Grading the 2017 Patriots: Offense overcame defense, personnel decisions

(Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports)

Before an NFL team turns the page on the previous season and moves forward to the next, they put the team and their players under a microscope to see what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to be changed/altered to make progress in 2018.

For example, the Patriots realized they had slipped in offensive big-play percentage in 2016. To address that, New England traded a first-round pick to the Saints for Brandin Cooks. As a result, the Patriots went from tied for 18th in plays of 10-plus yards (207) to fourth (234).

Obviously, we have no idea what New England’s internal grading system looks like, and we don’t anticipate Bill Belichick opening up his grade book anytime soon. So, we’re left to do our homework with some assistance from people who have knowledge of how the Patriots view things.

So we’ll start our dissection (which is an homage to my mentor, Bob McGinn) with an overview of the team and positions, and then we’ll move onto individual player grades/assessments. Finally, we’ll conclude with our often imitated but never duplicated offseason depth chart coded for performance and contract status, and with a comprehensive analysis of team needs headed into the ’18 offseason.

Next up: Team grades in eight categories — passing offense, rushing offense, passing defense, rushing defense, special teams, personnel moves, coaching and overall.

And with that, let’s get started…