Best of the 2010s: Who makes the Patriots' All-Decade offense?
The word "trust" has been thrown around quite a bit this season for anyone watching the Patriots offense closely. It's a unit that has been lacking in that department. Whether it's Tom Brady with his receivers, or Patriots offensive linemen with one another, it's been difficult for those on the field to have much faith in what the players alongside them are doing.
But with the players we've identified here to make up the Patriots All-Decade Offense, trust would be the least of their issues. You'll find some of Brady's all-time favorite pass-catchers and an offensive line with the kind of collective football IQ that would put Brady at ease in the pocket. Each member of this group also has so much experience within the system that together they'd qualify as a dream hurry-up offense — the kind of team that Brady and Josh McDaniels would want in the huddle during a game-winning drive. There have been enough of those over the last 10 years, it's fitting this group is built the way it is.
QB: Tom Brady
Usually we look at the entire two-decade span of his career when we take the 5,000-foot view of things, but this gives us an opportunity to look a little more closely at his performance since 2010.
What's remarkable is even if you were to cut off the entire first half of his career, and you were to look simply at the last 10 years, he still has an argument as the top quarterback in the league. He's won more games than anyone (122), thrown more touchdowns (314) than anyone aside from Drew Brees (342), thrown fewer interceptions (79) than anyone who has played every year aside from Aaron Rodgers (61), and his rating (99.7) is fourth behind Rodgers (104.2), Brees (102.8) and Russell Wilson (101.2).
No one has more Super Bowl rings (three), Super Bowl MVPs (two), Pro Bowl selections (Brady and Brees have nine each) or First-Team All-Pro selections (Brady and Rodgers have two each). Not a bad follow-up to the early oughts.
RB: James White
White might not be best-suited as a between-the-tackles runner, but his selection here is representative of how the game has changed over the course of the last decade. The passing game is king, which has made pass-catching backs all the more valuable. And few have been more valuable across the league than White.
There are 25 backs who've racked up 300 targets since 2010, and White is among the most productive from that group. He's sixth in targets (432), sixth in yards (2,776), fourth in receiving yards per game (36.1), and tied with Darren Sproles for first in touchdowns (23). Add to that his durability (he's never played in fewer than 14 games since taking a red-shirt rookie season in 2014) and his borderline-MVP performance in Super Bowl LI, and he's the obvious choice here, beating out players like LeGarrette Blount, Danny Woodhead and Dion Lewis.
WR: Julian Edelman
Super Bowl LIII MVP. One-thousand yards three times. Over 6,000 yards receiving in the decade. More receiving yards than anyone in the decade not named Rob Gronkowski.
Edelman was a lock to make this list given that the past decade has spanned almost the entirety of his uber-productive career, outside of a rookie season where when we saw brief flashes of the quickness and hardiness that's defined him over the course of his career. And the numbers only tell part of the story.
He's been a part of as many big Patriots moments as anyone outside of the quarterback, throwing a crucial double-pass touchdown in the Divisional Round in 2014, reeling in the go-ahead touchdown against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, making an improbable diving catch against the Falcons two years later.
WR: Wes Welker
This isn't a lifetime achievement honor, but it's amazing to recall that Welker possesses each of the top-five single-season marks for receptions in franchise history.
He only had three seasons with the Patriots in the decade, but they included two of the best seasons any receiver has ever had with the team. He was named to the Pro Bowl all three years, and he eclipsed 1,000 yards twice — by a mile. He racked up 122 catches (second-most in team history) in 2011 and had a team record 1,569 yards at a 12.9 yards-per-reception clip. In 2012, he followed that up with 118 catches (third-most in team history) for 1,354 yards (third-most in team history). His 2010 season was a bit of a down year by Welker standards as he came back from an ACL tear he suffered at the end of 2009, but it was still a strong year nonetheless. He had 86 catches (17th in team history) for 848 yards.
Welker never earned the championship ring that most others on this list possess, but there's no doubt he belongs.
WR: Danny Amendola
This is where things get interesting. Amendola earns the right to be on this list thanks to his contributions in decade-defining moments.
It's impossible to tell the story of the 2014 championship team without Amendola, who had three touchdowns (including one in the Super Bowl) among his 11 catches for 137 yards during that postseason run. It's impossible to tell the story of the 2016 championship team without Amendola, who caught eight passes for 78 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion as a key piece to the 25-point comeback in that year's Super Bowl. In 2017, with Edelman out for the season injured, Amendola was Brady's go-to target in the postseason, catching 26 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns (both in a comeback win in the AFC title game over the Jaguars).
Like White's selection, this pick is indicative of where the game has gone since 2010. Three-receiver sets are the standard. A three-receiver group like this one — Edelman, Welker, Amendola — certainly has some redundancy, but McDaniels and Brady would figure things out with Edelman outside (where they've said in recent years they'd rather have him), Welker inside, and Amendola as the motion man who can run a variety of routes. Amendola's appearance in critical moments that led to titles landed him here over good receivers this decade who had shorter stays (Randy Moss, Brandon LaFell, Brandin Cooks), a second running back, a second tight end, or fullback James Develin.
