Dion Lewis: Week One Sleeper

Relying on a specific member of the Patriots’ backfield is like pulling your hair out. Whenever you think you have a feel on how Bill Belichick is running the show, he pulls a complete 180 and switches everything up. This makes it difficult to get overly excited about the fact Dion Lewis was just named the passing down back for the Patriots, taking over the role Shane Vereen played last season.

Despite the inconsistency of both scheme and production, Vereen finished as RB20 in standard PPR scoring. He was rarely priced as overly expensive, so he made for a nice value in cash games on many weeks (considering he scored 10-plus fantasy points seven different weeks last season). He scored under six fantasy points just four times in 16 games. The question now is how Lewis will fit into that very role, and will he have a chance to put up under-the-radar consistency in a similar fashion, en route to becoming one of the best weekly values?

Prior to catching 52 passes last season, Vereen flashed his pass-catching ability in just eight 2013 games as he hauled in 47 catches in that short period of time. Lewis’ track record is nowhere near as established as Vereen’s was heading into last season. In two NFL seasons, and he hasn’t played in a regular season game since December of 2012, Lewis has caught three passes in a very limited opportunity (192 career yards from scrimmage). So what can we expect from him in his first extensive opportunity in year three of his young career?

Let’s first take a look at just how messy Belichick’s scheme truly is. He has a reputation for using a plethora of running backs (RBs) and having some come out of the woodwork to produce, but is it true? Here are the Patriots’ RB leaders in fantasy points per week for the 2014 season:

Week One: Shane Vereen – seven ATT for 36 yards and a TD, five REC for 35 yards (18.10 fantasy points)

Week Two: Stevan Ridley 25 ATT for 101 yards and a TD (19.10 fantasy points)

Week Three: Stevan Ridley 19 ATT for 53 yards, one REC for seven yards (7.10 fantasy points)

Week Four: Shane Vereen – eight ATT for 26 yards, five REC for 41 yards (11.70 fantasy points)

Week Five: Stevan Ridley – 27 ATT for 113 yards and a TD (20.30 fantasy points)

Week Six: Stevan Ridley – 10 ATT for 23 yards, one REC for six yards (3.90 fantasy points)

Week Seven: Shane Vereen – 11 ATT for 43 yards, five REC for 71 yards and two TDs (28.40 fantasy points)

Week Eight: Jonas Gray – 17 ATT for 86 yards (8.60 fantasy points)

Week Nine: Shane Vereen – 11 ATT for 29 yards, five REC for 38 yards and a TD (17.70 fantasy points)

Week 10: Bye Week

Week 11: Jonas Gray – 37 ATT for 201 yards and four TDs (47.10 fantasy points)

Week 12: LeGarrette Blount – 12 ATT for 78 yards and two TDs (19.80 fantasy points)

Week 13: Brandon Bolden – three ATT for 17 yards and a TD (7.70 fantasy points)

Week 14: LeGarrette Blount – 20 ATT for 66 yards (6.60 fantasy points)

Week 15: LeGarrette Blount – eight ATT for 17 yards and a TD, two REC for seven yards (10.40 fantasy points)

Week 16: Jonas Gray – six ATT for five yards and a TD (6.50 fantasy points)

Week 17: LeGarrette Blount – 10 ATT for 62 yards (6.20 fantasy points)

Notice that by week 13, five different backs had led the team in fantasy points. Five. It’s no wonder the Patriots’ receiving back led the team in fantasy points last season, because the only consistent aspect of the offense is the fact that Brady is going to get the football. Vereen scored double-digit fantasy points in seven weeks last year and the Patriots’ leader scored double-digits just nine times overall.

Just how talented is Lewis? Coming out of college, he was a fifth-round pick of Pittsburgh after he compiled 544 carries for 2,860 yards with 30 TDs along with 52 REC, 405 yards and a TD through the air. Michael Lombardi, the former Browns general manager, traded for him then and now has had a say in the Patriots acquiring him (currently an assistant on the coaching staff), so he clearly has believers in the organization. James White seems to be falling out of favor, so although Lewis may not be an absolute stud, he has basically won the job by default. It’s a job to take notice of, especially because the guy throwing to him is one of the best at check-downs.

So what to expect from Lewis? While I wouldn’t expect quite Vereen-esque numbers, Mike Clay threw out a semi-bold, yet well within reason projection on Twitter: Lewis will finish as a top 40 RB in PPR formats. It’s hard to have faith in a Patriots back, especially while guys like Travaris Cadet and James White (who have similar skills) are still in town, but Lewis is priced at the bare minimum in week number one. With the productive preseason he’s put together in order to “earn the role” (whatever that means in a Belichick offense), I think he makes for both a viable cash and tournament punt in week number one at the very least, especially with LeGarrette Blount suspended and Jonas Gray recently cut. If he produces, keep him on the radar for the long-term as well, because that very role has led to productivity in recent years. Just make sure you thank your lucky stars before inserting him into your lineup.

Ricky Sanders

Ricky Sanders

Ricky Sanders is a fantasy sports expert with over 15 years of playing experience. After starting several freelance fantasy sports blogs, Ricky moved up in the fantasy industry when he joined Going9 Baseball. He wrote fantasy baseball content and had a weekly radio spot on the site’s SiriusXM Satellite Radio show. Shortly thereafter, in early 2013, Ricky joined RotoExperts as a three-sport fantasy contributor, eventually becoming one of the site’s lead basketball writers. While writing for RotoExperts, Ricky was introduced to daily fantasy sports and immediately fell in love. With help from some of his mentors, some of the best DFS players in the world, he honed his skills and became the daily fantasy expert he is today. When RotoExperts created a daily-focused website called DailyRoto.com, Ricky was brought on as one of the main contributors. He still makes frequent appearances on the RotoExperts SiriusXM Radio show and on the FNTSY Sports Television Network, talking daily fantasy sports. He also continues to write for a few DFS content sites: RotoCurve and The Fantasy Fix. Ricky is a proud and active member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He has agreed to be a writer and representative for the FantasyDraft brand and serves as an ambassador to the site. He has no more access to the site than the typical user. Don’t hesitate to contact Ricky with questions on Twitter @RSandersDFS.

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