These Patriots Realistically Could Land On Future Top NFL Players Rankings

Yes, Mac Jones, but who else?


July 26, 2022

Fair or not, many experts don’t believe the New England Patriots have any of the NFL’s best players.

Zero Patriots made the cut in Pro Football Focus’ ranking of the top 60 players entering this season. Pete Prisco of CBS Sports also omitted all rostered New England players in his top 100 rankings. The Patriots fared better in the top 101 rankings from USA TODAY, which placed Devin McCourty at No. 32 overall. Neither ESPN nor NFL Network had published their respective rankings as of Tuesday afternoon, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Patriots come up empty on those lists, too.

And sure, you could argue that some Patriots deserved inclusion, but results are what they are. Still, that got us thinking: Which Patriots players could land on similar rankings within the next few years?

Here are our picks:

Mac Jones, QB
An obvious choice. Quarterbacks always get preferential treatment in these kinds of lists, so Jones only needs to become reasonably above average to have a decent shot. A total of 12 quarterbacks made it onto USA Today’s top 101 rankings, with Derek Carr landing at No. 98. It’s entirely possible that Jones is at that level by this time next year, especially when you consider he was PFF’s 12th-ranked QB in 2021. (Jones earned the No. 18 spot on The Athletic’s recent NFL quarterback rankings.)

And the preseason hype for Jones already is in full swing, with Bill Belichick on Tuesday saying the sophomore quarterback made a “dramatic improvement” over the offseason.

Kyle Dugger, S
Dugger’s teammates already talk about him like he’s a rising star, and those who watch the 2020 second-round pick closely know how good he can be. Dugger oozes game-breaking talent, and you already could make the case he’s a better all-around player than the more-celebrated Jamal Adams. If Dugger takes another development leap in 2022, particularly in pass coverage, we could be talking about one of the NFL’s top safeties and an easy inclusion in top 100 rankings.

Worth noting: Neither Dugger nor McCourty earned the top PFF grade among Patriots safeties last season. That honor goes to the wildly underrated Adrian Phillips, who claimed the No. 8 spot. (McCourty was 14th; Dugger 31st.)

Matthew Judon, LB
Judon probably would’ve made every outlet’s list had he not finished the 2021 season with such a whimper. He arguably was the NFL’s top pass rusher through 12 weeks but was a no-show down the stretch. That said, the explosive outside linebacker still is just 29 years old and is the highest-paid player on the Patriots. It’s not unfair to expect Judon to be one of the NFL’s 100 best players in 2022, as he’s paid to be that good and has the talent to deliver on expectations.

Christian Barmore, DT
Barmore won over coaches, teammates, reporters and fans last season with his impressive performance and colorful press conferences. Belichick clearly loves the Alabama product, and the feeling is mutual. The jury is out on whether Barmore can be a dominant run-stopper, but his pass-rushing ability already is borderline elite. In fact, Barmore last season racked up the second-most QB pressures (48) of any rookie defensive tackle since 2006. If he reaches his potential and stays healthy, Barmore could be a star defensive lineman within the next couple of years.

Rhamondre Stevenson, RB
We chose Stevenson over Harris (PFF’s second-ranked running back in 2021) for two reasons: He might be even better than his veteran counterpart, and there’s a real chance that Harris leaves New England next offseason — if not sooner. Stevenson got off to a rocky, fumbling start in his rookie campaign, but he was dynamic by the time the playoffs arrived. The Oklahoma product finished the season as PFF’s 10th-ranked running back, sandwiched between Cordarrelle Patterson and Christian McCaffrey. (PFF rankings always carry caveats, but still.)

Stevenson is fast, explosive, runs hard and could develop as a dangerous passing-down threat. Plus, New England’s offense figures to be run-heavy in 2022, potentially setting up the sophomore back for a breakout season.

Cole Strange, G
Yes, the same Cole Strange that was the most-criticized pick from the 2022 NFL Draft. Regardless of how you feel about what the Patriots did with their first-round pick, most experts agree that Strange could develop into one of the NFL’s best guards. Some even believe he has higher upside at center. Plenty of interior offensive linemen land on top 100 rankings, and Strange could, too, if he develops into the next Joe Thuney, who was a third-round pick.

Mike Onwenu, OL
Onwenu is hard to figure out. He was excellent at right tackle as a rookie in 2020, earning the 8th-best PFF grade for offensive tackles. But his move to left guard in 2021 didn’t go well, with Ted Karras eventually replacing him full-time. Onwenu spent the majority of the second half as a depth lineman, albeit one who played well whenever he was on the field. Now 24 years old, Onwenu projects as New England’s starting right guard this season, replacing Shaq Mason. Onwenu has the talent and size to dominate in the trenches. If he plays to his ceiling, he could sneak onto rankings as early as next summer.

Honorable mentions: Adrian Phillips, S; Damien Harris, RB; Hunter Henry, TE; Kendrick Bourne, WR; Marcus Jones, CB’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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