TE: Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski isn't just the Patriots tight end of the decade. He's not just the NFL's tight end of the decade (and one of the best of the last century as determined by the league's Top 100 voters). Gronkowski has an argument as the most efficient pass-catcher of the decade.
His overall numbers don't match up with some of the game's top wide receivers, though they're still impressive in that he's the only non-receiver who sniffs the top-10 in certain categories. He's 12th in receiving yards since 2010, 15th in yards per reception, and 21st in catches. But, even after retiring before the season, he still has more receiving touchdowns than anyone this decade. He's also third in yards per target (9.90) among pass-catchers with at least 70 games played this decade, behind only Tyler Lockett (10.15) and DeSean Jackson (10.06).
Combine those figures with all he did as a blocker and he has an argument as the most valuable non-quarterback in football over the last 10 years.
LT: Nate Solder
Steady. That was Nate Solder for most of this decade as he manned Brady's blindside.
The 6-foot-8, 325-pounder never made a Pro Bowl. He was never considered one of the very best at his position. But he was consistently considered to be in the top-half of the league among left tackles, judging by Pro Football Focus grades. He rated as highly as eighth at the position (2016) and sniffed the top-10 (11th) early in his career when he took on the left-tackle role full-time in 2012.
rady was sacked just 15 times in 12 games in Solder's best year in 2016, and the team won a Super Bowl thanks in part to him. A year later, he turned that into what was at the time the most lucrative free-agent contract ever signed by an offensive lineman.
LG: Logan Mankins
This was as difficult a choice as any on this list. Both Mankins and Joe Thuney played four of the last 10 seasons in New England. Both were considered to be among the best left guards in football at different points of their respective tenures this decade.
Thuney has been a top-10 left guard for Pro Football Focus in each of the last three seasons. He's been a top-five player at his position in each of the last two — and going into free agency this offseason, he'll be paid like it. Mankins, a first-round pick in 2005, was into the second half of his Patriots career in 2010 but still at the top of his game. He was named a first-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler in 2010, arguably his best season. He made the Pro Bowl and was named a Second-Team All-Pro each of the next three seasons before being traded on the eve of the 2014 campaign.
Mankins never won a Super Bowl, but he came close in 2011. He started every game but one that season despite tearing his ACL in Week 1. One of the best (and toughest) linemen in Patriots history, Mankins no doubt deserves to be mentioned here.
C: David Andrews
Of all the undrafted players Bill Belichick has signed over the last decade, Andrews has to be considered one of the best.
The Georgia product didn't win the Patriots a Super Bowl with an iconic individual effort as fellow undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler did, but from 2015 (filling in for an injured Bryan Stork) through 2018 he was a rock in the middle of the Patriots offensive line. From the time he became the full-time starter in 2016 through last season, Andrews missed just two starts. He was the one snapping to Brady for two Super Bowl wins, he led the way for the only touchdown in Super Bowl LIII, and he got the ball to Brady for two of the quarterback's best seasons (2016, 2017).
Missing all of 2019 after being placed on injured reserve with blood clots in his lungs has only amplified Andrews' value to the offense. Smart enough to iron out protection calls the way Brady would want them ironed, and athletic enough to get out in front of screens or shadow twitchy interior pass-rushers, Andrews has established himself as perhaps the most valuable offensive lineman in the latest iteration of the franchise's dynasty.
RG: Shaq Mason
There's a reason the Patriots went out of their way to sign Mason to an extension prior to the expiration of his rookie deal, making him one of the highest-paid right guards in the NFL in the process.
Mason is built like a fire hydrant (6-foot-1, 300 pounds) but has basketball player feet — fitting given he was named Shaquille Olajuwon Mason by his mother Alicia. Belichick once said Mason was "probably one of the most athletic players, one of the most athletic offensive linemen I’ve coached."
According to Pro Football Focus, over the last three full seasons, he's ranked as the seventh- (2016), fourth- (2017) and third-best (2018) right guard in football.
RT: Sebastian Vollmer
At 6-foot-8, 320 pounds, Vollmer was essentially Solder's (bearded, German) mirror image on the right side of the line for the first half of the decade.
He missed significant time in both 2011 and 2013, but when he was healthy he was among the game's best on the right side. PFF ranked him seventh in 2010 (his first season as a starter) and he was a second-team All-Pro that year. Vollmer checked in at fifth, per PFF, in 2012 and third in 2014. In 2015, he helped try to hold things together, playing through injuries of his own and moving over to play left tackle after Solder tore his bicep in Week 5.
The former University of Houston tight end was key in keeping the Seahawks off of Brady in 2014, and he ended up with two Super Bowl rings despite missing the 2016 season injured. Marcus Cannon has capably filled in as the team's starter on that side for three years, but Vollmer is the choice here.