The 2017 NFL season is slowly approaching. As preseason competition begins to pick up, the New England Patriots will have one goal in mind; continue their dynastic run and repeat as Super Bowl champions.
It won’t be an easy journey though. There are 29 other teams that have become irate with witnessing the Patriots’ run of dominance (five Super Bowl wins and seven Super Bowl appearances in the past 16 seasons). And while the NFL isn’t like the NBA, where if you have a two or three stars you’re more than likely going to be a contender, you still need players that can make an impact on the game at a high level on both sides of the ball. So, let’s determine who are the Patriots’ five most important offensive players for their hopes of raising the Lombardi Trophy once again.
Is there any surprise by this selection? How much of a explanation does it need? In a league driven by how well the quarterback performs, how could one omit the greatest quarterback of all time, who also just happens to be playing some of the best football in his career going into his 40s, from this list?
Even the greatest Brady detesters can’t deny how important he is to the team. If his heroic efforts in the teams’ historic Super Bowl LI comeback weren’t enough, fans need to remember that this capped off a regular season in which he threw for over 3,500 yards on a 67.4 completion percentage with 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions (the best TD:INT ratio in NFL history) in just 12 games. Brady hasn’t shown any signs of slippage during the aging process, and if the Patriots want to fulfill their championship aspirations, it will need to stay that way.
Edelman has been one of Brady’s favorite receivers to target. He seamlessly replaced Wes Welker as the number one slot receiver in 2013 and has led the Patriots in receptions in three out of the past four seasons.
Edelman’s ability to consistently move the chains is going to be more valuable than ever with the departure of LeGarrette Blount. Brady hasn’t been known as a QB to take risks and throw the ball deep with volume. And despite appearing to have increased his arm strength in the past few seasons, this won’t change. So, this dependability and familiarity with Edelman in the short passing game will be important as he enters his age 40 season.
Solder’s inclusion on this list may come as a surprise to some people. But, when you consider the history of the NFL, it makes complete sense.
Solder has been the Patriots starting left tackle for the past five seasons. During this time, he’s developed a great amount of chemistry with Brady, with his main job being to protect him from big hits on his blindside. It’s crucial to Brady, and the overall production of the offense, that Solder will be the left tackle he can depend on to guard him because of the elite pass-rushers they’ll face during the regular season (Vic Beasley Jr., Von Miller, Lorenzo Alexander, etc.).
If Solder can protect Brady from big hits as well as he has in the past, then the likelihood of Brady “falling off a cliff” becomes a lot less likely.
They aren’t many people that would attempt to discredit how great of a player Gronk is. There are some that would consider him one of, if not greatest, tight ends in the history of the NFL. However, due to injuries and the Patriots’ nearly flawless system, questions have emerged about how valuable he is to the team. While this argument has become more valid due to the Patriots making a Super Bowl run in his absence, his impact on the team’s offense is undeniable.
|Tom Brady without Gronk||Tom Brady with Gronk|
|Completion percentage||64.81 %||69.90 %|
|Passing yards per game||272 yards per game||320 yards per game|
|Yards gained per pass attempt||7.61 yards per attempt||9 yards per attempt|
Table 1-Tom Brady with/without Gronk during the 2016 regular season
Gronk’s presence alone changes the dynamic of offense. He’s the perfect mix of a receiver and blocker. When he’s on the field, routes open up for other players, lanes widen for running backs, and the game becomes easier for Brady to dissect.
Gronk is almost like a cheat code; you may not need him to win every game, and on most days you may be fine without him. But, when you do have him, the game virtually becomes unfair.
Brandin Cooks isn’t Randy Moss. Brandin Cooks isn’t going to be considered one of the top five greatest wide receivers to play in the NFL. And if I were a betting man, I would bet against him being a considered a surefire Hall-of-Famer once his career ended.
But, he is the Patriots’ most coveted offensive acquisition of 2017. Due to his speed and athleticism, he will be the Patriots’ best deep-threat receiver in almost a decade. Cooks will diversify the teams’ playbook and give Brady a plethora of options when he’s surveying the field from the pocket.
Cooks is a very good, but not great, receiver. His addition to the receiving group will create one of the most balanced, and dynamic receiving corps Brady has had in his career. And if Gronk’s health continues to be an issue, he can be the most dangerous offensive player-maker on the team.