Pro Football Focus released of all the NFL secondaries heading into the season--and the Patriots are ranked surprisingly low, at 13th.
PFF explained the ranking was based mostly on the departure of Malcolm Butler and concerns over his replacement, Jason McCourty: "Even during the worst season of his career, Butler was still a key cog on the back end in New England. Signing (Jason) McCourty could help mitigate the loss some, but he put up the bulk of his 83.9 overall grade last year playing zone coverage whereas the Patriots have been traditionally man heavy. McCourty was cut in Tennessee after three straight seasons struggling in man-heavy schemes." It's a fair critique, especially considering some of the talent in the top 10--the Rams, Jaguars, Chargers, Ravens, Falcons, and Vikings are the top 6. All those units are definitely a cut above the rest of the league.
But after those elite squads, the Pats look like a much stronger choice. As PatsPulpit pointed out, it's easy to argue they should have been placed above the Bills, Lions, 49ers, or Broncos--all of which have gaping holes at one or more spots. While the new McCourty might have some trouble adjusting to a man-heavy scheme, he's proven that he can perform at a high level. That's more than it's possible to say about Vonn Bell, Trumaine Brock, Phillip Gaines, or Teez Tabor, to name a few.
With so much time remaining before the season starts, there's still a large dose of projection in the rankings, despite PFF's statistical analysis. Hopefully the Pats can outperform their ranking and rise to the top of the league's best secondaries.