tom brady giants2

Tom Brady lost like a zillion receivers this offseason. What of it?

The Housekeeping

Notable Additions: Danny Amendola, Zach Sudfeld, re-signed Michael Hoomanawanui and Julian Edelman

Notable Draft Picks: Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce

The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)

Tom Brady (ADP: 45.4): You know the numbers well by now. Through departures, cuts, a murder trial, and one injury (Rob Gronkowski has recovered a little quicker than expected and he’ll most likely avoid the PUP list, but still miss likely the first three-to-four games) Brady will begin the season without the targets on the receiving end for 360 of his 401 completions during the 2012 season. Seriously absorb that for a second.

Good, now forget out it. Or at least most of it.

Fret about Danny Amendola’s injury history if you must — and those concerns are legitimate — but we can’t predict that future. Right now, a healthy Amendola is a younger and faster Welker, and is his equal in the slot. So, there’s one.

The absence of Gronk sucks a lot, but again, he’ll likely avoided the PUP list, and return by early October to get all the Brady targets for 12 games. So, there’s another one.

Brady has already gone about the business of making Kenbrell Thompkins into the next coming of Randy Moss or something, with his 116 yards on eight catches during the only preseason game that sort of comes close to mattering. Ultimately, Thompkins’ ceiling is low and his current ADP is absurd. But as a vertical, secondary stretching option, he can easily do a Brandon Lloyd imitation as the X receiver. So, there’s another one.

Shane Vereen isn’t a tight end, but why is it that job titles matter so much? I’ll elaborate a little more in the designated space for Vereen discussion, but he was often used in the slot and even split out wide as a receiver last year, usage which will now increase significantly as Vereen adopts the Hernandez role while likely becoming a PPR stud. He’s even grown as a red-zone option, with a 13-yard touchdown catch during the Patriots’ preseason opener. That followed 105 yards on 10 catches last January during New England’s two playoff games, including 83 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans. Earlier in the year Vereen also had an 83-yard catch against the Jets.

So, there’s another one.

Rob Gronkowski (ADP: 46.1): Throughout August I’ve been a strong advocate of giving few craps about Gronkowski’s injury. Free yourself of that burden, young(?) man.

I realize Gronkowski is scary due to his frequent breaking. But as I’ve written repeatedly when discussing an injury-prone player who’s worth your dice roll, you need to manage risk, not completely avoid it. The latter is impossible, and the wise strategy is to determine the best place and the best price to allocate your risk allowance towards.

Here’s someone who easily meets the description of being worth the risk as a late third rounder, and likely a fourth rounder:

  • A tight end who finished only 249 receiving yards behind the league leader at his position, even after missing five games, and even after having 55 fewer receptions than the leader. He did that by averaging 14.4 yards per catch, the most of any player at his position with at least 40 receptions.
  • A tight end whose 11 touchdowns led his position, even with that missed time.
  • A tight end who scored once every five catches.
  • A tight end who gained 20 yards or more on nearly a quarter of his receptions. He had 13 of those chunky plays in total, which also led his position.

So yeah, Gronkowski is worth it, even if he misses four games. If he’s available at his current ADP, click and don’t think, and then it’s easy to grab a fine interim option many rounds later (like, say, Martellus Bennett, or Zach Sudfeld below).

Stevan Ridley (ADP: 16.4): It’s reasonable to assume that after a year when Ridley flirted with a 300-carry season but didn’t quite make it there (290), he’s set to shatter that mark in 2013 following so much change among Brady’s receivers. He’ll be great, but just don’t consider him as a first rounder.

You’re not, judging by the above ADP, so keep doing that. Ridley suffers from the Alfred Morris problem: to be considered a first-round running back among a group of others at the position who do a lot of pass catching, well, you need to do that too. Ridley doesn’t, and he won’t with Vereen sucking back passing down targets.

Over two seasons Ridley has caught just 19 passes for 64 yards, meaning unlike most of the first-round RBs (LeSean McCoy, Trent Richardson, C.J. Spiller, and Jamaal Charles, to name a few), his production is solely tied to what he does on the ground. That can lead to more opportunities for bust weeks if the game situation doesn’t suit running, and the Pats are behind. We saw that last year when Ridley had four games with less than 40 rushing yards.

The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)

Shane Vereen (ADP: 61.2): The history and sample size we have to draw from while exploring Vereen’s pass catching is inherently limited. But while projecting his exceedingly high ceiling as the new Hernandez, back in early July some really smart guy noted that Vereen spent 19 percent of his snaps lined up out wide last year. As in wide receiver wide, where he may lack some size, but speed isn’t a problem.

Brady and Bill Belichick excel at creating and exploiting matchup problems, and Vereen is now their pawn. Then when we remember that Josh McDaniels has presided over seasons as either an offensive coordinator or head coach when his running backs combined for 400-600 receiving yards, Vereen’s ceiling gets higher. He’ll be a great RB2 in PPR leagues, and the ideal draft target if you miss out on Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles.

Danny Amendola (ADP: 40.2): Remember that stuff I said about being careful where you spend your risk allowance? Yeah, this is a bad spot.

I’m not fully a believer in the concept of being injury prone, and maybe you’re not either. We can call it whatever we want — injury prone, or just bad luck — but Amendola has had a whole lot of…whatever.

What’s frustrating is that given the importance of the slot receiver in the Patriots’ offense and what Wes Welker did for so many years, it’s easy to see a season with over 100 catches if Amendola can stay healthy for at least 14 games, something he’s done only twice over four years.

In addition to Vereen, Amendola is then another potential PPR gem, especially with Brady’s volume passing (637 attempts last year). But how big are your, um, almonds? Do you really want to take Amendola in the third round, in the same territory as Victor Cruz and Vincent Jackson?

The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)

Kenbrell Thompkins (ADP: 79.5): It was fun watching Brady make an undrafted nobody into a somebody during Week 3 of the preseason, and unless Aaron Dobson overtakes Thompkins, it’s a relationship that should continue. As mentioned, Thompkins could become the only true vertical option for Brady, a role held by Lloyd last year and he finished with a solid though less than spectacular 911 yards on 74 catches with four touchdowns.

But let’s ease up a little on this ADP madness, guys. Thompkins has yet to be on the field for a meaningful NFL snap, and he’s therefore being drafted on potential and dreams alone. And yet, he’s still coming off the board only about three picks behind Cecil Shorts, a receiver who had four +50 yard catches last year.

The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)

Zach Sudfeld (ADP: 119.3): This is the rare situation when handcuffing a tight end is wise. Sudfeld is a fine gap filler for those taking the discounted Gronkowski plunge, and he’ll still be just fine on your bench as insurance against Gronk breaking again.

Aaron Dobson (ADP: 147.9): He could go boom on a few long catches, and dazzle us briefly. But right now, Dobson is firmly behind Thompkins.

Julian Edelman (ADP: 159.5): You can also file handcuffing a wide receiver under rare. But when the inevitable Amendola combustion happens, Edelman will slide in immediately as the slot receiver. In a deep league, peace of mind is a wonderful thing.