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Pro Football Focus' 50 Best Players List Includes Zero Patriots

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Just two short years ago, the Patriots were still NFL royalty. Now it seems like they might be forgotten.

That may be an extreme conclusion to draw, sure, but it's nevertheless fascinating to see that zero Patriots players made it onto Pro Football Focus' list of the 50 best players in the NFL right now.

PFF has been releasing its top 50 list by groups of 10 each day this week, with the top 10 players being released on Friday. When Stephon Gilmore wasn't included in that elite group, the Patriots' complete absence from the list became official.

The system, if you're interested, involves what the PFF evaluators believe in terms of what players can and will do in the 2021 season.

The No. 1 player on the list was Aaron Donald, followed by Patrick Mahomes, and then Travis Kelce.

Tom Brady -- a one-time Patriot, if we are not mistaken -- ranked No. 7, despite being weeks away from his 44th birthday.

The Patriots weren't the only AFC East team not involved in this ranking. The Bills had Josh Allen (No. 40) and Stefon Diggs (45) on the list, but there were no Dolphins and no Jets in the top 50, either.

In terms of players who could have made the list, the Patriots are undoubtedly low on candidates. The aforementioned Gilmore could recapture his DPOY level of play in 2021. Dont'a Hightower could resume his career as an elite middle linebacker. James White could rebound from a bad year and once again be the best pass-catching back in football. On the line, David Andrews or Shaq Mason or Trent Brown or even Mike Onwenu could all be All-Pro level forces for the upcoming season. Maybe Jonnu Smith can elevate to the upper echelon of tight ends in the league.

Certainly, there's a fair amount of talent, and Gilmore can be considered an actual snub. But that's a lot of ifs in terms of anyone being among the elite of the NFL's elite.

(We're also assuming that punters were simply exempt from consideration, because Jake Bailey is the best football player alive. It's undisputed.)

This all won't actually mean anything with regard to the 2021 Patriots. They went 7-9 a year ago and added a truckload of talent on both sides of the ball. Cam Newton's ability to improve in year two in the system will be the nexus in terms of the team improving to have a winning record or once again wallowing in mediocrity. But there's reason to believe that the former is a realistic outcome.

And really, the real mark of the Patriots began with the concept of being overlooked and underestimated. So maybe things like this will serve the team well in the turnaround effort.

Still, with the Patriots in the rare spot of not having won a playoff game in two whole seasons and missing the playoffs entirely last year, seeing zero Patriots on lists such as these provides a blunt reminder of how different things are in the post-Brady era.

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