The Patriots enter the 2022 NFL season with little top talent, or at least that’s what people around the league think.
In ESPN’s series ranking the top 10 players at every position (in which they surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players), only one Patriots player cracked the list at their respective position. It was Hunter Henry, who barely made the cut as the league’s 10th-best tight end.
Not only was Henry the only player to place in the top 10 at their respective position, no other Patriots player received honorable mention status or received a top 10 vote.
Of course, one could argue that a few Patriots players were overlooked in their respective positions. Damien Harris was statistically one of the best running backs in the league in 2021. He ranked 10th in rushing yards (929) and was tied for second in rushing touchdowns (15). Matthew Judon earned a Pro Bowl nod after recording 12.5 sacks, tied for seventh in the league. Devin McCourty has had another strong season in 2021, while the Patriots’ other safeties are consistently seen as underrated (Adrian Phillips) or a rising player (Kyle Dugger).
But ESPN’s investigation continued what could be a worrying trend for the Patriots entering the offseason. Several analysts, pundits and league insiders ranked the Patriots, who just finished a season 10-7, relatively low in the roster standings. Pro Football Focus ranked the Patriots roster 18th in the league. The analytics website praised the Patriots’ safety group, but is down on their cornerbacks following JC Jackson’s departure to the Chargers this offseason.
Pro Football Focus has also ranked the players at each position, but they’ve gone a little deeper with their ranking, including more players and defining more specific roles. These rankings saw a few more Patriots place in the top 10, with David Andrews ranking ninth among centers, Michael Onwenu ranking seventh among guards, Henry ranking 10th among tight ends, Devin McCourty ranking 10th among safeties without hedging and Jonathan Jones ranking third among slots. corners. However, most of these positions are considered some of the least important job groups in the league, as teams typically invest more salary in quarterback, tackle, receiver, edge carrier and outside corner. .
Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports ranked the Patriots’ roster 24th in the league, citing similar concerns about their lack of top talent.
“Bill Belichick’s oversight may well ensure that this roster still exceeds expectations, and there is no doubt that QB Mac Jones has shown precision in staying competitive in the long run. The defense is stingy more often than not too, and Matt Judon is an underrated force from the rim,” Benjamin wrote.
“But guns aren’t necessarily scary, with Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne all arguably best suited for No. 2/3 roles, and the secondary increasingly reliant on aging veterans. No one would be surprised if Bill gets another playoff offer from this group, but no one really expects a deep run either.
Mike Reiss, who covers the Patriots for ESPN, viewed his company’s investigation as both negative and positive for the Patriots.
“The lack of talent perceived to be top-notch is partly related to [Patriots owner Robert] Kraft’s prior comments on draft struggles over a span of years,” Reiss wrote in his Sunday Notes column. “This could foreshadow the Patriots’ best-case scenario for 2022: while they may not have the star power of others, they are considered deep and among the teams best equipped to handle the inevitable wear and tear from injury. “
Of course, most of these rankings are based on last season’s performance, meaning surprise players or potential growth aren’t necessarily factored in. Mac Jones could take the next step after playing as the top rookie quarterback last season to earn top-10 status. Dugger could also continue his rise entering Year 3.
But as Reiss mentioned, the Patriots don’t really have a lot of high-end young talent on their roster outside of Jones and Dugger. Rhamondre Stevenson has had a strong rookie season, but he’ll be splitting his time in the backfield with Damien Harris and others. Onwenu was considered one of the best guards during his rookie campaign in 2020. He, however, played in several positions in 2021 and dropped out of the starting lineup.
Christian Barmore was considered the best rookie defensive tackle in 2021, so he could be a candidate to make the top 10 at his job as well. He recorded 48 pressures last season, including the most by a rookie inside defensive lineman in the past five seasons. Pro Football Focus ranked Barmore 25th in their interior defensive lineman rankings, but have some optimism for him.
“There are many reasons to believe that Barmore could rank much higher on this list this time next year,” Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey wrote. “It often takes a little while for rookie defensive linemen to find their footing. Barmore’s rookie season wasn’t perfect, but he was already a more productive passing thrower than any rookie defensive tackle drafted in the past five years.
No matter how you cut it, the Patriots’ roster isn’t highly rated in the league at the start of the season, and they might need a few surprises to get back to the playoffs.
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