With the NFL season over and no game to look forward to, NFL experts and journalists have two things to do: Look forward to free agency and the draft or lock back on the season that was. Advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus is taking the second path, at least in its most recent incarnation of the “NFL 101” list – a season-long look at the best-graded performances according to PFF's metrics system.
Unsurprisingly, the New England Patriots are relatively well represented on the list. A total of five players have made it and are ranked as follows:
#2 QB Tom Brady
#8 TE Rob Gronkowski
#73 CB Stephon Gilmore
#75 DE Trey Flowers
#76 RB Dion Lewis
None of the players listed by PFF author Sam Monson are a surprise, as they were among the most consistent members of the team on both sides of the football and played big roles in helping the Patriots reach the Super Bowl.
At number two, Tom Brady trails only Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. The league's best quarterback is listed that highly because of his masterful play under pressure this year. According to PFF, he was number one in the NFL in passer rating when under pressure and his 95.8 rating – including playoffs – ranks “more than 10 points higher than any other passer”.
Brady's favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, is not far behind on the list. Ranked as the best tight end and number three overall offensive player, Gronkowski's productivity per route run is pointed out: According to PFF's analysis, the 28-year old gained 2.4 yards per route this season, topping all tight ends in the metric. As a result, Gronkowski is PFF's highest rated player at the position for a fifth straight year.
Stephon Gilmore, on the other hand, is a new introduction to the “NFL 101” rankings. After a rocky start to the season, the high-priced offseason acquisition turned things around quickly and became one of the best cornerbacks in the league down the stretch. PFF pointed out that Gilmore, despite his uneven first games, still finished the regular season “tied for 25th among cornerbacks in cover snaps per target (7.4)”.
Two spots below Gilmore, another Patriots defender is listed: Trey Flowers. In 2017, the third-year defensive lineman proved that his 2016 campaign – when he was part of a far superior rotation at the end position – was no fluke and finished the season with a team-high 59 pressures; the 19th most in the NFL for players aligning primarily on the defensive edge.
The final Patriot to find himself on PFF's list is running back Dion Lewis, who established himself as New England's top running back over the course of the year. The impending free agent is listed one spot below Flowers and it is pointed out that he waa ranked third in the “elusive rating” ranking with a score of 73.2 – the third-highest among running backs with more than 80 rushing attempt, per PFF.