Pro Football Focus unveiled its' 2018 All-Pro team yesterday, with four Patriots making the cut. Stephon Gilmore (cornerback), Shaq Mason (right guard), and Albert McClellan (special teams) were all first-team selections. Trey Flowers (edge) was named a second-team selection.
Now, these are not awards to hang on the wall. However, Pro Football Focus is one of the most respected names in football analysis. They combine old-fashioned scouting techniques with modern stats and analytics to give some of the most wholesome and accurate grades of player performances. In fact, PFF's analysis is a much more accurate representation of how successful a player's season was than more arbitrary awards like Pro Bowl and even AP All-Pro. These four New England players being named to the team means that they consistently played at high levels throughout the course of the entire season.
- Stephon Gilmore has arguably been the Patriots best defender, holding down what has quietly been one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Gilmore received a grade of 90.7 from PFF. This is due in no small part to his league-leading 18 pass breakups. PFF also notes that Gilmore only allowed catches on 46.7% of the balls thrown in his direction. He has certainly played up to the high contract that the team signed him to.
- Shaq Mason has arguably been the Patriots best offensive lineman for the past two to three years. With his incredible strength and surprising athleticism, Mason has been a dominant run blocker throughout his career, which helped him land a large extension with the Patriots over the summer. However, PFF notes that it was his improved pass protection that led him to making the list. He finished the year with a career-low 16 QB pressures. Mason was the number one rated right guard, with a PFF grade of 82.1.
- Albert McClellan spent 2018 as a core special teams player for the Ravens and the Patriots. Most New England fans will remember him for his performance in Miami a few weeks ago, where he blocked not one, but two different Dolphin punts. PFF highlighted him for his blocking ability on special teams, as well as his tackling. McClellan had six special teams tackles without a miss. Bill Belichick signed McClellan in the middle of the season to shore up a disappointing special teams unit. It clearly worked, thanks to one of the best special teams players in the league.
- PFF named Trey Flowers to the second team on their All-Pro roster. However, that shouldn't be seen as a bad thing considering his competition. The two EDGE players to get the first team nod were JJ Watt and Khalil Mack, arguably two of the best edge rushers in the NFL. Flowers was also joined on the second team by Von Miller of the Broncos, one of the most talented pass rushers of this generation. The Patriots lineman had career highs in forced fumbles (3), sacks(7.5), and tackles for loss (9) this season. Flowers is not always as flashy as Watt and Mack, but he has been one of the Patriots most consistent defenders. He has an impressive ability to play both the run and the pass extremely well. He received the third highest grade for an edge rusher with 90.4
The Patriots are known for their superstars like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. However, this list helps highlight some of the team's unsung heroes. Gilmore, Mason, McClellan, and Flowers have been making impacts in each game they have played in this season. They are the reason that the Patriots have a first-round bye in the playoffs. And it will be them who spur another Super Bowl run for New England.