Not a single reasonable person would dispute the notion that the New England Patriots have the best offense in the AFC East, and ESPN’s Bill Barnwell is certainly a reasonable person. Barnwell created a ranking of the various skill player positional groups around the league- running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends- and the Patriots rank first in the AFC East and eighth overall.
“The Patriots finished No. 1 in these rankings last year, thanks to a combination of top-level talent with unmatched depth,” Barnwell writes. “The Pats also have taken quite a hit this offseason, with Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola leaving and being replaced on the roster by the combination of Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson. Edelman, suspended for the first four games of the year, will return as a 32-year-old coming off of a torn ACL. (It is perhaps worth noting that Wes Welker, who preceded Edelman in the slot, was allowed to leave for Denver at 32 and was essentially done by 33.)
“Coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels make up for an arguably lackluster group of wideouts with Rob Gronkowski and a dizzying array of running backs. The most dominant tight end in football history can make up for plenty of mistakes, but Gronk’s injury history requires no introduction. Even at halfback, where the Patriots drafted Sony Michel in the first round, New England will be forced to replace the production of Dion Lewis. Tom Brady will still make it all work, of course, but the Pats have downgraded from an embarrassment of riches to mere riches.”
This is a fair evaluation of the Patriots and their drop in the ranks shouldn’t come as a surprise. When Barnwell made his rankings last year, the Patriots boasted a top five of Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, and Dion Lewis. That is a great improvement over an injured-Edelman, Hogan, Gronkowski, and whatever combination of Jordan Matthews, Cordarrelle Patterson, Sony Michel, and Rex Burkhead you want to throw on the field.
So long as the Patriots have Tom Brady at quarterback, they’ll field a top three offense. That’s inevitable.
What’s also inevitable is the laughingstock of competition in the AFC East where New England’s three chief rivals rank in the bottom four of Barnwell’s list.
The Buffalo Bills rank 29th due to their oft-injured crew of Charles Clay, Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, LeSean McCoy, and...uhhh...fullback Patrick DiMarco?
The Miami Dolphins rank 31st with Kenyan Drake, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, and Danny Amendola as the offensive options. It’s a group full of second or third options asked to be starters.
And then the New York Jets ranks a wonderful 32nd, thanks to Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Terrelle Pryor, Clive Walford, and Isaiah Crowell. Ouch.
The Patriots aren’t competing in a star-studded division, but part of me wonders how much of the shine on the Patriots skill players are the residual of playing with Tom Brady.
Like, I would expect Brady to take that Jets offense to a top 10 ranking, no problem. That Dolphins offense with Brady could be in the top five.
Gronkowski alone boosts the Patriots offense into the “above average” category, but how much better is post-torn-ACL Edelman, Hogan, Jordan Matthews and Rex Burkhead than Anderson, Kearse, Pryor, and Crowell? It’s not that big of a difference, right?