Change is the only constant in today's NFL. Nobody knows what a team will look like in one, two, or three years. In the summer of 2012, for example, Devin McCourty was still a cornerback. Danny Woodhead was still with the Patriots. Julian Edelman was a little-known punt returner.
ESPN does not know what the future will hold either – they try to predict, however. Every year, the network publishes its future power rankings to find out which NFL teams are best prepared for the next three seasons.
The so-called experts charged with creating the list analyze each franchise in regards to five categories: roster (sans quarterback), quarterback, draft, front office and coaching. Not every category carries the same weight, though: the current roster is worth 30 percent, quarterback and coaching 20 each, and draft and front office make up 15 percent of the overall final score.
The New England Patriots, as it turns out, look well prepared for the future:
The Patriots are the third highest ranked team in the NFL in terms of future prospects, behind only the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. The team, logically, ranks first in both the AFC and the AFC East. It also earned the highest coaching grade in the entire league.
ESPN's three experts explain their ratings as follows:
The overview: The Patriots climbed two spots from last year thanks to a 20-spot gain to No. 5 in the drafting category. Did New England's long-entrenched leadership suddenly overhaul its approach to the draft? Of course not, but recent results appear positive. Linebacker Jamie Collins (2013 draft) further established himself as a front-line player, and the 2014 draft produced starting center Bryan Stork, plus Cameron Fleming and Zach Moore. Selecting Jimmy Garoppolo as a potential successor to Tom Brady also showed foresight and could pay dividends if Brady's four-game suspension isn't overturned or reduced on appeal. --Mike Sando
The dilemma: Last year, I wrote about how the secondary, particularly corner, could quickly become a problem position following the 2014 season. Well, it's now 2015, and cornerback is officially an issue. Gone are Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington, having been replaced by Bradley Fletcher and Derek Cox -- both of whom are average when playing their very best and poor when playing true to form. Bill Belichick will need the front seven to set the tone for the secondary. That's ideally how you want it to go when building your defense, especially without much developmental talent in the secondary (other than Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler). --Louis Riddick
The youth movement: Belichick and the Patriots have won 63 games the past five seasons -- seven more than the next-best team (Green Bay) -- despite getting only one or two starters on average from the past five drafts. This franchise's unparalleled consistency is driven by its coach and quarterback, but the recent youth movement along the front seven has helped the Patriots' cause, too. Collins is emerging into a star, while Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones are gearing up for big paydays. --John Clayton
Taking a look around the league, we find that the second-highest ranked AFC team are the Baltimore Ravens, who are ranked 4th with an overall score of 84.3. The rest of the AFC's top teams – Pittsburgh, Denver, Indianapolis – rank 5th (82.2), 14th (71.2), and 16th (69.0), respectively. The Patriots' division rivals can be found at spots number 21 (New York, 66.4), 23 (Miami, 65.0) and 26 (Buffalo, 62.4).
As can be seen, ESPN thinks that the Patriots are well prepared for the next three years. What do you think?