The New England Patriots, winners of two of the last four Super Bowls, enter the 2018 season as one of the favorites to again capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy: the team has a deep team across most of the board (looking at you, wide receiver position), and has some of the NFL’s best players on offense, defense and special teams under contract. Despite some questions still, the 2018 Patriots are projected to be a good football team.
You would not think that, however, when judging it solely by ESPN’s list of the best 100 players in the NFL right now. Only two members of the reigning AFC champions have made the cut – the usual suspects:
#2: QB Tom Brady
The most successful quarterback in NFL history is ranked at number two behind only the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. While Rodgers – arguably one of the greatest talents to ever play the position – is coming off a season derailed by a broken collarbone, Brady just won his third league MVP award and played another record-breaking Super Bowl. It would not be a surprise if the 41-year old again turned out to be the NFL’s best player this year.
#12: TE Rob Gronkowski
Coming off another highly successful year – he led all tight ends in receiving yards (1,084) and finished second in touchdowns (8) and fifth in receptions (69) –, Gronkowski is ESPN’s highest ranked player at the tight end position. For good reason: there are few weapons in the NFL as dominant and difficult to defend as Gronkowski. Clearly the best and most complete tight end in all of football, the 29-year old is terrific as a receiver and a blocker.
While the two future Hall of Famers are ranked inside the top-12, no other members of the Patriots’ current roster have made the cut even though the team has some serious talent at other positions as well. The most five realistic candidates are as follows:
OC David Andrews: A reliable and steady presence in front of Tom Brady, Andrews improved even further in 2017 – his first year as a team captain – and is now one of the best centers in football.
OG Shaq Mason: You don’t earn five-year, $50 million contracts for no reason. Mason is a top-10 guard in the NFL, that excels as a run blocker and continues to improve as a pass protector.
LB Dont’a Hightower: One of New England’s team captains, Hightower ended 2017 on injured reserve. When healthy, though, he is the heart of the Patriots’ defense and a dangerous player no matter where he lines up.
CB Stephon Gilmore: After a rocky start into his Patriots tenure last year, Gilmore bounced back big time: by the time the playoffs rolled around he was a true number one cornerback and one of the NFL’s best players at the position.
FS Devin McCourty: The veteran is still one of the NFL’s best free safeties and the leader of New England’s secondary. A versatile player, McCourty excels due to his rare combination of atheleticism, vision, and play diagnosis.
What do you think, who is the Patriots’ biggest snub to miss the list?