With the 2010s in the rear-view mirror, the process of honoring the best players of the decade has started. The NFL announced its Team of the Decade in early April, for example, with nine current or former members of the New England Patriots making the cut. A few weeks later, the team itself unveiled its own All-Decade roster filled with the organization’s greatest players from 2010 through 2019. Now, another list has been unveiled by Pro Football Focus.
The advanced analytics website counted down the 101 best players from the 2010s over the course of the week, reaching the top spot on Thursday. It belongs to a familiar face: Tom Brady has been named the best player of the 2010s, leading a healthy contingent of current or former Patriots to find themselves on the list. In total, 10 players with ties to the organization are ranked, Brady obviously being the highest choice among them:
1. QB Tom Brady
5. TE Rob Gronkowski
13. WR Antonio Brown
23. CB Darrelle Revis
26. S Devin McCourty
74. DE Michael Bennett
76. CB Stephon Gilmore
80. DE Chandler Jones
85. CB Aqib Talib
95. DE James Harrison
Not all of the 10 current or former Patriots listed did have a big impact on the team, of course. Antonio Brown and Michael Bennett appeared in just one and six games for New England during the 2019 season, respectively, with James Harrison spending one regular season and three playoff contests with the organization in 2017. The seven other players at least played one full season with the club — three of which spending the entire decade in Foxborough: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Devin McCourty.
As for Brady, the short paragraph written about him by PFF’s Sam Monson perfectly sums up his contributions to the Patriots and the league as a whole over the last 10 seasons:
Arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen is also the best player of the 2010s. Brady owns the highest single-season grade PFF has ever given to a quarterback for his 2016 season, and his four-year stretch of play from 2015-18 was the greatest four-year run of play we have seen at the position. Brady defines clutch — in the fourth quarter and overtime, he still has the highest PFF grade of the decade. Brady’s ability to come up big and make huge plays in key moments has been incredible, but doing it all without making many mistakes is what truly makes him special. For the entire decade, he had just 124 turnover-worthy plays on 6,151 regular-season pass attempts, and his regular-season turnover-worthy play rate of 2.0% comfortably ranks first among the 79 quarterbacks who threw at least 500 passes from 2010-19.
With Brady as their starting quarterback, the Patriots were able to keep their dynastic run alive for a second decade: New England went 122-34 in the regular season with him under center, winning the AFC East each year. In the playoffs, meanwhile, Brady led his team to 16 victories against just seven losses, an NFL-record eight straight championship round appearances, as well as three Super Bowl titles in five trips to the sport’s biggest stage.
Gronkowski, Revis, McCourty, Gilmore and Jones all contributed to this success in one way or another, and their inclusion on the list shows just how much talent the organization was able to find in the 2010s and turn into champions. With Brady and Gronkowski both playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moving forward, however, and both Revis and Jones long gone, the team will have to rely on a core consisting of Devin McCourty and Stephon Gilmore.
McCourty, who arrived in New England as a first-round pick in 2010 and just earlier this offseason signed a two-year deal to remain with the club, was ranked 26th on PFF’s list of All-Decade players. Much like Brady, the Rutgers product was a model of stability and consistency for the Patriots during the 2010s — and, as noted in PFF’s write-up, one of the faces of New England’s second-era dynasty:
[H]is solid all-around playing style has meshed perfectly in New England’s defensive scheme. He’s become one of the faces of the second part of the Patriots’ dynasty; he has missed only 71 tackles on 896 career attempts and annually ranks among the best safeties when it comes to avoiding negatively graded plays. McCourty ranks in the 90th percentile in coverage grade among safeties this past decade, and he’s in the 94th percentile when lined up at free safety. He plays the Patriots’ ever-changing scheme to perfection.
“Face of the dynasty” status can not yet be handed to Gilmore, given that he only arrived in New England in 2017. However, his stint with the team has been marked by success and excellent individual performances: in his three seasons as a Patriot so far, the former Buffalo Bills first-round draft pick has helped the team reach two Super Bowls, winning one, and was named first-team All-Pro twice as well as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.
PFF had to say the following about the 29-year-old, who will continue to serve as New England’s number one cornerback this season:
Bill Belichick and the Patriots realized what he could become and invested big money into him as a free agent. Since arriving in New England, Gilmore has been the best cornerback in the game and one of the most impressive shutdown corners in recent times. For his career, Gilmore has allowed 55% of passes thrown his way to be caught, but over the past two seasons that number has been well below 50% each year. In addition, he has 31 pass breakups to go along with his eight interceptions.
If McCourty and Gilmore can continue to perform on a level similar to the one they have shown in both 2018 and 2019, the Patriots’ defense should continue to be one of the best in football heading into 2020 — and make the transition into an era without the best player of the 2010s a little bit easier.