Former Dallas Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt released his rankings for the Top 10 Most Talented Rosters in the NFL and the New England Patriots are an unsurprising first place. Brandt gives his justification for the ranking and explains where the team can still find a way to improve.
“Not much of a mystery here: Take a strong team that just won the Super Bowl, add several top-end veterans who can help immediately, and you have the most talented squad in the NFL,” Brandt writes. “Brandin Cooks joins Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola to form the NFL's deepest receiver corps. Rob Gronkowski will be back, with Dwayne Allen succeeding Martellus Bennett as Gronk insurance.
“Kony Ealy and Stephon Gilmore will strengthen the pass defense, which also retained Malcolm Butler. The quarterback situation -- with Jimmy Garoppolo backing up Tom Brady -- continues to be impossibly good. Special teams is a strength.
“The only weakness is the interior of the offensive line, and even there, Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason are ascending players.”
The Patriots have improved at nearly every position on offense and on defense, adding blue chip players to a roster that was already good enough to win the Super Bowl. New England is an easy choice to come in first place.
However, I’m not sure if I agree with Brandt assessment of the Patriots weaknesses.
I agree that the interior line is a position that needs growth for New England. Both David Andrews and Shaq Mason took major steps forward in their sophomore seasons and will need to continue to develop heading into their third years. Joe Thuney needs to have the same sophomore jump that the other two had in 2016.
Mason is already a dominant guard, but could enter the Pro Bowl or All Pro discussion if he plays the entire 2017 season at the same level that he played the final stretch of 2016. Mason and Marcus Cannon formed one of the best right-sides of the offensive line in the entire league.
Andrews is still developing, but he received a nice contract extension and even a marginal improvement is his functional playing strength would greatly boost the team’s ability to run the ball up the middle.
Thuney showed a lot of promise as a rookie, but the real “weakness” comes with Ted Karras as the team’s top back-up. The Patriots appear comfortable moving forward with Karras as a Super-Sub for the interior line, but there’s no question the team can’t afford an injury on the interior line.
But I think Brandt could have also highlighted the linebacker position as a potential weakness. LB Dont’a Hightower is one of the best in the league, but he’s often injured and a linebacker trio of Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Shea McClellin won’t win any talent contests in the NFL. I think a lot of the success from the linebacker position relies on Van Noy benefiting from a full offseason with the Patriots and Roberts taking a second-year jump, and those are concerns enough for me to consider the position at least as much of a weakness as the offensive interior line.
What do you think of Brandt’s evaluation?