Depth Chart Battle: Patriots Pass-Catchers (Fantasy Football)

Aug 04, 2022
Depth Chart Battle: Patriots Pass-Catchers (Fantasy Football)

Continuing our look at intriguing depth chart situations playing out across the league, our gaze turns now to the New England Patriots and who will emerge as Mac Jones' primary pass-catcher among Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, and Hunter Henry. They’re a team that has become somewhat run-heavy in the seasons since Tom Brady upped sticks and went south to the Buccaneers. But even when a team is hell-bent on establishing the run, there will be players loitering waiting to grab passes. But just who will be the primary receiver for the Patriots, and should fantasy owners be interested?

Other Profiles & Debates: Player Profiles | Chargers WRs | Broncos WRs | Giants WRs

Jakobi Meyers (Underdog ADP 130.6, WR58)

Jakobi Meyers was pretty much the only bankable receiving option for the Patriots in 2021. He led the team with 126 targets, 83 receptions and 866 yards while playing 84% of the offensive snaps. If there is one thing Meyers has not developed since entering the NFL, it’s a nose for the end zone. He scored just twice last season, and indeed they are the only two touchdowns among his 168 career receptions.

Meyers was certainly the most frequent target for Mac Jones in 2021 as Meyers drew a 24% target share. But the relationship was one built on volume and not efficiency. Jones averaged a meager 5.81 adjusted yards per attempt whenever he looked Meyers’ way last season. Meyers did not exactly light things up from a fantasy perspective either. He averaged 8.5 half-PPR points per game in 2021, “good” for WR44, with a single top 12 week and 13 as a WR3 or worse.

Hunter Henry (Underdog ADP 145.3, TE15)

Hunter Henry was one of the two big-money free-agent tight ends signed by the Patriots before the 2021 season. He made much more of an impact than Jonnu Smith, despite only playing on 68% of the offensive snaps (Smith was in on 47.5%). Henry saw 75 targets in his first year with the team, a 14% share, reeling in 50 for 603 yards. Meyers was the only player to see more targets than Henry. His reception and yardage totals were good for the third-most.

Henry did lead the team with nine touchdown grabs, a new career high for him. All nine of his scores came inside the red zone, an area of the field in which Henry saw 17 targets. This is an impressive scoring rate, considering 16 players across the league saw more targets inside the 20 than Henry.

The Jones-Henry linkup was a much more efficient one than the Jones-Meyers pairing. Jones averaged an impressive 8.43 adjusted yards per target when locking in on Henry. Henry was also an asset in fantasy terms, without being a superstar. He finished as the TE13 in half-PPR formats with 8.2 fantasy points per game, finishing as a weekly TE1 eight times.

DeVante Parker (Underdog ADP 131.4, WR60)

2021 was an injury-blighted campaign for DeVante Parker. He was restricted to just 10 games with the Dolphins, in which he drew 73 targets and caught 40 passes for 515 yards. Parker scored just two touchdowns all season. He seemed to have broken out in 2019, with 73 receptions for 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns. But in the two seasons since, he has a combined 103 catches for 1.308 yards and just six scores.

Last season he was barely on the radar in fantasy terms with 8.4 points per game. Parker was a WR3 or worse in seven of the 10 weeks in which he played. But the Patriots obviously see something in him they like, or they would hardly have sent a 2023 third-round draft pick to the Dolphins to acquire him.

Who Should You Draft?

The drumbeat coming out of Patriots camp is regarding the impact Parker has had on the offense since his arrival. His has been a camp full of highlight reel catches and big plays. Reports state that a fade to Parker in the back corner of the endzone has been a nearly unstoppable play so far in training camp. Parker himself has spoken about how good he feels about the chemistry he is developing with his new quarterback. His head coach, never one to throw about compliments lightly, stated that Parker has “…made some good plays…he’s shown up positively thru the spring.”

Hunter Henry has also been complimentary of his new teammate, and his potential impact on the offense, stating “It’s always nice to add a guy like (Parker) and take a little pressure off everybody else.”

The pressure is certainly on the other pass-catchers, if these reports are accurate, with Parker quickly establishing himself as The Guy among the receivers. Meyers has by all accounts had a slow start to camp and is struggling somewhat with the new offense. His track record does not suggest that he can take a leap in terms of his game, at least not in a way that makes him attractive to fantasy managers.

Henry showed that he can be efficient when targeted and given the state of the tight end landscape an efficient performer can make up for a lack of volume. But there are tight ends with easier paths to volume this season, and Parker may cut into Henry’s red zone work in 2022. We saw last season that Henry’s production was largely touchdown driven, and any knock on this makes him tough to trust on a weekly basis.

The Patriots are still likely to lean heavily on the ground game, even with the changes to their offensive staff. Their pass rate in neutral game situations in 2021 was 50%, and when they had a lead, it fell to 49%. But the addition of Parker might lead to the Patriots allowing Mac Jones to take more chances when called upon to pass, given Parker’s ability to fight for the ball. Parker’s contested catch rate in 2021 was a healthy 52%, according to PlayerProfiler. Meyers was down at 36.6%, while Henry was slightly better at 43.5%.

According to Next Gen Stats, Parker is not a great separator, with a league-low 1.7 yards of separation in 2021. But his ability to snag catches even when covered should encourage Jones to put the ball up where Parker can win. Jones was 22nd in aggressiveness according to Next Gen Stats last season with 15.4% of his throws going into tight windows. The most aggressive quarterback according to this metric? Tua Tagavailoa at 19.3%. Who did Tua have to throw to for 10 games last season? DeVante Parker.

Parker’s current ADP, coupled with the run-heavy offensive approach, suggests that he is not likely to be a WR1. But if he truly cannot be stopped on the end zone fade, offering weekly touchdown upside, then he could be a solid WR3 with occasional visits into WR2 airspace. He’s not a player that you absolutely have to have. But he is certainly a name I am considering late in drafts, providing he can stay healthy of course.

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