Mike Gillislee likely top option, but Patriots RBs tough fantasy projections

BRISTOL, Conn. -- During two days this week, ESPN held its 2017 Fantasy Football Summit in which rankings for PPR leagues (points per reception) were debated and established.

As part of the summit, there were various panels, including one moderated by ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates with ESPN football analysts Tim Hasselbeck and Louis Riddick. At one point, they discussed New England Patriots running backs and I rolled tape to relay the team-specific insight to this audience.

The question: With Mike Gillislee, James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis, how do you envision things shaking out? Could one of these backs finish with double-digit touchdowns?

“From a running-style perspective, Gillislee is the one who could be like that. Gillislee’s a tough son of a gun,” Riddick answered. “But New England is always tough from a fantasy perspective, because you just don’t know. There are teams that talk about getting matchups, and there are teams that actually do it. New England, they do it. So good luck trying to figure it out.”

Riddick then elaborated.

“Unless you can really get inside the head of [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] and Bill [Belichick] week to week: Do you think we’ll have a 60-40 run-pass ratio? Or are they going to be 20 percent run, 80 percent pass? It’s tough to figure out what they’re going to do. You have to study other teams’ defenses to really get a feel for what they are going to do, and then you’re not going to be right all the time anyway.

“Mike Gillislee could be the one; he has that body type, he has that size. James White is not that guy. Dion Lewis, it’s a durability issue with him. And Rex Burkhead, he is going to be a nice addition, a utility type player. To me, there is a reason they went after Gillislee. It’s so he can get the tough yards. It seems like a natural transition to go from LeGarrette [Blount] to him; it makes sense.”

Hasselbeck then shared his perspective.

“I think what New England has basically done is that they’ve looked at that Danny Woodhead/Kevin Faulk role and realized that they want more than one based on frame and size, and in that offense they do touch the football a lot. So they’ve basically decided that they have multiple guys. [For fantasy], it’s frustrating when it’s Lewis, then it’s White ...

“I would say this about Burkhead: I think describing him as a utility player is fair. Remember, there was a game late in the season when Cincinnati was down some players and he started at wide receiver. He was the third wide receiver, playing inside. He has that ability. He’s been a kick returner. So they are signing a versatile player, and those guys in New England, because they have the ability to do so much, those are the guys that end up really benefiting because the offense is so game plan specific.”

Discussions like those helped spark ESPN’s rankings for PPR leagues, which were released Friday.