After Tom Brady, which player is most critical to the defending champs' 2017 success?
1. TE Rob Gronkowski (36 points)
2. WR Julian Edelman (32)
T3. LB Dont'a Hightower (25)
T3. CB Stephon Gilmore (25)
5. CB Devin McCourty (21)
6. CB Malcolm Butler (20)
7. LT Nate Solder (17)
T-8. DE Trey Flowers (16)
T-8. RT Marcus Cannon (16)
T-8. S Patrick Chung (16)
Last off-season, Gronkowski might have been New England’s runaway winner. After the Patriots captured a Super Bowl with him sidelined by injury, though, there is a little wiggle room for discussion. He claimed the top spot nonethless, due mainly to a first-place vote (Marston) and second-place vote (Single). Edelman gave Gronk a run for his money, and he actually topped his teammate in first-place votes, with two (Baskin and Single).
The pair of remaining first-place votes were split between Hightower (Burke) and Chung (Klemko)—the latter missed out entirely on three ballots.
Despite his rumored spot on the trade block this off-season, Butler had no trouble making it into the top 10. He even landed a No. 2 ranking (Baskin); fellow cornerback Gilmore ranked as high as No. 3 (Single).
Vetting the Votes: Eric Single defends his first-place vote for Julian Edelman — The Patriots have been forced to prove their offense can still run at its lethal best without Gronk on multiple occasions, so I threw the weight of my ballot behind a slightly more durable Tom Brady target. To be sure, Edelman is an interchangeable part himself, with guys like Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan capable of approximating his role, but “approximating” is the operative word—Edelman is a uniquely gifted route-runner who stepped up as the primary chains-mover when Gronk went down last season.
Other Patriots receiving votes: DE Kony Ealy (14 votes); LB Rob Ninkovich (nine); CB Eric Rowe (six); WR Brandin Cooks, CB Duron Harmon (five); WR Brandin Cooks (four); DT Alan Branch (three); RB Dion Lewis, WR Chris Hogan (two); C David Andrews (one).