ESPN has begun releasing their top-10 NFL positional rankings, the results of a poll taken by over 50 NFL executives, scouts, coaches and players and two Patriots appear on the list at cornerback.
Stephon Gilmore comes in at number four, a drop from his first-overall ranking in 2019 after Gilmore turned in a Defensive Player of the Year performance. Despite some dropoff from that elite season, the league still sees Gilmore as one of the best.
"[Gilmore] didn't have a great year, but I don't think he's down and out," an NFL official told ESPN in the piece. "Still very talented. Long, great ball skills. You forget how fast he is until you see him in person. When he gets on your guys, he can frustrate the hell out of you. Very sneaky player in man and also get his eyes on the quarterback. He sees the quarterback and pivots eyes in and out. I don't think he's improving but he's not falling off, either."
It will be an interesting summer for Gilmore, who did not attend minicamp and whose recovery status from a torn quad suffered near the end of the 2020 season is still unknown. Entering the final year of his contract, the Patriots and the talented cornerback will look to find a middle ground to keep him in New England.
Coming in at 10th on the cornerback list is J.C. Jackson, making his debut after an honorable mention last season. Jackson has snagged 17 interceptions over the last three seasons, second only to the third-ranked cornerback Xavien Howard.
"Baller," an NFC executive told ESPN. "Premier athlete, takes chances, productive on the ball, confident, very willing tackler."
With Gilmore's status currently up in the air, it could thrust Jackson into an even more prominent role. Playing on a second-round restricted free agent deal in 2021, the fourth-year pro will be looking to put forth his best season yet as he eyes free agency next offseason.
If the team and Gilmore are able to work things out, it will lock the Patriots in with what many of ESPN's poll respondents view as the best starting cornerback tandem in the NFL.