Indulge me here for a moment, but how is it possible that the New England Patriots, fresh of a 17-win season and their fifth Super Bowl win, are even better (at least on paper) than they were a year ago? This with a Quarterback that turns the magic number of 40 on Thursday, but has fought off Father Time valiantly and has already cemented his legacy as greatest to ever play the position. Tom Brady has a set of weapons that is without a doubt the class of the league and challenges the likes of the ’07 Patriots as far as a complete collection for the Quarterback in his career.
First, there’s Rob Gronkowski. The freakish Tight End was on the shelf for the remainder of last season after he went under the knife with yet another back surgery. If Gronk can remain healthy through the regular season and into the playoffs, and that’s a massive IF, the Patriots are considerably better than they were on offense last year. The level of game-planning opposing defenses have to do in order to just attempt to cover Gronkowski just opens up a flurry of options for Brady and the offense. Not to mention the red zone threat Gronk is every time the New England offense gets inside of the opponents 20-yard-line. The 68 career touchdown receptions certainly paint a vivid picture for just how much of a force Gronkowski is. The question with Gronk has and will always remain his health, if the energetic super-human can remain injury-free there is no doubt he will go down as the greatest to ever lace them up at the position.
Next up there’s the trio of returning wideouts. First, there’s the toughest son of a gun in the league in Julian Edelman. Edelman is always there for Brady to make the tough catch in traffic and stick his nose down and make a play to move the chains or find the pile-on. This is why Edelman has been Brady’s go-to guy over the last four seasons and will no doubt remain that way in 2017. Edelman caught 98 passes for 1106 yards a season ago.
Chris Hogan is also returning for year two in Foxboro after Bill Belichick scooped him up as a restricted free agent from the Buffalo Bills. Hogan had 38 catches for 680 yards in 2016 including 4 touchdowns and played a pivotal role in stretching the field for Brady and the offense. All the hard work put in during the regular season showed up in the playoffs where Hogan hauled in 2 touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 332 yards in just 3 games. Hogan certainly has the trust of TB12.
Talking about earning the trust of Tom Brady and one man that did so immediately was Danny Amendola. Not only did the two click almost immediately, but Amendola despite battling the injury bug during the regular season, always shows up when Brady needs it most. Even in a limited role behind Edelman, Amendola has shown that when the going gets tough and the Patriots need a wide receiver to squeeze in between the defenders and come up with a clutch third down conversion, he is there for Brady. Amendola came up aces in each of the Patriots previous two Super Bowls hauling in a touchdown pass from Brady down the stretch of each game. Amendola even caught the pass on the two-point conversion that erased the Falcons famous 28-3 lead and saw the game locked and headed to OT where New England would eventually go on to claim their fifth Lombardi Trophy.
As far as weapons coming out of the backfield, not only does Brady have RB James White who was nearly Super Bowl MVP after his 14-reception and 3-total TD performance, but he has two new additions that will make for an explosive rushing attack but also pose as top flight receiving threats. Nebraska product and former Bengal Rex Burkehead was signed as a free agent and has shown over a limited sample size that he is capable of pounding the ball between the tackles, but also slipping out and making a play when given an opening. The same can be said for former Buffalo Bill and Florida Gator Mike Gillislee, who rushed for over 500 yards with the Bills last season and 8 touchdowns. New England also has a healthy Dion Lewis in camp who has flashed in the past the potential he has to make a big play with his speed and elusiveness in open space. The shifty Lewis is a receiving threat in his own right when split out, nevermind what he can do when coming out of the backfield with a linebacker in coverage.
The Patriots traded for Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts this off-season and the veteran will assume a TE2 role similar to the one occupied by Martellus Bennett last year. Allen caught 35 passes for 406 yards with 6 TD’s in 2016 and is also well-renowned for his blocking ability. Brady will have a second reliable safety blanket Tight End to exploit the defense with alongside of Gronk, and a serviceable first Tight End if the injury bug bites Gronkowski again.
I have saved the best for last in the Patriots home run acquisition of the off-season on offense in Brandin Cooks. There’s a reason Coach Belichick gave up a first rounder to get Cooks from the New Orleans Saints as captain Matthew Slater best put today on the WR and his speed, “God only makes a couple of those (catches)…”. The 23-year-old Cooks has blazing speed that can take the top off a defense and is perhaps the biggest deep threat Brady has had since Randy Moss. Cooks caught 78 passes for 1173 yards and 8 touchdowns last season paired with Drew Brees and has 20 TD’s and over 2800 yards in the first 42 games of his career.
Another massive part to the offense outside of personnel is the coaching, particularly offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. After being linked to several head coaching vacancies across the league, McDaniels felt it was best to remain on with the Patriots working with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and go contend for another championship. With McDaniels as the helm calling plays for the offense and this group of weapons Tom Brady has at his disposal, there is no doubt that this offense has all the makings of one of the all-time greats.
We’re only five days into Training Camp, but it’s hard not to watch this offense and feel like you’re witnessing something special. The Patriots receiving corp is the class of the league and may very well be the best Tom Brady has ever had throughout his entire career.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank