“Float like a butterfly, sting like AB”

Paul Kurywchak @DrPaulFF

The mad man actually did it. In one of the most dramatic timelines for an individual player that involved blond mustaches, frostbitten feet, hot air balloons, and helmet grievances, Antonio Brown managed to end his 178-day tenure with the Raiders and immediately join the most dominant franchise in the NFL.

If you’re someone that enjoys both The Bachelor and the NFL, you couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining series of events. The internet is full of reactions, opinions, and conspiracies about the process of him getting released by Oakland, and now we’ve learned the saga isn’t over because quite yet because he was just hit with sexual assault allegations.

Regardless of what else comes out about this in the coming weeks, the fact is that AB is now a Patriot, and as a fantasy football website, it’s our job to evaluate how this bombshell impacts the production of AB and the rest of the Patriots. Also, what is the value of these players now? Should you sell high? Should you hold on and reap the benefits of this potentially prolific offense? That’s what I’ll be expanding on in this article, so buckle up.

First things first, let’s look at AB’s production in the past. Since 2013, Brown hasn’t dipped below at least 154 targets, 101 catches, nearly 1300 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Meanwhile, he never missed more than 2 games over that stretch.

Just last year in his age 30 season, AB managed to command a 26.7% target share on 168 targets and put up a stat line of 104 receptions, 1297 yards, and 15 TDs. Even those that aren’t NFL fans likely know that AB is still one of, if not the best receiver in the league. Now, we all know AB was the star of the show in Pittsburgh, even with Juju Smith-Schuster eclipsing AB’s receptions and yards last season.

The question now is, can he still be the star in New England, even with joining the team right as the season was starting? Let’s next dig into the Patriots offense and project what kind of range of outcomes are possible for AB this season.

In 2018, the Patriots ran a total of 1073 offensive plays that included 574 pass attempts, or 53.5% of their plays. It wasn’t much different in 2016 or 2017 either, running a total of 1056 and 1070 plays, with 550 (52.1%) and 587 (54.9%) being pass attempts, respectively. Keeping that in mind, it’s safe to project that the Patriots total passing offense will comprise roughly 570 pass attempts.

AB missed the first game of the season, in which the Patriots had 37 attempts, so the projection for the rest of the season is about 535 attempts. In the first game of 2019, Julien Edelman commanded 11 targets (31.4%), Burkhead had 8 (22.9%), White had 7 (20%), and both Gordon and Dorsett had 4 (11.4%). Almost 45% of the targets were going to running backs.

In the entirety of 2017 and 2018, that target share for RBs was 24.5% and 26.8%, respectively. We should expect the target rate for RBs to decrease once AB is on the field as he grows into the offense and starts to fill a Gronk-like target share.

In addition, we know that the Patriots like to spread the ball around when they can, only targeting a single player more than 150 times once in the past 5 seasons (Edelman had 158 targets in 2016). However, there were 3 instances of a single-player receiving 130 targets over the past 5 years, but in all 3 instances they didn’t have the caliber of multiple receiving threats that they have currently, so there’s a chance the distribution is even more evenly split than in the past.

Given what we know about Brown’s past workload and perfomance, and considering how the Patriots distribute their targets, it’s unlikely that AB will consistently see 10+ targets a game (assuming no roster changes), but that doesn’t mean he can’t dominate.

He’s a very efficient player and also has the greatest QB of all-time throwing him the ball. Edelman has an average rate of about 8 targets per game since 2015, and if the RB target share drops back to its historical average, Brown has a theoretical ceiling of 130-140 targets over the next 15 games. Using the average of 135 targets, that would give him a target share of 25.5% and a forecast of 89 catches for 1148 yards, and 9 touchdowns.

Basically, this ceiling projection tells us there is room in this offense for AB to command a Gronk-like target share and maintain his status as an elite WR.

On the flip side, AB did just join the team. As of Tuesday, September 10th he hasn’t even practiced with them yet, and might not even play in week 2. Even if he does, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he immediately starts receiving a 25% share of the targets from Tom Brady. Especially with the Patriots upcoming schedule (@MIA, NYJ, @BUF, @WSH), they’re likely to be in a lot of positive game scripts early and it’s easy to envision them taking a more run-heavy approach, further limiting AB’s opportunity.

Last year when the Patriots acquired Josh Gordon, he saw 2 targets in his first game, 4 in his second, and then 9 in his third. I think we could see a similar situation with Brown this year, giving him a more realistic projection of 120 targets, 79 catches for 1050 yards, and 8 touchdowns.

As far at the other Patriots go, their piece of the pie will certainly be smaller than their preseason projections, but the Patriots offense is one of the few where three receivers and potentially multiple running backs can be weekly starters in fantasy.

In my case, I’m holding onto every Patriots player I own, unless I’m getting a clear return on investment because someone in my league absolutely needs a piece of this offense. For example, if someone offers me Juju Smith-Schuster for Julien Edelman or Davante Adams for Antonio Brown, I’d definitely make those trades.

Fantasy players in general love hype, and it’s unlikely AB’s value is going to be higher, so if an offer like that comes along, I’d take it now. Otherwise, hold on tight enjoy owning a piece of this offense that’s very likely going to be a juggernaut.

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