There's no question free agency hit the Patriots hard, especially on defense, but there are still plenty of talented players left on the team's roster. The best player might just be cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who won last season's AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
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Pro Football Focus has been unveiling its top 50 NFL players ranking over the last few days. Spots 50 through 12 have been revealed (as of this writing), and the only Patriots player who's made the cut is Gilmore. PFF ranked him as the 12th-best player in the league, just ahead of Houston Texans defensive end J.J.Watt (No. 13), San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (No. 14) and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (No. 15).
Gilmore signed a huge free agent contract with the Patriots after the 2016 season and he's lived up to the deal in every way.
He's earned back-to-back first-team All-Pro selections, in addition to being the only cornerback to earn an "elite" grade from Pro Football Focus in 2018. Gilmore played very well in the Patriots' win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, including an interception in the fourth quarter that led to the game-clinching field goal.
The veteran cornerback followed up his 2018 performance with an even better 2019 season. Gilmore led the league with 20 passes defensed and tied for the lead with six interceptions last year. His exceptional play was among the primary reasons why the Patriots pass defense ranked among the league's best in 2019.
The Patriots have brought back most of their secondary entering the 2020 season, and Gilmore is without question the best and most important player in that group.
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Top 50 NFL players: Where Patriots' Stephon GIlmore ranks on Pro Football Focus' list originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston