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ESPN and PFF Say the Patriots Have the Best Roster in Football

SourceThe 2019 NFL offseason saw many personnel changes for all 32 teams, and each roster looks a bit different than it did a year ago.

We dove into the Pro Football Focus database and ranked every roster as it stands right now, focusing on the expected starters. PFF grades every player on every play of every game of the NFL season. …

1. New England Patriots

Biggest strength: Perhaps the greatest quarterback to play the position continues to produce at an elite level, as Tom Brady led his team to another Super Bowl victory a season ago. The defending champs will lean on their quarterback who, even at 41 years old, showed off all the throws in 2018 and finished with an elite PFF grade (90.7) for the fourth straight season. His game might have changed over the years, but his ability remains high-end.

Biggest weakness: The Patriots have long lacked a true pass-rushing threat along the edge. Coupled with the loss of Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn this offseason, this unit once again sticks out. Outside of Flowers and Clayborn, no Patriots edge defender had more than 30 QB pressures a season ago, as the returning unit brings back only nine sacks, 12 QB hits and 42 QB hurries on a combined 697 pass rushes.

X factor for 2019: Deatrich Wise Jr. is set to lead the Patriots’ edge group in Year 3 despite recording just 80 career pressures over two seasons, winning just 12.1% and 13.3% of his pass rushes, respectively. The tools are there, though, as he generated pressure on 16.7% of his pass-rush attempts while winning 18.0% of his pass rushes during his final season at Arkansas back in 2016.

I have to say, I wasn’t prepared for this. Pro Football Focus using their play-by-play grading system for all 22 players on the field to determine the Patriots have the best roster in the league? Sure. Hearing it filtered through ESPN is more than surprising. Reading it in the NFL’s Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment is actually a little unnerving. I’m just more accustomed to hearing the usual party line about how the Pats haven’t replaced their key veterans and they’ve got question marks than The Riddler’s suit and that old classic, “Coach Belichick isn’t getting any help from GM Belichick.”

But if you think I’m move one way or the other on this, that I’m excited they’re on board or think it’s some kind of a bad omen that, after years of hearing there’s no talent left on the roster and thanks to all the bad drafting and free agent tightwadery, you’ve got another thing coming. To me, this is neither here nor there. My needle is not moved in either direction.

To be sure, I’d rather the world agree with me that this is a good roster. Like they said, the pass rush of the edge is a question, but then it always is. It was when they had Trey Flowers and Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich and Tully Banta-Cain if you want to go back 10 years. But Martellus Bennett is a significant addition to what was already a solid Front 7. Jamie Collins 2.0 could be as big an improvement as Pat Chung 2.0 was been. Chase Winovich is a crazed, high-motor nutjob who can refine his game with the right coaching. We tend to forget Deatrich Wise came out of the same Arkansas program as Flowers, and was taken in the same round, only two years later. Danny Shelton is back. Mike Pennel is a 6-4, 330 lb run stuffing veteran of 69 professional games. They’re bringing back all the linebackers who shredded the Rams and get to add Ju’Whan Bentley, who was the best on the unit before he got hurt in Week 3. And the secondary is the strength of the team. Only more so than last year.

Offensively, Gronk will be missed. But by all accounts N’Keal Harry is tough, physical workaholic. Sony Michel seems to be back to full speed after getting his knee scoped. The O-line lost Trent Brown but regains the 23rd pick in last year’s draft, Isiah Wynn to replace him. The rest of the offense is either the same or upgraded.

So fine. I agree. But I’m not worked up either way because it’s not about how “best in the league” your roster is. As Belichick himself puts it, “We’re not collecting talent; we are building a team.” I’d rather have that collection of talent than not. But if they don’t have the aptitude to understand the calls, to know what the other 10 guys are doing and be where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, it doesn’t matter. Which is why they traded Collins and added the less “talented” but more productive Kyle Van Noy and got much better.

As Mike Lombardi put it in his book “Gridiron Genius,” the best teams, like Bill Walsh used to run, “instead of trying to ‘solve’ or perfect the draft – they have developed an edge by developing methods, strategies and insights … and more thorough off-season evaluations – that minimize risks and improve the odds of building a better team.”

The most talented roster in the world is useless if you’re not doing those things. Just ask the Kyrie Irving Celtics. Or any of a dozen past NFL rosters that had way more Pro Bowlers and were considerably deeper than the Patriots ones that were playing for Super Bowls while they were home on the couch.

But still, thanks? I guess? Now can we get back to ESPN saying the Pats are cheaters and Brady is about to go over a cliff? At least I know how to react to that. Appreciate it.