Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is the "Rowdy" Roddy Piper of the NFL. Just when you think you have all the answers he changes the questions.
The latest fantasy casualty is Stevan Ridley, who looked like the team's lead back in Week 1 and did nothing to lose the job but has ceded playing time to Danny Woodhead in the last two weeks.
We've already seen No. 1 target from a year ago Wes Welker sit in favor of Julian Edelman, a player who was more valuable to New England as a fill-in defensive back last season than as a receiver, and Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady haven't exactly turned in the numbers we expected of them yet.
According to ESPNBoston.com, the Patriots played three-receiver sets on 60 of 82 snaps on Sunday night against Baltimore, meaning they wanted Woodhead, a better pass protector and pass catcher, in the backfield instead of Ridley.
That left Rob Gronkowski as the lone tight end on the field most of the time, relegating him to blocking for much of the night, which explains his measly three targets in the game.
This begs the question, is Brandon Lloyd really the only Patriots player fantasy owners are going to be able to trust on a week-to-week basis?
As the Patriots No. 1 receiver in all sets, Lloyd is the only player who has the same role regardless of New England's game plan. As a result, he has turned in 22 catches and 237 yards over the first three games.
Welker should be safe as long as Aaron Hernandez is out with an ankle injury and the team has to play more three-receiver sets. Edelman left Sunday's game with a hand injury and his status for Week 4 versus Buffalo is up in the air, so Welker should get plenty of chances to match the 22 catches, 268 yards and two touchdowns he posted against the Bills in two games last season.
But the Bills game will go a long way in showing us how the team is going to utilize Gronkowski while Hernandez is sidelined. We'll see if the Patriots are comfortable enough with Kellen Winslow yet to play him more frequently and give Gronkowski a chance to see more targets. Gronk caught 15 balls for 217 yards and four touchdowns in two games against the Bills last season, but he might be hard pressed to get anywhere close to those numbers if the team keeps playing sets that only call for one tight end.
That brings us to Brady. The Patriots quarterback was likely drafted in the first round of every fantasy draft you participated in after posting the second-highest passing yardage total in NFL history in 2011, when he threw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, but he has only accumulated 887 yards and four scores in three games this year, which averages out to 4,731 yards but just 21 touchdowns.
The issue with Brady so far has been a decline in red zone opportunities. Last year, he threw 6.2 passes per game from inside the red zone and had 29 touchdown passes from that distance over the course of the season. However, in 2012 that number has declined to 4.7 per game.
Meanwhile, Ridley, Woodhead and Brandon Bolden have each poached a short touchdown this season.
Still, this is too small of a sample size to determine that Brady is going to be a fantasy bust. He's still racking up a ton of yardage and is actually completing (and attempting) more than one pass per game than last season. Plus, New England opposed tough defenses -- Arizona and Baltimore -- in two of three games and had Week 1's matchup with Tennessee well in hand by halftime.
For Ridley's sake, even if he continues to see less snaps in favor of Woodhead due to New England playing a quick-tempo offense, it would be nice if Belichick and his disciple Josh McDaniels would be kind enough to use him like BenJarvus Green-Ellis last season instead of giving his scoring chances to Woodhead and Bolden.
For now, continue to play (and try to buy low) Brady and Gronkowski but quietly shop Welker as Hernandez gets closer to a return and only play Ridley as a flex until we see what New England's week-to-week game plan for him is.
As for Brandon Lloyd owners, you can sit back and relax until Belichick changes the questions again.
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