Grading The #Patriots Roster By Position Group

As we approach June mini-camp the hard work has already been done in terms of roster building.

The Patriots have gone through the draft and free agency, and it’s more than likely that there will be no more major additions to the team from here on out.

With that said, here’s how each position group grades out after the offseason.

Offense

Quarterback: A+ — Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

The Patriots boast by far the deepest quarterback room in the NFL, and arguable one of the best depth charts at the position that we’ve ever seen. This group may have gotten a high mark due to Tom Brady’s presence alone, but Jimmy Garoppolo presents a clear heir apparent, while Jacoby Brissett also appears to have some useful things to work with (strong arm, athleticism, mental makeup). The Pats are in good hands with the GOAT in 2017, and the future looks bright with his understudies in line.

Backfield: B+ — Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis, James Develin, Brandon Bolden

This group has all the depth and versatility that you could ask for. Gillislee brings his 5.7 yards per carry and big play ability on the ground, White and Lewis are the scat backs with plus receiving skills, and Burkhead is the swiss army knife that also plays on special teams. What’s missing from this group to get in the “A” range is a true factor back running the football. Gillislee has a chance to be that as we saw glimpses of it in Buffalo, but his 101 carries last year were a career high (LeGarrette Blount – 299 attempts in 2016). The Patriots backfield should produce more than enough offense for their purposes this season, but to get a higher mark they’ll need to add a real game changer to the group.

Receiving Corps: A+ — Rob Gronkowski (TE), Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Dwayne Allen (TE), Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, James O’Shaughnessy

The strength of the Patriots offense outside of quarterback has to be their pass catchers. The top three options of Gronkowski, Cooks, and Edelman is as good as it gets around the league. You’ve already heard it all about this group, but what takes them to the next level from this perspective is scheme versatility. We already know Josh McDaniels will line Gronk and Edelman up anywhere in the formation. Gronk’s uniqueness comes from his ability to play anywhere from an in-line tight end to an “X” wide receiver. Brandin Cooks is obviously the deep threat the Pats have been lacking, but he too will be another toy for McDaniels to find exotic ways with scheme to use his speed to make plays. Even Dwayne Allen can serve many purposes as an H-back/FB type to go along with his natural tight end skills. The Patriots eventually will need to get younger at the position, but they are loaded for the time being.

Offensive Line: A- — Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Antonio Garcia, Conor McDermott, Cameron Fleming

It feels like an A- is a bit high here, but it’s really not once you realize how well the Patriots offensive line played for much of last season. According to Football Outsiders, the Pats O-Line was among the league’s best in run blocking (9th) and pass protection (6th) during the regular season. Although there’s a chance that we see regression at the two tackle spots after extremely productive seasons from Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon; Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason are prime making the leap candidates. Mason in particular played at a near Pro Bowl level in 2016, and has a chance to become one of the league’s top guards next season. All five starters return to their same spots along the offensive line, and Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott are intriguing projects. Fleming didn’t make my initial 53-man roster projection (https://tinyurl.com/m5cbgtx) but he’s one of the veterans on the bubble that could be in the mix.

Defense

Defensive Line: B+ — Trey Flowers, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy, Derek Rivers, Vincent Valentine, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom

The addition of Derek Rivers to this group certainly bolsters the grade, but what kept this group out of the “A” range was lack of a proven pass rush. On paper, Flowers, Rivers, and Ealy should provide enough of an edge presence to get the quarterback, but until we see the rookie in action let’s manage expectations. The Patriots quartet of interior defensive lineman (Branch, Brown, Guy, and Valentine), however, may be the strength of this defense. All four are difficult to move in the run game and will set the tone up front with their physical play. Everyone should be excited for the versatility and athleticism that both Trey Flowers and Derek Rivers bring to the table, but it could be Lawrence Guy that ends up impressing the most. Guy isn’t a well known commodity, but the more you break down the tape you see a very reliable football player.

Linebacker: C+ — Dont’a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Freeny, Harvey Langi

By far the weakest position on the roster. Hightower saves this group that’s filled with limited players, and this grade would be much worse without #54. Roberts, McClellin, Van Noy, and Freeny have all had moments in their careers, but all four have huge question marks. Ninkovich could see his playing time reduced if the Patriots decide to use Derek Rivers in a similar role, as father time is starting to catch up to the prototypical Patriot. The draft didn’t yield another playmaker at this position this offseason, but one would think adding another difference maker next to Hightower is one of the team’s biggest needs moving forward. The Pats will get enough contributions from those behind Hightower to get by, much like they did last season, but don’t expect too much.

Cornerbacks: A — Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones

With the return of Malcolm Butler the Patriots have one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL, which I wrote about here: https://tinyurl.com/mr2623y. In Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, the Patriots have one great (Gilmore) and one good (Rowe) outside cornerback that can matchup against the athletic monsters that play wide receiver these days. Butler will see a lot of time on the outside as well, but as stated many times here, he may see a lot more time inside in the slot or tracking the shifty, quick receivers. With so many different types of pass catchers, it’s important to build your secondary in today’s NFL much like a basketball team. You have to have a corner that can cover the center and one that can guard the point guard. The Patriots have that versatility, which will allow Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia to go with their best matchup’s in different situations. Don’t completely rule out a role for Cyrus Jones just because of his disastrous rookie season. He’ll be given every opportunity possible to prove that’s behind him.

Safety: A+ — Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King

It’s hard to find another group of safeties in the NFL that are as deep as the Patriots. Devin McCourty is one of the best secondary players in the NFL year after year. He’s one of the league’s top center fielders, but can also come down and cover just about anyone in a more traditional corner role. While with Chung and Harmon, the two will reprise their roles as the in-the-box/slot safety and the second deep safety/extra defensive back. Over the last two seasons we have seen those three become very comfortable with their responsibilities, and be the glue of the defense on the back end. Much like Jonathan Jones with the cornerbacks, Ebner and King add to the value of this group with their play on special teams.