The defending champion Buccaneers were ranked No. 1.

ESPN ranked the Patriots’ roster No. 18 in the NFL. AP Photo/Steven Senne

ESPN doesn’t seem particularly bullish on the Patriots this season.

The network released its roster rankings on Wednesday, which placed the Patriots 18th in the league, ninth in the AFC and second in their division.

Analyst Ben Linsey graded players based on Pro Football Focus’s criteria. A score higher than 90 is considered elite and 80-89.9 is “good/high-quality.” Grades of 70-79.9 are average, while 69.9 and lower ranks below average.

Linsey praised the Patriots’ offensive line and the running game, led by running back Damien Harris.

However, he wrote that while the Patriots invested heavily in their receivers this offseason hoping to build a reliable group of targets for Cam Newton and Mac Jones, “they still are missing a true No.1 wide receiver. Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers are among the top names on the depth chart, and all three are best suited somewhere between No. 2 and No. 3 options in an ideal world.”


Tom Brady and the defending champion Buccaneers, meanwhile, were ranked No. 1 after returning their entire starting lineup. Linsey noted Brady’s lackluster receivers in New England and praised the Buccaneers’ collection of talent.

“In 2020, Tampa Bay had six different wide receivers and tight ends record at least a 75.0 receiving grade, including O.J. Howard in limited action,” Linsey wrote. “It’s one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL, extending beyond those six to include promising young players such as Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson and rookie Jaelon Darden.”

How competitive the Patriots will be likely rests on whoever wins their quarterback battle. Bill Belichick has made it clear Newton will start Week 1, but Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts recently noted that Jones — his college teammate — has one distinct advantage.


“Mac had a very unique college career where he had to stay patient and it worked out for him,” Hurts said. “And I’m happy it did. He was able to watch me and Tua go through that, get him some burn here and there, and ultimately when it was his time, he took off with it. And now he has a great opportunity for his future.”