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Tom Brady and the Patriots have a magic trick for you
Image via Stevegarfield/Flickr
Image via Stevegarfield/Flickr

Would you like to see a magic trick?  Unless you had an unpleasant encounter with David Blaine as a child, I’m guessing you would.  So here it goes.

I am going to take a wide receiver off the scrap heap…yes, this Michael Jenkins fellow will work perfectly…and by the time I’m done with this article, I will turn the 122nd wide receiver drafted in the RotoViz Dynasty startup into a top 40 wide receiver.  Yes, you read that right, I am going to attempt to turn the 122nd WIDE RECEIVER into someone that could be useful as a WR3 in 12 team leagues.  Hold on tight, ladies and gentlemen, this could get interesting.

First, I pull back the curtain on the great and powerful Oz—I mean, Belichick—to reveal that he has an undying love for veteran wide receivers.  Witness that in every year since 2006, at least one 30+ year old receiver has been among the top two receivers on the team.

Year Name Age Receptions Yards TD Games Team WR Rank
2012 Wes Welker 31 118 1354 6 16 1
2012 Brandon Lloyd 31 74 911 4 16 2
2011 Wes Welker 30 122 1569 9 16 1
2011 Deion Branch 32 51 702 5 15 2
2010 Deion Branch 31 48 706 5 11 2
2009 Randy Moss 32 83 1264 13 16 2
2008 Randy Moss 31 69 1008 11 16 2
2007 Randy Moss 30 98 1493 23 16 1
2006 Troy Brown 35 43 384 4 16 2

If you want to call bullshit on my inclusion of Randy Moss in this list, that is fine.  He is an all-time great and was a rare specimen, even past his 30th birthday.  But, can you honestly say that Troy Brown, Deion Branch, or Brandon Lloyd were special talents; or were they just reliable veterans who did their job?  Even for Wes Welker, would he have ever become Wes Welker if he were not paired with Tom Brady in New England?  Just saying.

Ok, I can tell that you’re uncomfortable, so let’s just focus on the last three seasons with Lloyd and Branch.

Year Name Age Tgts/gm Rec/gm Yds/gm TD/gm Games Fantasy Rank*
2012 Brandon Lloyd 31 8.1 4.6 56.9 0.25 16 WR34
2011 Deion Branch 32 6.0 3.4 46.8 0.33 15 WR40
2010 Deion Branch 31 6.7 4.4 64.2 0.45 11 WR20

*As Branch played less than 16 games, these rankings are calculated using average stats

The takeaway from here is that when they were on the field, Branch and Lloyd performed like WR3s.  Wonderful!  Now that we’ve established a baseline on what these 30+ year old receivers can do in the Patriots offense, let’s move on to Michael Jenkins.

Way back in 2004, Michael Jenkins might have been considered special.  Standing 6’4’’, weighing nearly 220 pounds, running a 4.4 forty yard dash, while showing strong explosion and agility metrics, Jenkins was a first round pick of the Atlanta Falcons.  You could probably argue that Jenkins was a first round bust, but that statement would be ironic considering that he has stayed in the league for nine-plus seasons.  What I would argue is that Jenkins has been plagued with some unfortunate quarterback play.  Now, for his age 31 season, he has landed with the Patriots and Tom Brady.

(AY/A+ is an index for Adjust Yards/Attempt.  100 is league average. Higher is better.)

Year QB AY/A+ Tom Brady
AY/A+
2004 Michael Vick 102 117
2005 Michael Vick 90 115
2006 Michael Vick 96 106
2007 Harrington/Redman 94 142
2008 Matt Ryan 114 injured
2009 Matt Ryan 95 115
2010 Matt Ryan 102 127
2011 McNabb/Ponder 87 130
2012 Christian Ponder 88 117

So, that’s a pretty tough road for Michael Jenkins.  No wonder he has had an underwhelming career.  Even Matt Ryan, who has become a good player, wasn’t anywhere close to Brady at that point in his career.  So, even despite Jenkins’ older age, maybe there is still some QB-related upside.  Let’s take a look at Jenkins’ performance for the three seasons in which he had “above average” QB play, two of which were paired with Matt Ryan:

Year Age Games Rec/gm Yds/gm TDs/gm
2004 22 16 0.4 7.4 0.00
2008 26 16 3.1 48.6 0.19
2010 28 11 3.7 45.9 0.18

Yes, Jenkins stunk during his rookie year, but most rookie receivers do.  The other two times he performed at a 55-750-3 pace, which is about what Deion Branch did in 2011.  By comparison, that is on par with what Jeremy Kerley and Donnie Avery put up last season, when both ranked among the top 50 fantasy wide receivers and among the top 150 fantasy players overall in most leagues.

So, we’ve seen that the Patriots welcome production from veteran receivers and we’ve seen that Jenkins can be useful when he’s not being ruined by a Michael Vick bounce pass or the Christian Ponder death trap.  Now let’s look ahead to 2013.

In case you missed it, the Patriots lost 2,612 snaps from their 2012 receiving core, which equates to about 2.5 full time starters.  Obviously Danny Amendola fills one of those spots, but why can’t Michael Jenkins fill another?  Reports from OTAs are the he is working with the first team and, oddly enough, Jenkins as a 2013 Cinderella makes sense.  Imagine you are Tom Brady.  You go home every night and get to see Giselle naked.  (Sorry, got distracted.)  If you’re Tom Brady, at this point in your career, you probably just want consistency.  Be where you are supposed to be.  Catch the damn ball.  Run your route.  Do your job!  And, as he looks around, what does he see?  Rookie wildcard Aaron Dobson.  Rookie wildcard Josh Boyce.  Danny Amendola who has played 12 games in two seasons.  Injury prone Aaron Hernandez.  Surgery-prone Gronk.

Now let’s try to make a VERY EARLY projection.  Thanks to PFF, we know that Jenkins has posted the following rates since 2008.  Considering that Branch and Lloyd both saw at least six targets per game during the last three seasons, let’s see how Jenkins might perform in the starter’s role, if his five-year rates hold true.

Projection based on 6 Targets/gm
Catch Rate 62.8% 60.2 Catches
Yards/ Target 8.1 779.0 Yards
TD Rate 5.0% 4.8 Touchdowns

If Jenkins puts up a line of 60-779-5 that would be in the neighborhood of what Josh Gordon, Malcom Floyd, and Andre Roberts did last season, netting them all top 40 finishes at the wide receiver position.  In other words, he could be useful as a WR3 or a flex player in your fantasy league.

I’m not saying Michael Jenkins is without his flaws.  What I am saying is that the Patriots seem to be prepared to use him as a starting wide receiver and maybe you should consider it for your fantasy team too.  If you’re wanting a piece of the Patriots passing attack and don’t want to spend a top 60 draft pick on Gronk, Hernandez, or Amendola, then why not roll the dice on Michael Jenkins who you can get FOR FREE!  Catching passes from Tom Brady and he is ON YOUR WAIVER WIRE.  At the very least, he might be a sneaky play for when your fantasy team is going against Brady.  If nothing else, this is a situation for savvy fantasy GMs to monitor.

ABRACADABRA!

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