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PFF: 4 Patriots that should be the top players in the NFL for 2017

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The Patriots have a stacked roster and Pro Football Focus highlights four players that should be the best in the league for the upcoming season.

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The football scouting site Pro Football Focus has ranked their top 50 players for the 2017 season and there are four members of the New England Patriots that make the list.

Coming in at 49th overall is FS Devin McCourty, the fourth ranked safety on the list behind Seahawks FS Earl Thomas, Giants SS Landon Collins, and Ravens SS Eric Weddle.

“Once a good young cornerback, McCourty has blossomed into one of the league’s best free safeties for the New England Patriots after they made the position switch with him,” according to PFF. “McCourty has range and instincts to make plays regardless of the coverage called, and he ended 2016 with the league’s best coverage grade (91.9) among all safeties. McCourty only picked off one pass, but he was consistently in the right spot, making the right read influencing plays for the betterment of his defense.”

McCourty is a three-time Second Team All Pro defensive back and he’s been a long time captain and leader of the New England defense. The Patriots would love for McCourty to generate more turnovers, but his consistency in deterring plays on a snap-by-snap basis is just as, if not more valuable as a trait.

CB Malcolm Butler ranks 38th overall as the fourth ranked cornerback, behind Broncos CB Chris Harris Jr., Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, and Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson.

“[Butler] is on the cusp of being one of the game’s best cornerbacks,” per PFF. “Last season he notched four interceptions and 12 pass breakups, and had consistently strong grades. He has improved each season of his career, and if he can eliminate the bad beats from his play, he will have a strong case as the game’s best corner.”

Butler is credited as one of the few cornerbacks to successfully defend Steelers WR Antonio Brown and he’s improved in his coverage consistency on an annual basis. He can still bite on double moves and the Patriots avoid matching him against receivers taller than 6’2, but he’s generally been up to all of his assigned tasks.

TE Rob Gronkowski ranks 9th overall, easily the highest graded tight end on the list.

“Gronkowski is the league’s most unstoppable offensive force,” PFF writes. “In fact, the only thing really capable of slowing him down during his NFL career has been injuries. He already has as many career touchdowns as Art Monk, Rod Smith, and Raymond Berry, and it has taken him around half the time to get them. In 2016, if you move the qualifying threshold far enough, he led the league in yards per route run among all receivers, and has never ranked outside the top five among TEs in that category, leading the league in four of the last six seasons. Added to all of that, he is one of an ever-shrinking group of TEs that can ably block, making him a true matchup nightmare for a defense.”

The Patriots would love for Gronkowski to remain healthy for the 2017 season because he takes the offense to a different level when he is available. He’s the most complete offensive weapon in the NFL and opens up the field for all of the receivers and running backs on the field.

QB Tom Brady is the final Patriot on the list at 3rd overall, edging out Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (5th) and Falcons WR Julio Jones (4th) and trailing Texans DL J.J. Watt (2nd) and Rams DT Aaron Donald (1st).

“At the ripe age of 39, Brady put together the greatest quarterback season PFF has graded over the past decade-plus,” PFF notes. “His PFF grade of 99.3 was comfortably ahead of the chasing pack, and didn’t leave a whole lot of room for improvement. Brady threw only two interceptions all season (albeit a 12-game season), but what is most remarkable is that he only threw three turnover-worthy passes all year, and was not merely the benefit of statistical luck or dropped interceptions from defenders.”

Brady doesn’t have much room for improvement in PFF’s rankings, unless he finds a way to rush for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns next season. If he can put together an encore performance in 2017, then the Patriots will be well positioned for another run at a Super Bowl title.

I think that players like WR Brandin Cooks or LB Dont’a Hightower deserve consideration, but I understand why they didn’t make the list. I wouldn’t be shocked if EDGE Trey Flowers cracked the list next season because he’s still full of unrealized potential.

What do you think of this list?