While it might be a new season, the same age-old question exists where we have to ask if you can trust a New England Patriots RB for fantasy football. Damien Harris might be that player if you were to pick one that could end up being a value at their ADP given their projected fantasy outlook. But will the New England system allow for anyone to become fantasy-relevant in 2021?
Damien Harris’ fantasy outlook for 2021
Death. Taxes. And wondering if you will ever be able to trust a Patriots running back in fantasy. Some things are inevitable certainties in life.
If you were going to place your wager on anyone pulling this herculean feat off, Harris might be the best option. Not that this is new because Harris was the favorite all last offseason to take over the role. That is until he underwent surgery on his pinky which cost him the first three weeks. But from Week 4 on, I think he was better than many people gave him credit for.
In his 10 games, Harris totaled 743 yards and 2 touchdowns on 137 carries and 2 receptions as the RB53. Yet, he was 42nd in points per game with 9.1 PPR. Despite playing on just 39% of the snaps, Harris was an RB24 or better in 50% of his games and had three outings with over 100 rushing yards.
Harris is a solid rusher. But he is one where you will watch him succeed on the field but maybe not for fantasy as a post-hype sleeper. The issues are twofold. First, so long as Cam Newton is the starting QB, Harris will not see goal-line carries. Last season, Newton recorded 42 red-zone carries to Harris’ 6.
Second, he is not involved in the passing game. This makes him a great first and second-down back with limited upside, especially in PPR formats.
If Mac Jones is at QB and Harris is the goal-line back, we can get excited about a potential breakout. But as always, Harris’ fantasy outlook, like many Patriots RBs, is hard to get behind as a reliable asset.
Damien Harris’ fantasy projection
The Patriots are going to be a better offense and team in general in 2021. Not only did the offense struggle, but they had eight players on defense opt-out due to concerns surrounding the pandemic. Throw in a brand new QB and a shortened offseason, and it’s not hard to see why they struggled at times.
I’m not trying to make excuses for them, but I think it needs to be at least considered. If we look at their previous five-year average, the stats paint a clear picture. From 2015 to 2019, New England averaged 27.8 points on 66.8 plays per game. Moreover, the Patriots averaged 37 passing attempts for 269.2 yards.
In 2020, points (20.4 ppg) and plays (61.2 per game) fell, and passing slid to just 27.5 attempts and 180.6 yards. It could have been even uglier if not for the fourth-best rushing offense (31.4 attempts for 146.6 yards).
I expect to see the Patriots run a heavy dose of 12 personnel in 2021 after adding Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in the offseason. In all of this, the big wild card is if Newton struggles again, how long will it be until the Patriots bring in Jones? We could be looking at two completely different offenses should this happen, which would significantly impact the upside of the running backs.
I believe Newton starts the season as the starting QB but does not finish it. Although, I most certainly could be wrong. With this in mind, early projections have Harris in the neighborhood of 210-220 carries for around 1,000 rushing yards and 5 TDs. Additionally, he could see 12-14 receptions, close to 100 yards, and another score in the receiving game.
Damien Harris’ fantasy ADP
According to Sleeper, Harris is currently the RB37 with an ADP of 83.2 in PPR formats. According to Fleaflicker, his ADP is 76.8. Meanwhile, in NFC (a high-stakes fantasy platform), Harris has an 83.83 ADP.
Should you draft Damien Harris in 2021 for fantasy?
This is the closest we have seen a player’s value be between the more casual and high-stakes communities based on the ADPs. Harris is a fine low-end RB3 but does not have a ton of upside in his current situation. Nevertheless, he could be closer to a high-end RB3 to a low-end RB2 based on volume if Jones is under center.
Harris has a shot to be good — but not great — in my opinion. Thus, I believe his fantasy outlook matches his ADP.
The departure of Sony Michel has a limited impact on Harris’ fantasy outlook. Michel was unlikely to play a significant role while Harris was healthy. Additionally, any role he was set to have will now potentially be taken by Rhamondre Stevenson. The potential impact of Michel’s departure is that Harris is now slightly safer, as there is less risk the Patriots game plan in another back as they may have with Michel.
Harris needs to stay healthy. Will he ever have the stranglehold on the carries? No, but even on the small snap share Harris saw last season, he was on a 17-game pace for 244 carries. That is not an insignificant number by any means.
While I will not reach for Harris in drafts, especially in PPR formats, I have no qualms about him as my RB4. If you subscribe to the Zero RB draft strategy, Harris could be one of the better options to target in 2021.