There may come a day when you have too many mouths to feed, making fantasy football and the other few hundred words of this post far lesser concerns. That’s why Kraft Dinner is still made from the nectar of the gods.
In the NFL, leather is the diet of choice, and it’s not literally eaten, although there may be some exceptions (Warren Sapp has devoured at least nine footballs). But for most who close their mouths with some degree of regularity, the figurative eating is done with hands. And as is often the case, in New England there’s a distinct difference between the impact of Brandon Lloyd in reality, and in fantasy.
Patriots fans are giddy because Brandon Lloyd’s going to provide another option for Tom Brady, and fantasy owners are worried because Brandon Lloyd’s going to provide another option for Tom Brady.
That worry should be limited, although it should definitely be there somewhere. Throughout the NFL there aren’t many other comparable offenses that can match the sheer amount of receiving weapons that New England will trot out, but a few come close. The best example is Dallas, whenever the Cowboys are fully healthy once every leap year.
Tony Romo has Miles Austin and Dez Bryant split out wide and Jason Witten at tight end, and then we can even toss in Felix Jones as a receiving option out of the backfield. Unfortunately, we can’t draw a definitive conclusion from that hell quartet because they’ve haven’t remained in a normal upright state together for any length of time.
Brady, meanwhile, will have Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and Deion Branch. Throw in Jabar Gaffney or Dante Stallworth — both of whom are still clinging to roster spots — along with the backfield receiving ability of Danny Woodhead and/or newly-acquired Jeff Demps, and this has the potential to be serious subtraction by addition with Lloyd coming aboard.
What makes the Patriots especially unique are the two tight ends and their usage. Last year the Patriots were third in pass attempts with 612, and 169 of those were directed at Gronk and Hernandez. That’s 27.6 percent of Brady’s passes, while Welker’s slot ability led to 172 targets (28.1 percent), which was second in the league and behind only Roddy White. Then that left Branch, who played a lesser role and had 702 receiving yards, but he was still the intended target on 90 throws (14.7 percent).
That doesn’t even include the light touches through the air given to Woodhead — who had 18 receptions — and the potential for Gaffney or Stallworth to steal a few looks too. When Gronk, Hernandez, Welker, and Branch are combined, they occupied 70 percent of Brady’s attention last year.
Meanwhile, with the terrifying trio of first Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, and later Sam Bradford and whoever the hell was replacing him, Lloyd still somehow managed 150 targets. So once he’s placed on a far superior offense with a far superior quarterback and his ability to get the ball deep, something has to give, right? Yes, but probably only mildly, and not enough to dramatically effect the value of any primary target in New England’s offense.
In all likelihood Branch will receive fewer looks, and same goes for the fourth receiver, whoever that happens to be. There may also be a decreased focus on Woodhead and the passing game out of the backfield since Lloyd brings the return of the deep ball that’s been missing since Randy Moss’ departure.
ESPN’s Chris Harris projects a very moderate decline across the board:
When I put together our ’12 projections for New England’s pass-catchers, I gave Welker 165 (a decline of eight targets), Gronk 106 (a decline of 18) and Hernandez 97 (a decline of 16), while giving Lloyd 113 (most of which are indeed siphoned from the Branch/Ocho combo). Though he’s playing under the franchise tag and could legitimately leave New England in 2013, Welker seems safest to me, because nobody else can do what he does with the underneath stuff. I still have him rated No. 7 among WRs in standard fantasy leagues. But I do think Gronk and Hernandez each lose about a target per game, which isn’t enough to crush their ranks (I have Gronk No. 1 among fantasy TEs, in large part because of his red-zone prowess, and Hernandez No. 6), but it could cap their respective upsides.
The bottom line? Lloyd makes a great offense even more diverse and probably injects more week-to-week variability into the performances of everyone, save Welker. But his presence in New England is definitely not enough to scare me off the other pass-catching stars in this offense.
The easiest regression target, though, is Gronk, and I use the word very loosely. His record-setting year with 1,327 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns was already going to be difficult to repeat, but consider also that he had 22 receptions for 20 yards or more.
He was also the only TE to have three receptions for more than 40 yards, and both of those deep ball numbers will likely take a slight dip with Lloyd vacuuming up Brady’s downfield looks, which decreases Gronk’s opportunities to accumulate chunks of yardage on one play, and more importantly, chunks of points too.