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ESPN thinks the Patriots have the 2nd best future in the NFL

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Can the Patriots still be the model franchise for the league?

ESPN called upon experts Field Yates, Louis Riddick, and Mike Sando to evaluate the near future of NFL teams based on their roster, coaching, quarterback, draft, and front office. The trio rated franchises on a scale of 0-100.

The New England Patriots finished 2nd in the rankings with an average score of 88.3, just a hair behind the Seattle Seahawks at 88.5. No other franchise scored over 85.0.

“When his coaching career is over, Bill Belichick may well have established himself as the best ever to do it in the NFL,” former scout Field Yates said. “He's a brilliant strategist, a great hands-on teacher and a master of in-game adjustments. Now 64 years old, he's among the oldest NFL coaches, but there's no sign of Belichick slowing down anytime soon. His passion is unquestioned.”

Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff received the highest score in the entire process with a 99.7 grade. I would assume this means that two evaluators gave Belichick a 100.0 and the third gave a 99.0, likely due to Belichick’s advanced age.

The evaluators only gave six grades of 90.0 or greater: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (96.3 grade), Seahawks coaching staff (91.7), Patriots front office (91.0), Broncos front office (90.0), and Seahawks front office (90.0). Patriots quarterback Tom Brady missed the mark at 89.7 thanks to his advanced age.

The Patriots weakest rating was their 75.0 drafting grade.

“If they have had some ‘failures’ in any one specific area, it would be in the draft,” former NFL safety and director of pro personnel Louis Riddick noted. “By selecting players like DB Ras-I Dowling (2011 second round) and DL Dominique Easley (2014 first round), they overvalued eventual busts who fit the ‘Patriot Way.’”

Had the Patriots received a score of 76.0, they probably would’ve ranked ahead of the Seahawks, but it’s difficult to argue against the drafting grade. While Belichick has done well over the course of his career, this evaluation focuses on the next three years, when players from the draft classes of 2013, 2014, and 2015 become key starters and influence the direction of the franchise.

Belichick had a good draft in 2013 with linebacker Jamie Collins and a staring caliber defensive backs in cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon, but the 2014 draft was a stinker when we’re looking at impact.

The Patriots cut first round pick Easley and used their second round pick on back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo who, justification for the pick and preparation for the future aside, is not an impact player. The only contributing players from this class are middling offensive lineman Bryan Stork and 4th string running back James White, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

Luckily, the 2015 class looks more promising with defensive tackle Malcom Brown already a rising star, but there are still question marks beyond Brown. Second round safety Jordan Richards didn’t really play much as a rookie and guards Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson played so poorly that the Patriots invested heavily at the position this offseason.

If the 2015 class takes a nosedive, the Patriots prospects in the near future could look similar to New England’s 2009 season, which was less-than-stellar thanks to poor drafts from 2006-2008.

The Patriots can overcome weak drafting with quality coaching and free agency moves- which are the strength of the roster- and if Brady continues to play at a high level. Remember that 89.7 grade? That was the second-best grade for a quarterback from the evaluators- and there’s a very real chance that grade is too high.

“No quarterback has produced near Brady's current level into his 40s,” ESPN’s Mike Sando writes. “Perhaps Brady can raise the bar. More realistically, it seems like a stretch for our rankings to say New England has the NFL's second-best quarterback projection for the next three seasons.”

The Patriots have been preparing for the inevitable decline of Brady for the past five years and the quarterback position is set with both Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, so the team is not without a future. But the Patriots projection over the next three years is connected to Brady playing like the second-best quarterback in the NFL; if he starts to decline, then it’s unlikely that New England will be atop the league.

New England has to be pretty happy with their near future and all of their cap space because the rest of the division looks like a mess.

The Jets ranked 15th with a score of 68.3 in thanks to their atrocious quarterback situation and the concerning age of the roster. The Bills finished a laughable 28th and an average score of 59.5; while the Bills currently have a good roster, they struggle on all other fronts.

The Dolphins ranked 29th because the entire franchise is a giant question mark. They place ahead of the Rams, 49ers, and Browns.

As far as ESPN is concerned, the Patriots should have the division locked up for the next few years.