The Patriots had five defensive players in Pro Football Focus' Top 101 Players of 2015 rankings, in Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Jabaal Sheard, and Jamie Collins. Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan did not make the cut.
New England had just two players on the offensive side of the ball make the list, and you should be able to guess their names. It wasn't Julian Edelman or Dion Lewis, both of whom had their seasons cut short by injury. It definitely wasn't anyone on the offensive line.
Quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski were at the top of the list, and both did extremely well.
Brady came in 14th, after ranking 27th in 2014. Pro Football Focus (PFF) implies that Brady would have ranked higher if it weren't for the debacle against the Broncos in the playoffs.
"Tom Brady lost nearly every receiving weapon of consequence at some point over the season," PFF writes. "And was working behind one of the worst offensive lines in the game- yet he displayed such a complete mastery of the system that he was barely affected."
Brady was the 2nd ranked quarterback, behind league MVP and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. PFF notes that Newton would have been lower if not for his tremendous postseason. PFF also says that "Brady suffered from 44 drops by his receivers, tied with [Raiders quarterback] Derek Carr for most in the league last season."
Gronkowski ranked even better, beating out players like Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt. Gronk finished 4th, up from 11th in 2014.
"Gronk led all NFL [tight ends] in yards, yards per reception, touchdowns, yards after the catch, receiving grade, and blocking grade," PFF shares. Gronk's performance and value over and above all other tight ends in the league is why he is considered one of the top five players in the league.
Congratulations to Gronk and Brady, and hopefully Edelman and Lewis will join the duo atop the list at the end of the 2016 season.