Light Patriots Pro Bowl class highlights need for blue-chip talent boost

Stephen A. not giving up on Patriots (0:59)

Stephen A. Smith explains why the Patriots are still very much in the Super Bowl race despite their loss to the Steelers. (0:59)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Stephon Gilmore are the New England Patriots' only Pro Bowlers in 2018, which is the team's lowest total since 2008, the last time the franchise didn't qualify for the playoffs.

While the Pro Bowl isn't always the most accurate barometer of success, the light Patriots class does serve up a reminder of sorts as it pertains to the future health of the club: More blue-chip talent is needed. It would be even better if it is homegrown blue-chip talent.

The Patriots need to string together a few successful drafts to sustain their success, while also continuing to search for their franchise quarterback of the future. Assuming good health, the 2018 class has the potential to be a good start, with first-round picks Isaiah Wynn (a potential left tackle of the future) and Sony Michel (running back) foundation-type pieces to go along with linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, who appears to be a keeper from the fifth round but had his rookie season cut short after three games by a torn biceps. Undrafted free-agent cornerback J.C. Jackson also would be considered part of the group, and he could be on a Malcolm Butler-type ascent.

Such an infusion of youth and talent is needed after drafts in 2016 and 2017 haven't provided as much in that regard. The 2015 class, with defensive end Trey Flowers and right guard Shaq Mason, was better.

It was Brady's 14th overall selection, tying him with Peyton Manning, Tony Gonzalez, Bruce Matthews and Merlin Olsen for most in NFL history, and it's his 10th straight, which is the longest active streak.

Gilmore's selection serves as a reminder that the Patriots made a shrewd move to pounce on him as an unrestricted free agent in the 2017 offseason, opening up their financial vault with a five-year, $65 million deal. They essentially chose Gilmore over Butler, and it was the right call from a long-range team-building standpoint. Gilmore is the more well-rounded player, with the ability to match up against a wider variety of receivers.

To land high-end talent on the free-agent market like Gilmore, it costs a premium, and that's not a sustainable approach on a yearly basis.

So the most effective way to go is drafting and developing.

The Patriots, with their lightest Pro Bowl class in the last decade, would greatly benefit from a boost in that area.