If you asked me last offseason where New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty would rank on the defense with regards to his value, I'd say that he would have been in my top three players, alongside linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
It's crazy what a season of football can do for a defense and now McCourty ranks fifth on the defense according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).
Linebacker Dont'a Hightower came in at 63rd overall, down from his 23rd overall ranking in 2015, likely due to limitations from his injury. Hightower ranks as PFF's top pass rushing inside linebacker and the website credited the defensive scheme for keeping Hightower out of coverage, as he saw only 22 targets last year.
Safety Patrick Chung came in one rank higher at 62nd overall, after being unranked in 2015. Chung was PFF's 5th highest rated safety last season and his value as a slot corner and as a run stopper did not go unnoticed. The Patriots rewarded Chung with an extension this offseason and he should roam the box for the next few seasons.
Pass rusher Jabaal Sheard came in at 59th overall, after being unranked with the Browns in 2015. Sheard was the Patriots highest rated pass rusher last season and he was the 3rd best in the entire league at stopping the run. He'll see a major uptick in his usage as he'll replace Chandler Jones in the starting lineup.
PFF also leaked the grade for linebacker Jamie Collins on Twitter and the athletic freak should rank inside the top 50 in the coming days. Collins is the team's highest rated player on defense, which also means that rising star cornerback Malcolm Butler did not make the Top 101 list. Rob Ninkovich also graded out incredibly poorly in this system.
Barring a surprise, the Patriots will probably have just three more players in the top 50: Collins, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and quarterback Tom Brady. Wide receiver Julian Edelman just missed the cut for the Top 101, thanks to his injury, while running back Dion Lewis is in the same boat.