Every year, ‘Pro Football Focus’ releases a list of their top 101 performers from the previous season. This isn’t based on opinion, but rather advanced stats that they put together throughout the season.
Maybe it’s the positional change or the lack of attention the New England defense gets, but it’s flown under the radar just how good a football player Devin McCourty actually is. Fresh off earning the highest regular season grade of all safeties in coverage hopefully this ranking will do something to correct that, with his versatility an asset not something that should hold him back. This year that meant he led safeties in pass break ups and allowed just 18 receptions all year into his primary coverage in the regular season. McCourty graded negatively just twice all year.
Best Performance: Week 7, NE @ NYJ, +5.0
Key Stat: His seven pass breakups were the most of any safety in the league.
Outside of one tremendously tricky outing against Denver, Solder delivered an extremely consistent season, grading in the green 10 times throughout the year. With the size and strength to get push in the run game and a strong pass blocker, Solder answered the question as to whether he could be the long-term replacement to Matt Light.
Best Performance: Week 4, NE @ ATL, +6.3
Key Stat: Solder allowed 35 combined sacks, hits and hurries throughout the regular season. Of all left tackles who had 500 pass blocking snaps that was sixth-best.
In a lot of ways this was the most difficult season Brady has endured in a long while. Losing his top targets either permanently or for most of the season injured left him with a cast of receiving options that represented something of a drop off. So he should be commended for fighting through it to have another fine year even if his performances tended to range from the sublime (check his best performance) to the ridiculous (a -6.6 grade versus the Jets in Week 7).
Best Performance: Week 9, PIT @ NE, +6.1
Key Stat: Brady earned the second-most yards in the league when using play action with 1,527.
Of course, all statistics are in some way biased, so I wouldn’t take this list as something that is the defining top list of last season. I agree that all three of these players had terrific seasons, specifically McCourty, who has emerged as one of, if not the best safety in the league. But I want to single out Brady, who had statistically speaking, one of the worst seasons of his career.
Brady took a team that at one point trotted out Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins as their top two receivers to the AFC Championship game, and to be completely honest, if it weren’t for an untimely Aqib Talib injury, this team is in the 2014 Super Bowl. The point is, Brady’s group didn’t have that much talent to begin with, and when you take into consideration the amount of injuries they sustained along the way, he put in a great year. He kept this team from falling apart, and got them just about as far as they could go. If it weren’t for Peyton Manning‘s ridiculous season, Brady would be the 2013 NFL MVP. He certainly was not the 90th best player in the NFL last season.
However I respect this list, simply because they are going purely off of their numbers, which have proven to be very insightful in the past.