Here's where Patriots stand in ESPN's ranking of NFL skill position groups

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Here's where Patriots stand in ESPN's ranking of NFL skill position groups originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots improved their offensive weapons around young quarterback Mac Jones this offseason, but it didn't help them much in ESPN's new ranking of the top skill position groups in the NFL.

After ranking 27th in 2021, the Patriots jumped only one spot to 26th on this year's list.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell, who made the list and did the analysis, cites running back as the Patriots' "best position". This works against the Patriots because, as Barnwell explains, "This analysis rewards receivers over backs and top-end talent over depth. The Patriots' supporting cast would rank much better if those priorities were flipped."

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Barnwell's list isn't the only one that is bearish on the Patriots' talent. ESPN also ranked the top 10 players at each position based on input from players, coaches and league executives. Tight end Hunter Henry was the only Patriots player to make any of those lists.

The Patriots do have lots of depth at the skill positions.

Their stable of running backs is quite impressive, headlined by Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and James White. The Pats ranked eighth in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns last season.

McCourty explains why he's excited for Mac Jones' Year 2 with Patriots

Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers and DeVante Parker are four quality wideouts. The problem is none of them are a true No. 1 wide receiver. It's hard to imagine any of those four making the Pro Bowl, much less one of the All-Pro teams. But, again, really good depth at the position.

The Patriots have two very good tight ends in Henry and Jonnu Smith. Henry tallied nine touchdown receptions last season and was a reliable red zone target for Jones. Smith had a lackluster debut campaign in New England with just one touchdown after tallying eight the previous year.

The Patriots' offensive weapons were horrible in 2020, and in just two offseasons they've made substantial improvements. But is there enough high-end talent at any of these positions to beat the best teams in the AFC during the playoffs? It'll be enough if Jones takes a step (or two) forward in his development in Year 2.