Earlier today, we linked to ESPN.com's future power rankings, a list in which the Patriots ranked fifth. Having been a voter for the rankings, I wanted to expand on some thoughts on how I judged the Patriots in each of the five categories of interest. Keep in mind, these rankings serve as a projection for the 2016 season.
Roster (outside of quarterback)
My grade: 8
Overall grade: 7.3
Quick-hits: The Patriots drafted 28 players from 2010-2012, many of whom have already shown themselves to be the future of the franchise. Offensively, the Patriots have the best tight end duo in football, although both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are going through tenuous times currently. The backfield has plenty of talent and the line has a blend of young and veteran players, but the receiver position is the question mark. As things currently stand, Danny Amendola has separated himself from the pack, but this isn't just about what's on tap for 2013, but also beyond. Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and other could develop into productive players, but the uncertainty at the receiver spot knocked the grade down a bit. Defensively, it comes down to the secondary. The core of last year's group is back in tact, but much of this current mix has a contract that expires before 2016. Signing Aqib Talib to a long-term deal next offseason will go a long way in solidifying this group.
My grade: 8
Overall grade: 7.7
Quick-hits: There's little doubt in my mind that Brady will remain an elite quarterback at the age of 39 based on his talents and work ethic, but one has to build in a little bit of protection for injury. The 35-year old has been a model of consistency and durability throughout his career, suffering only one major injury during the 2008 season. Brady has, in many ways, gotten better with age, as he won a second NFL MVP at 33, set a career-high in passing yards in a single season at 34 and tied a career-high for completions last season. A rare player with incredible longevity.
My grade: 8
Overall grade: 7
Quick-hits: This category tracks not only how a team has drafted under its current regime, but also its future draft capital. With that in mind, I gave the 49ers a perfect 10 score because GM Trent Baalke is a gifted evaluator and the team has 10 picks for next year (plus three likely additional compensatory picks, too). As is the case with any franchise, one has to take the misses with the hits. Bill Belichick, who has the final say on draft picks, has been largely spot-on with his first round picks, while also finding several players in later rounds who have developed into starters. The biggest knock on the Patriots drafts in recent years has been an inability to find dependable receivers and cornerbacks. That's an area for improvement.
My grade: 8
Overall grade: 7.2
Quick-hits: This takes into account Belichick as the drafter and Belichick as the evaluator, but also includes the Patriots entire personnel staff. The team has done well to lock up several key players to long-term deals and has made notable signings in free agency that have paid off considerably. The scouting department has also done well to find low-profile players who have turned into impact players such as Ryan Wendell and Ron Ninkovich. There have been a couple of recent trades that haven't worked out in the Patriots favor, but much like draft picks, you have to take the misses with the hits. Nick Caserio, the director of player personnel, leads a tireless scouting staff that has proved to be a strong pipeline for personnel staffers. The Patriots have strong presences on the pro and scouting staff levels that are consistently uncovering talent from various avenues.
My grade: 10
Overall grade: 9.2
Quick-hits: The goal here wasn't to overthink this category. Simply put, Bill Belichick has been the greatest coach of his era and perhaps one of the greatest to ever patrol the sidelines in the NFL. He is a strategist, teacher, game planner and commands respect from his players. The Patriots have been successful for many reasons during his tenure, but it starts with the head coach and his ability to orchestrate the operation. Brady is signed through 2017 and there's no reason to believe Belichick won't want to be a part of the organization for at least that long.