cloud may have a difficult time making the team. Ward, who needs to sign with the Bills to get his AFC East monopoly, probably will serve as the team’s third or fourth wideout.
Oft-injured tight end Cam Cleeland was shown the door along with underachieving wide receiver Donald Hayes. Neither will be missed.
The draft netted only one solid offensive prospect in Bethel Johnson. The 5-11, 201-pound wide receiver was taken in the second round out of Texas A&M because many considered him the fastest player in the draft. Johnson probably won’t play much as a rookie because the Pats have several experienced receivers. That said, he should emerge in the years to come so keep your eye on him.
While the offense basically stood pat (pardon the pun), the defense got a shot in each arm with the arrivals of former-Bear Rosevelt Colvin and former-Charger Rodney Harrison. Colvin is one of the top pass rushers in the business, while Harrison is a play-making, tooth-rattling safety. The acquisition of Harrison led to the trading of Tebucky Jones for a trio of draft picks. Harrison will team with Lawyer Milloy to form arguably the best set of safeties in the NFL.
Who knows, with Colvin and Harrison the Patriots may actually sport a defense worth owning in fantasy leagues.
Position Battles: With Tom Brady locked in at quarterback, Troy Brown and David Patten set at wide receiver, and Antowain Smith expected to start at halfback, the only fantasy position with any weirdness is tight end.
Veteran Christian Fauria, who scored seven touchdowns last season, probably will open the season in the starting lineup. And because he’s a solid blocker, he just might stay there all year. However, second-year tight end Daniel Graham figures to pressure the starter in training camp. Graham is a pass-catching tight end out of the Shannon Sharpe-mold, so we want him on the field as much as possible. Though Fauria likely starts, playing time at tight end is up for grabs this summer, making Graham a decent sleeper.
Behind Brady, backup Damon Huard will try to hold off third-stringer Rohan Davey, who was omnipresent during the offseason. In fact, if hard work automatically turned into a promotion, Davey would already be No. 2 on the depth chart. Not that any of us care, but the battle between Huard and Davey shall rage all summer.
Cloud will be competing for a job against J.R. Redmond and Antwoine Womack. The Patriots probably will only carry three halfbacks, so this should be a death match all summer. The point is kinda moot, however, as Smith and Kevin Faulk have all the bases covered at halfback. Smith works downs one and two as well as short-yardage, and Faulk takes care of third downs and obvious passing situations.
Ward and second-year man Deion Branch will be vying for the third receiver spot, and our money is on Branch. He played very well at the start of 2002 before injury and inconsistency got the better of him. Plus, he knows the system a little better than Ward. Behind Branch and Ward, Johnson and David Givens will compete for the fifth and sixth spots. Obviously, neither player will surface in fantasy leagues this season.
Keep an Eye On: While there won’t be much fantasy-relevant competition this summer, there are several things to watch for during training camp.
First and foremost, how is Brady’s right shoulder?
After throwing 601 passes and taking 31 sacks last season, Brady spent much of the offseason resting his wing. Looks like the rest paid off, because his shoulder held up well during spring workouts and he should be good to go for the start of training camp. Brady doesn’t throw long very much, so there shouldn’t be a problem.
We’ll also be watching the conditioning of Smith, who has failed Bill Belichick’s famed fitness test each of the past two summers. If he fails it again this July, Belichick might ask Smith to leave and not come back—ever. Even if Smith is in great shape, he may lose touches to Faulk, as the Pats have been working on ways to get him the ball more on first and second downs. We’ll be watching the first quarter of New England’s preseason games to see if Faulk’s role has been expanded.
Brown injured his right knee in week three and it bothered him all season. He played through it and caught 97 passes, but his 9.2 per-catch average was the worst among wide receivers. The injury did not require surgery and he recently told the Boston Herald: “I’m beginning to feel a little like my old self.” As such, we fully expect a healthy Brown to get his per-catch average back over 11 and his yardage total well into four figures. But before drafting Brown, we recommend checking him out in the fake games just to make sure.
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i think the patriots are doing some good offseason selections on free agents. I think the one part that I didnt like was in the draft they have been talking about how we dont have any size at the wide out and then we go off and pick a 5-11 wide out. Yeah he has some speed running a 4.2 but is he going to be a wide out of the future. Look at Brown he has been tearing things up over the last couple of years now that Glenn is no longer on the team. I think its looking preety good for us so far the Bills have been doing some big things over the offseason but I still thing that we are the team to beat.