Four Patriots are the greatest of all time at their positions, per ESPN list

Four Patriots are the greatest of all time at their positions, per ESPN list

Sure, there have been bumps along the way. But New England Patriots fans truly are witnessing a golden era for what's become the model NFL franchise.

ESPN provided more proof of this Wednesday while rolling out an ambitious project that anoints the single greatest player at every position as the NFL enters its 100th season.

The Patriots, as you may expect, were impressively well-represented, with four players/coaches making the list: Tom Brady as the greatest quarterback, John Hannah as the greatest offensive guard, Adam Vinatieri as the greatest kicker and Bill Belichick as the greatest coach.

Think about that for a second: By at least one media outlet's judgment, the Patriots currently employ the greatest quarterback and the greatest coach in NFL history. During the early 2000s, they had three of the 23 greatest players/coaches ever in the same room.

No wonder New England has six championships, nine Super Bowl appearances and 16 AFC East titles since Belichick and Brady came to town in 2000.

(One could also make the case for Rob Gronkowski as the greatest tight end of all time, although Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez is a worthy choice.)

Hannah's Hall of Fame career shouldn't get lost in the modern-day shuffle, either: The 10-time first-team All-Pro is considered one of the best offensive lineman in NFL history, period, and ESPN included an apt quote about Hannah from former Patriots coach Ron Erhardt:

"I used to see people all the time who just would dive to get out of his way."

It's also worth noting that Brady, Belichick and Vinatieri are the only three active NFL members on ESPN's all-time team, as Vinatieri is still kicking for the Indianapolis Colts while Brady and Belichick gear up for their 20th season together.

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Report: Patriots WR Mohamed Sanu needs surgery on injured left ankle

Report: Patriots WR Mohamed Sanu needs surgery on injured left ankle

With only a couple of weeks until the NFL's free agent frenzy begins, the Patriots offense is dealing with even more uncertainty heading into the 2020 season.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu needs surgery on a high ankle sprain that has not healed properly this offseason.

Sanu suffered the injury on a punt return in Week 11 against the Eagles, and even though he was only sidelined for one game, the ankle severely limited his production down the stretch last season.

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After racking up 10 receptions (on 14 targets) for 81 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens in Week 10, Sanu only totaled 15 catches (on 33 targets) for 114 yards and no touchdowns over New England's final seven games, including a Wild Card loss to the Titans — not the type of production the Patriots were counting on when they sent a second-round pick to the Falcons in exchange for Sanu.

It remains to be seen if the uncertainty surrounding Sanu affects the team's offseason plans at wide receiver. Right now, only Sanu, Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, and Jakobi Meyers are under contract for the 2020 season, with Phillip Dorsett entering free agency and reportedly already attracting outside interest.

Sanu will earn $6.5 million in 2020, the final year of his contract.

Best safety in 2020 NFL Draft had formal meeting with Patriots at NFL Combine

Best safety in 2020 NFL Draft had formal meeting with Patriots at NFL Combine

Alabama star Xavier McKinney is rated by several experts as the best safety in the 2020 NFL Draft, and he's an intriguing option for the New England Patriots with the 23rd overall pick in the first round.

McKinney told reporters Friday that he had a formal interview with the Patriots at this week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Our Patriots insider Phil Perry actually had McKinney going to the Patriots in his first 2020 mock draft last month. Here's what he wrote about McKinney's potential fit in New England:

The Patriots have so many avenues to pursue come draft weekend. Quarterback? Sure, if Jarrett Stidham (who has impressed behind the scenes) isn't ready to take the reigns and if Tom Brady is out. Tight end? Of course, though there don't appear to be any surefire first-rounders there this spring. How about safety?

That's where I could envision McKinney (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) sliding in. He's a do-it-all type for the Crimson Tide. He plays in the box. He blitzes. He covers tight ends, which has been a problem for the Patriots at times this year. He led Alabama in tackles this year, forced four fumbles, picked off three passes and broke up five more. With Patrick Chung closer to the end than the beginning, perhaps McKinney could someday fill that type of role. A versatile, tough, consistently-productive two-year starter and first-team SEC defensive back who studied under Nick Saban? That'd be worth a first-round choice for Bill Belichick.

The Patriots had one of the league's best secondaries last season, but adding some youth to the group makes a lot of sense. Veteran safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are both 32 years old. McCourty will be an unrestricted free agent in March unless he and the team agree to an extension beforehand.

It's also possible McKinney could just be the best player available at No. 23, and even though the Patriots have more pressing roster needs than safety, it's not easy to pass on a player as talented as McKinney, especially when you also factor in the amount of high-pressure games he's played in at Alabama.

The Patriots have selected five Alabama players since 2010, and four of them were on defense, including linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Perry's Notebook: Brady's market taking shape despite CBA uncertainty