Coming off their fifth Super Bowl win, the New England Patriots did not lay back and enjoy the moment. Instead, they went out and tried to keep improving the roster. As a result, the team currently is arguably the deepest and most talented in the NFL. Therefore, it is no surprise to see the Patriots well represented on a recent list of the best players in the NFL.
The list, which was published by ESPN and is titled “NFLRank 2017: The 100 best players”, features seven Patriots to be exact. Three members of the team's offense are listed, four of the defense. Above them all stands the greatest quarterback to ever play the game: Tom Brady, who is ranked as the best player in the NFL by the 53-man strong panel.
The experts were asked to rate players on a scale of 0 (bad) to 100 (good) based on how successful they are projected to be in the upcoming 2017 season. Let's take a closer look at the results:
1. QB Tom Brady
2016 rank: 6
Brady is the clear-cut top rated player on the list as he comes in 0.4 points ahead of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The difference between Brady and Rodgers is larger than the one between Rodgers and the fifth-ranked Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In short: ESPN's panel believes that the Patriots' passer will be able to at least replicate his historic 2016 campaign.
11. TE Rob Gronkowski
2016 rank: 3
Coming off an injury-shorted season, the NFL's best tight end checks in at number 11 – seven spots down from last year's ranking. As Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss notes in his remarks, Gronkowski has struggled with injuries his entire career. Judged by the ranking, however, ESPN's panel believes that the 28-year old will be able to bounce back in 2017.
45. WR Brandin Cooks
2016 rank: n/r
One year after going unranked, Brandin Cooks checks in as the third Patriot on the list – and the sixth wide receiver overall. The reason for that? His trade to New England, where he is projected to play a key role in one of the NFL's most dangerous offenses. It would therefore not be a surprise to see the 23-year old produce his best season to date and justify his relatively high ranking.
54. LB Dont'a Hightower
2016 rank: 99
A fitting rank for the Patriots' defensive captain, who is coming off another solid season. Hightower, who only recently returned to practice after being held out virtually the entire offseason, is back in New England due to the four-year, $43.5 million contract he signed in March. Staying in a familiar system that knows how to get the most out of him, Hightower is projected to have another very good campaign.
55. FS Devin McCourty
2016 rank: 50
New England's other defensive team captain checks in at number 55. Devin McCourty, who is one of the core members of the NFL's top ranked scoring defense last season, does usually not register the eye-popping stats. However, he is undoubtedly one of the premier safeties in the game and a player who allows the Patriots to play aggressive and ever-evolving coverage schemes.
56. CB Malcolm Butler
2016 rank: 89
ESPN's 53-man panel expects Malcolm Butler to build on a 2016 season during which he earned second-team All Pro honors. And even though he struggled during the Patriots' last two preseason contests, it would not be a surprise to see him bounce back and ultimately repeat his stellar last two campaigns.
69. CB Stephon Gilmore
2016 rank: 86
Another newly acquired player, former Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore checks in at number 69. While he had a down-year last season, compared to his first few in the NFL, the expert gremium thinks that the 26-year old will bounce back and establish himself as one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. If he is indeed able to do that, New England's defense should again be among the league's top units.
What do you think of the list and the seven Patriots on it? Who was the biggest snub? And who will outperform expectation? Let us know in the comments.