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PFF: Patriots passing attack better than Falcons, Packers, and every other offense in the NFL

The Patriots passing attack is the best in the NFL.

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The New England Patriots passing attack is expected to dominate the league in 2017- as they have for the past decade- and Pro Football Focus expects the team to be the best in the league.

“The Patriots receive the No. 1 ranking here not because they won the Super Bowl last season,” according to PFF. “They do so because QB Tom Brady fielded the highest graded season by a quarterback in the PFF Era. And because TE Rob Gronkowski’s 3.18 yards per route run ranked first not just among tight ends, but among all receivers. Combine all that with Brady’s other receiving threats in Julian Edelman, newly acquired Brandin Cooks and the RB-pass-catching-duo of James White and Dion Lewis – and, well, you get the point.”

The Patriots edge out the #2 ranked Atlanta Falcons, #3 ranked Green Bay Packers, the surprise #4 ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the #5 ranked Pittsburgh Steelers to take the crown.

The Falcons have WR Julio Jones, the Packers have QB Aaron Rodgers, the Buccaneers have WR Mike Evans and WR DeSean Jackson, and the Steelers have WR Antonio Brown, but no team is as stacked in the passing game as the Patriots.

Pro Football Focus only looked at skill players and quarterbacks and not the offensive line. The Steelers (#3), Packers (#5), Falcons (#6), and Patriots (#10) all ranked in the top 10 of PFF’s offensive line rankings for 2016. The Packers have the best pass blocking unit in the league, per their rankings.

Quarterback

In 2016, Tom Brady posted the best grade for a quarterback in the history of Pro Football Focus, finishing the year with a 99.3 grade (out of 100.0). Per PFF’s advanced stats, Brady was the third-most accurate quarterback in the league, posted the second-best passer rating on passes 20+ yards down the field, the second-best passer rating when “throwing from a clean pocket,” and the second-best passer rating in play action.

There’s obviously a chance (likelihood?) that Brady will regress from his stellar performance in 2016, but Brady is still a top three quarterback even if he is 90% of what he was in 2016.

Brady’s passing grade was 98.7 out of 100 for Pro Football Focus. Only Falcons QB Matt Ryan (92.6), Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (91.2), and Colts QB Andrew Luck (91.0) exceeded 90.0, or the grade necessary to be considered “elite” as a passer.

Running backs

James White received a nice extension and he was PFF’s second-best graded receiving back in the league with a score of 86.3, behind only Cardinals RB David Johnson (92.6). White is stellar in the open field and unleashed his full potential in Super Bowl LI. He gives Brady one of the most dangerous targets out of the backfield.

White is joined by Dion Lewis, who came back slowly from injury in 2016. While Lewis wasn’t himself, he was rated as a top 10 receiving back in 2015 prior to tearing his ACL and is expected to return to his previous form in 2017.

Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead are both simply average as receivers, but having White and Lewis on the roster certainly helps.

Wide receivers

The Patriots don’t have a Julio Jones, Mike Evans, or Antonio Brown (the top three receivers in PFF’s rankings), but they have a host of great receivers in Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, and Chris Hogan. Edelman and Cooks have been some of the most productive receivers in the entire league over the past three seasons.

Both Edelman (7th) and Cooks (15th) rank in the top 15 for receivers in yards per game, and they are joined by a third Patriot (more on him later) to form the only receiving trio in the league to each average 60+ yards per game over the past three seasons (playoffs included).

Hogan was also one of the best deep threats in the league in 2016, adding a vertical threat that opens up plenty of space underneath for the other receivers. Few teams have a wide receiver #2 as talented a Hogan- and he’s the fourth or fifth passing target in the Patriots offense.

Tight ends

Rob Gronkowski is good. Very good. Very, very good. He’s the most dominant receiving tight end the league has ever seen and he just needs to stay healthy to prove it. Gronk only played half the season, but finished with a 84.4 receiving grade, the best of all tight ends. As noted before, Gronkowski’s 3.18 yards per route run was the best of any receiver in the league.

Gronkowski has averaged 76.1 yards per game over the past three years, good for 12th in the league. The Denver Broncos (Demaryius Thomas, 8th; Emmanuel Sanders, 10th) and the New York Giants (Odell Beckham Jr, 3rd; Brandon Marshall, 15th) are the only other teams with multiple players in the top 20.

Dwayne Allen didn’t have the best year with the Colts in 2016, but he still ranked 26th in the league for a receiving grade. He’s due to for a nice bounce-back season in 2017.

The Patriots boast either the best individual player or the best receiving depth at every offensive skill position heading into 2017. Some teams have better individual players (Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown; Falcons RB Devonta Freeman and WR Julio Jones), but as we’ve seen time and time again, it’s the team with the best depth in the postseason that is able to survive the season and thrive in the playoffs.