It was just two weeks ago that the New England Patriots were left off NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks’ 10 most talented teams list. Pro Football Focus, in conjunction with ESPN Insider, was much more kind to the Patriots.
Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson ranked all 32 NFL rosters by “(taking) the past two years of PFF data and, giving the 2015 season more weight, (averaging) out the grades for each roster.” The Patriots ranked No. 1.
Monson listed tight end Rob Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady, linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins and safety Devin McCourty as the Patriots’ top five players. He said guard Shaq Mason, center Bryan Stork, defensive end Rob Ninkovich and running back LeGarrette Blount are “starters who should be upgraded.”
Mason is heading into his second NFL season and Stork into his third, and they could see a jump in their performance from natural progression and the help of returning offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. If Mason and Stork can’t improve, the Patriots have plenty of depth at guard and center in Jonathan Cooper, Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson, Joe Thuney, Alex Karras and David Andrews.
Ninkovich likely will continue to hold down the Patriots’ left defensive end starting role, though the Patriots added Chris Long in free agency, and they have 2015 draft picks Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom waiting in the wings.
Blount only began starting for the Patriots in 2015 when Dion Lewis was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Lewis’ rehab is going so well he participated in Tom Brady’s Best Buddies Football Challenge on Friday, albeit at about a quarter speed.
The Green Bay Packers ranked second behind the Patriots in Monson’s list, while the San Francisco 49ers finished last. The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins — New England’s AFC East rivals — ranked 14th, 23rd and 26th, respectively.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Oct 25, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) celebrates with outside linebacker Jamie Collins (91) and outside linebacker Geneo Grissom (92) after sacking New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (not pictured) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports