As the Patriots prepare to begin the second half of their season, now seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the performances of each of their players to this point. As I said when I did this for the Red Sox back in July, I will only be grading players of interest/players who have made a significant impact on the team. If you think I’m going to sit here and grade every player that’s made the active roster this season, you’re wrong. As always, if you disagree with my opinions and want to tell me to quit writing, let me know on Twitter (@PerdaGuyBoston). Anyway, here we go:
Although this may seem a little biased, which it is, I can’t think of any other grade that you could give him. He leads the NFL is passing yards, has maintained a completion percentage on par with the rest of his Hall of Fame worthy career, and has done so with some extremely suspect performance from his offensive line (*cough* Nate Solder *cough*). The only appropriate grade for the GOAT in the midst of a DOMINANT age 40 season is an A+, and in the absence of Jimmy Garoppolo, he’s going need to keep it going.
Kyle Van Noy: A
This may take some of you by surprise, but Kyle Van Noy is second on the team in tackles (46 solo, 55 total), tied with Trey Flowers for the team lead in sacks (3.5), leads the team in tackles for loss (4), and is leads all non-CB’s in passes defended (4). Keep in mind, until the Pats traded Jamie Collins last season, none of us knew who the hell this guy was. Now he has stepped up as possibly THE most important part of the front 7 in the absence of Dont’a Hightower, and I don’t feel too badly about that.
Rob Gronkowski: A
Despite missing some time with a groin injury, Gronk has done a pretty good job staying on the field this season, and he’s been dominant while he’s out there. Health permitting, Gronk is on pace for yet another season of 1000+ receiving yards and 10+ TD’s. Considering that Dwayne Allen is not physically capable of catching of football, or doing anything useful for that matter, and Martellus Bennett’s questionable health, the Patriots chances of completing the #BlitzForSix relies entirely on Rob Gronkowski being on the field when he is needed.
Brandin Cooks: A-
Following a shaky first few games in which Josh McDaniels didn’t seem to be utilizing him correctly, Brandin Cooks has been a huge part of what has allowed this offense to remain above average. While he may not fit the mold of the conventional Patriots receiver who runs exclusively out-routes and crossing routes, Cooks’ blazing speed and big play potential has created a lot of trouble for opposing defenses. As a result, he is the 5th leading receiver in football despite being in an offense that has distributed the ball very evenly this season.
Jonathan Jones: A-
In addition to some admirable play as a part of the Special Teams unit, Jones has stepped up in the role of CB #3 in the absence of Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe. He has by no means been “elite”, but at the very least his performance has been pleasantly surprising for someone who I expected to turn into Matt Slater Jr.. 15 tackles, 6 passes defended, and a game-clinching interception to cap off a win over Phillip Rivers in the LA Chargers is all we could ask for from the second-year player out of Auburn.
Devin McCourty: A-
There’s not much left to say about the Patriots Defensive Captain. Year after year, he provides the team with a solid, steady performance, and 2017 has been no different. He’s the team leader in tackles (50 solo, 58 total), has done a good enough job with helping guys like Jon Jones and Johnson Bademosi over the top, and there’s just nothing bad to say about this guy. He’s been an A- player throughout his career, and he’s an A- player this year.
Chris Hogan: A-
Now that the Patriots have another fast receiver in Brandin Cooks to complement Hogan’s speed, the ex-Buffalo Bill has been able to play a crucial role in the Pats offense. He may not longer lead the NFL in receiving TD’s, but his ability to get open in the red zone has allowed him to shine thus far. Luckily, it does not appear that he’ll need surgery on the shoulder injury that he suffered against LAC, but we’ll have to wait and see if he’s able to remain effective when he returns.
Malcolm Butler: A-
After a wild offseason in which the Patriots paid Stephon Gilmore the top- tier CB money that Butler had to be expecting, Malcolm has shown that he has no intention of playing second fiddle in the Pats secondary. Regardless of the assignment, Butler has had a phenomenal first half of the season. The only reason that it doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet is that opposing QB’s are never in a great position to throw in his direction. Nonethless, Butler is still the team leader interceptions (2), passes defended (7), and is tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (1).
James White: B+
While some may argue that this grade is a bit low considering how effective James White has been, it’s hard for me to give an “A” to a running back who isn’t even on the field half the time. That being said, White has been outstanding this year when it has come to making people miss in order to gain extra yards (often leading to a first down); not to mention, he has been an outstanding pass blocker. Whether it has been chipping the blitzing linebacker coming off the edge or simply staying back to give Brady some extra protection, White has proven that he was worth every penny of the extension he received this offseason.
