The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl and they’re already prepared for another great season in 2017 with five of the best players in the NFL set to return. Pro Football Focus (PFF) released their annual Top 101 players list and there are five Patriots players listed, including a sixth that just missed the cut.
Oh, and that doesn’t include TE Rob Gronkowski who was too injured to make the list.
111th: LB Dont’a Hightower
Hightower ranked 63rd on the list last season, with PFF explaining “the loss of Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns in a trade during the season likely was a part of his drop in form, because his grade over the first half of the year is significantly higher than that over the second half.”
Hightower apparently missed twice as many tackles this year versus last year and his coverage ability fell apart. Hopefully he can rebound next season.
61st: OT Marcus Cannon
Cannon was one of the most improved players of 2016, going from the bottom of the rankings to Second Team All Pro.
“The development of Marcus Cannon this season has been remarkable,” PFF writes, “and was highlighted on the biggest stage of all, Super Bowl LI, where he completely dominated fellow breakout player Vic Beasley. Despite the Patriots passing almost all game, Beasley managed just two total QB pressures in 54 pass-rushing snaps, and Cannon continued to dominate on the ground, too.”
Cannon finished the season as PFF’s #3 ranked offensive tackle, and #1 graded right tackle.
59th: OT Nate Solder
Unlike Cannon, Solder had a terrible Super Bowl outing against Falcons EDGE Dwight Freeney, as he “allowed 13 total QB pressures in the Super Bowl after surrendering only 10 in the nine previous games heading into it.”
Solder also had four perfect games of pass protection in 2016 and should rebound in 2017 and earn a nice contract extension.
29th: FS Devin McCourty
When the Patriots needed a defender to step up in the second half of the season, McCourty always seemed to rise to the occasion and deliver. “McCourty finished the season with the highest PFF coverage grade among safeties (92.4),” per PFF, “and is defined by how rarely he makes a mistake, which ultimately is the key characteristic for a player at a position named ‘safety.’”
McCourty has already repaid his mega-contract extension.
25th: CB Malcolm Butler
Butler finished the season as an All Pro after a fairly slow start. PFF had Butler down for 9 games with “two or fewer catches” allowed, and 7 games where he “allowed fewer than 20 receiving yards.”
Butler is due for a big contract extension, too.
1st: QB Tom Brady
Brady finished the season with the highest quarterback grade in Pro Football Focus’ history and earned their award for “best player”. PFF also had Brady throwing the fewest “turnover worthy” plays in the league, and the most “big” plays in the league, which is what you would expect from the best quarterback in the league.