Why the New England Patriots' Offense Is About to Get Even Better
Before I started running like a dad, I used to play a ton of hoops with my friends.
I could post up smaller guys and take bigger guys off the dribble. Won was the distributer. Arnold was the go-to scorer. Harrison was the shooter. Phil was the rebounder.
We were an effective team when we understood our roles and executed.
The 2015 New England Patriots are led by Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski is the matchup nightmare. Julian Edelman is the chain mover. Dion Lewis is the dual-threat running back. And LeGarrette Blount is the hammer between the tackles.
The Patriots have compiled a 5-0 record and rank second in our power rankings. According to their 8.44 nERD score, they would be expected to beat an average opponent on a neutral field by 8.44 points. Only the Arizona Cardinals have a higher mark (12.79).
On offense, New England ranks first in schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play (0.24), third in Passing NEP (0.31), and first in Rushing NEP (0.15).
For those new to numberFire, NEP is our signature metric that factors in situational variables such as down-and-distance in order to compare a team or player’s production to historical expectation levels. A positive number indicates how much the team or player scored above expectation, while a negative number shows how much below.
The scary thing is the offense can get better.
How is that possible, you say?
LaFell is 28 years old, 6'3" and 210 pounds. He ran a 4.54 40-yard dash, a 6.81 second 3-cone, and has a 36-inch vertical jump.
He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the 78th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and during his four-year career in Carolina, he didn't top 49 receptions or 5 touchdowns in any season. After the 2013 season, the Patriots signed him to a three-year, $9 million contract.
In his first season with the Patriots, he caught 74 passes on 119 targets for 953 yards and 7 touchdowns. Among receivers with at least 50 catches, LaFell ranked 41st in Reception NEP (0.60). Not great.
So why all the hype?
Although he was third in the pecking order for targets on his own team, LaFell ranked 30th overall with 119. That was seven fewer than Randall Cobb. In other words, the Patriots offense can support three receivers. More importantly, he developed a rapport with Brady and garnered his trust.
His Reception Success Rate, which is the percentage of receptions that positively affect NEP, was 87.84%, good for 22nd overall in the NFL last year. That Antonio Brown guy? 86.82%.
And the impact of LaFell goes beyond the numbers.
He's the Patriots best deep threat because of his physicality and ability to win one-on-one matchups on the outside. He's going to stretch defenses vertically, which will open up things for Gronkowski, Edelman, and Lewis underneath. Defenses won't be able to squeeze down and compress the passing windows for Brady.
An offense that was already a juggernaut may in fact be getting better because of the element that LaFell brings to the table. And it's a scary thought for the rest of the league.
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