Dion Lewis: B+
Don’t look now, but Dion Lewis has slowly been playing his way into the starting running back role. While everyone, myself included, thought that Mike Gillislee had a stranglehold on the position and never let go, it appears that Bill Belichick will continue to go with the hot hand. Lewis has gotten more carries than Gillislee in each of the last 3 games, and if he continues to run the ball with such efficiency (4.7 yards per carry), then I don’t see any reason for a change in the game plan.
Stephen Gostkowski: B+
Following a shaky 2016 season in which he went 27/32 on field goals and 46/49 on extra points, Gostkowski has recovered and put up numbers on par with his career averages. Thus far, Gostkowski is 20/23 (87%) on field goal attempts, including a career-long 58-yarder, and 40/42 on extra point attempts. I realize that Patriots fans are accustomed to having the best kicker in the league, but there has been such an unnecessary amount of hate on Gostkowski following games in which he misses a kick. Admittedly, I don’t feel great when the game is on the line and Bill Belichick has to put the game in the hands of his kicker (mostly due to the emotional scars from the 2015 AFC championship game), but not only is he our best option, he’s a damn good option.
Trey Flowers: B
I agree that it seems a bit harsh to give the team’s sack leader a B, but you have to take into account that 2 of Flowers 3.5 sacks game on Opening Night vs Kansas City, and that he has only recorded 0.5 sacks in the last 5 games. It sucks that Flowers is the Patriots only legitimate pass-rushing threat, but that’s just the way it is. Regardless of how unfair the expectations may seem, Flowers is going to have to step it up if this team is going to be considered a contender come January.
Patrick Chung: B
Just has he has every season he’s spent in New England, Chung has proven to be a steady contributor. While there will always be times when Chung is physically over-matched by opposing Tight Ends, he continues to prove that he is one of the best best run-stuffers that this sub-par defense has to offer (37 tackles, 2 tackles for loss).
Danny Amendola: B
In the absence of Julian Edelman, Amendola has excelled when it’s come to dominating the middle of the field and picking up crucial first downs. However, in typical Amendola fashion, he’s been forced to miss some time due to injury sustained from the big hits that are constantly taken by the small slot-receivers in the Patriots offense. Luckily, in typical Amendola fashion, it is almost certain that he will be on the field come January and ready to make plays when TB12 needs him the most.
Mike Gillislee: B-
After getting off to a blazing hot start in his Patriots career (4 TD’s in 2 games), Gillislee has been far less effective than anticipated. Averaging just 3.6 yards per carry (nowhere close to his career average of 4.8), the ex-Buffalo Bill has seen his role reduced significantly as Dion Lewis has proven to be a far more efficient option. This is not to say that Gillislee will never find a role in Josh McDaniels’ offense, but at the halfway point in his first season, things aren’t looking so good for Mr. Gillislee.
Deatrich Wise: C+
While Wise hasn’t been the best all-around player, he’s at least proven to be a decent pass rusher. Trailing only Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy in sacks (3.0), Wise has shown the ability to get to the quarterback, which is more than anyone else on this D-Line can say. It’d be great if be could eventually turn into an every-down type of player, but, for the time being, we’ll have to accept the fact that he’s strictly a pass-rushing threat.
Stephon Gilmore: C-
After signing a deal for 5 years and $65 million dollars this offseason, Patriots fans expected Gilmore’s performance to be on-par with that of Malcolm Butler. Unfortunately, all we’ve seen so far is blown coverages, costly penalties, one good game, and a concussion. In an ideal world, Gilmore will come back following the bye week and start playing like the elite CB that Robert Kraft pays him to be, but I’m afraid that concussion may have wiped out any small amount of brain cells that he still had when the season begun.
Every Other Patriots Defensive Player: C-
Malcolm Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Elandon Roberts, Duron Harmon, etc., all get a C-. Each one of these players has shown flashes of talent, yet they have been mediocre at best for the majority of their time on the field. It’s hard to be surprised when a unit with such little talent performs poorly, but if this team is going to have a chance to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, the defense is going to have to step it up.
Nate Solder: D
While judging offensive lineman is extremely subjective, Solder has clearly underperformed this year. I don’t care if he’s playing through an injury. If he’s healthy enough to be on the field, then he’s healthy enough to do his job. If he continues to play like he wants opposing defenders force Tom Brady into an abrupt retirement, then the Bill Belichick needs to find someone who can actually protect his franchise quarterback.
Photo: (CBS Boston)