You may not have noticed, but we are already past the NFL's summer solstice: the offseason is more than four months old and there are only three more to go until the 2018 regular season starts. Now – with OTAs and minicamps underway across the league – is therefore the perfect time to start looking ahead at who might be the impact players of the upcoming season.
Advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus did just that and recently released its list of the top 50 players for the 2018 season – a ranking that features two New England Patriots. You can probably guess who.
6. ROB GRONKOWSKI, TE, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
There may be no tougher cover in the game than Gronkowski, who is single-handedly capable of breaking defensive game plans (as the Steelers found out to their cost last year). Injuries have been a factor throughout his career and his durability remains a minor concern, which is realistically the only thing keeping him away from the very top spots on this list. There is no more dominant force on offense than Gronkowski as he had an overall PFF grade of 93.3 last season – the only TE above 90.0 – and now owns five of the six highest grades we have ever given a tight end.
One of only two tight ends on the list – the other being the Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce at number 49 –, Gronkowski is without a doubt the best tight end in the NFL today. The 29-year old is the perfect package at the position: He is one of the best receivers in the game and equally as impressive as a blocker. PFF ranking him as the number six best player heading into the 2018 season does therefore not come as a surprise. When healthy, Gronkowski will again dominate opposing defenses and be a key cog in the Patriots' offensive machine.
2. TOM BRADY, QB, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The top-graded quarterback in each of his last two seasons, Brady has gotten better with age and his strong performances have carried all the way through the playoffs. Last season, he attacked down the field more than he had in recent years, ranking second in the league in deep-pass accuracy while maintaining his usual excellent accuracy to all levels of the field. Brady ranked third in the league in big-time throw percentage in 2017 while finishing fourth at avoiding turnover-worthy plays, capping his third straight year grading at an elite level of 90.0-plus.
Despite turning 41 in two months, there is little doubt that Brady will once again be among the NFL's best quarterbacks this year. After all, he has not shown any signs of slowing down yet: Brady is coming off one of the best statistical seasons of his career, earned league MVP honors, and tried all he could to stop the Patriots from losing the Super Bowl with a historic performance. As long as Brady is under center, New England will be among the favorites to win the Lombari Trophy – he's just that good and 2018 does not project to be any different than the past few years.