You may not have noticed, but we are already past the NFL’s summer solstice: the offseason is more than four months old but there are only three more to go until the 2019 regular season gets kicked off. Now — with OTAs and minicamps underway or already concluded across the league — is therefore the perfect time to start looking ahead at who might be the major 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 2019 season. And when looking at the list you can notice that there are three members of the New England Patriots on it as well — only three teams have better representation, and two of which were beaten by the reigning world champions during last year’s postseason: the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs each have four men on the list, the New Orleans Saints five.
Let’s go back to the Patriots, however, and their representatives on the top-50 ranking:
50. G SHAQ MASON, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Mason has quietly developed into one of the NFL’s top guards now just four years removed from going in the fourth round to the Pats in the 2015 NFL Draft. He has earned 75.0 or higher run-blocking grades every year of his career thus far, all while playing 300 or more run-blocking snaps each season dating back to his rookie campaign. [...] Mason seemingly put it all together in 2018. He earned career-high marks in pass-blocking grade (80.2) and overall grade (85.0) across his 1,202 offensive snaps this past season, and he also logged his third consecutive season with an 80.6 run-blocking grade. Not only did his impact run-block percentage (15.0%) lead all guards, but he also ranked tied for sixth in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric (98.3) and tied for eighth in pressure percentage allowed (3.2%).
There are only two guards on the list, and the Patriots’ Shaq Mason is one of them. Mason, of course, was outstanding in 2018 — his first year since signing a five-year, $50 million contract extension with the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2015 — and a key member of one of the best interior offensive lines in all of football. As PFF’s numbers show, he has improved greatly as a pass blocker over the course of his career and can now be considered elite in this part of his game as well.
14. CB STEPHON GILMORE, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Gilmore and Bill Belichick’s defensive scheme have been a match made in heaven. No qualifying cornerback has earned a higher coverage grade over the past two seasons than Gilmore at 91.9. Among the 56 cornerbacks with 800-plus coverage snaps played in the two-year span, Gilmore ranks fourth in completion percentage allowed (50.3%), second in forced incompletion percentage (26.7%) and 11th in passer rating allowed (73.2).
The highest-ranked of the five cornerbacks on the list, Stephon Gilmore is coming off a tremendous second year in the Patriots’ system. The All-Pro, who made the game-clinching interception in Super Bowl 53, was terrific no matter the opposition he faced. A true shutdown cornerback, the 28-year-old again projects to be New England’s number one coverage defender during the 2019 season — and if he can keep his level of play up, the Patriots’ secondary should be one of the best in the business.
2. QB TOM BRADY, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Yes, he’s still the best in the business. Even at 41 years old, Brady turned in an elite 90.6 overall grade in 2018, making it the fourth consecutive season he’s earned an overall grade of 90.0-plus. His passing grade on passes with a step of separation over the last three years leads all qualifying signal-callers, and his passing grade on tight-window throws ranks fourth on the list. Surprising no one, Brady also earned a starting role on PFF’s 2018 NFL Clutch Team for his efforts in one-score games this past season.
Despite turning 42 in early August, there is little doubt that Tom Brady will once again be among the NFL’s best quarterbacks this year — and PFF sees it the same way, ranking him as the top passer on its list, ahead of illustrious names such as Drew Brees (#5), Patrick Mahomes (#6), and Aaron Rodgers (#17). In 2018, Brady was his usual self: while he started the year slowly, he picked up steam late and led the Patriots to their sixth title. As long as the future Hall of Famer will be under center, New England is among the favorites to win the Lombardi Trophy. 2019 projects to be more of the same from the greatest ever.