Solder & McCourty land on ESPN list

Over the course of 10 days, ESPN.com will unveil the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the NFL, as voted on by a panel of 63 staff writers who follow the NFL inside-and-out.

Players 100-81 have been revealed on either side of the ball, and a pair of Patriots have appeared on the list.

Offensively, left tackle Nate Solder ranked 89th overall, checking in with a rating of 6.67 (view the full list for an explanation of the grading scale). The 25-year old has been an integral part of the team's offensive line since being drafted in the first round in 2011, settling into a starting left tackle role last season.

The following stat, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, helps to quantify Solder's impact: Solder played 1,189 snaps last season, most of any player in the past five seasons. In Solder's career, Tom Brady has been sacked every 23.6 drop-backs with Solder on the field and every 17.4 without Solder.

The feeling here is that Solder still hasn't even reached his ceiling as a player, a positive sign for the Patriots, as he's already proven himself to be very reliable. His combination of length and athleticism is hard to find, and Solder should continue to improve in 2013 and beyond.

On defense, safety Devin McCourty ranked 88th on the list with a rating of 6.47. Taken in the first round one year before Solder, McCourty has already become a team captain and is consistently lauded by head coach Bill Belichick for his leadership.

He's been productive on the field as well, evidenced by the following note, again courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info: McCourty is one of five players who has broken up or intercepted at least 40 passes in the past three seasons. McCourty has broken up or intercepted 28 passes at least 15 yards downfield during that time, seven more than the next-closest player (Tramon Williams).

The Patriots moved McCourty to safety during the 2012 season, a position he has largely remained at since. He helped button up a secondary that had struggles early in 2012, and he has solidified his place as the leader among the defensive backs.

Both of these players will be counted on to play key roles again this season.

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