The New England Patriots offensive line was atrocious in 2015, but there's some hope for the future- the unit was one of the youngest in football.
Youth on the offensive line was the goal for 2015, although probably not to the extent of reality. The 2014 Patriots drafted Bryan Stork to be the center of the future, and the 2015 Patriots wanted to move on from the now-retired guard Dan Connolly and the aging Ryan Wendell.
It seems likely that the 2016 Patriots would have wanted to find a future replacement for aging right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, but the loss of a first round pick makes that slightly more difficult.
The 2015 year was an anomaly for the offensive line as every single player was either benched (undrafted rookie David Andrews) or injured (literally everyone else).
Left tackle Nate Solder was lost for the year in week 5, back-up Marcus Cannon was injured the following week, along with rookie guard Shaq Mason, and all the while Stork was unable to play due to a preseason injury. Fellow tackle Vollmer was hit with a concussion and ankle injury.
Veteran guard Ryan Wendell was lost for the season with a virus and then another injury, guard Josh Kline injured his shoulder, rookie guard Tre Jackson suffered a knee injury.
It wasn't pretty and there were 105 snaps this year where the Patriots fielded a bizarre line-up with sophomores Cameron Fleming (from the practice squad) and Stork (yes, the center) at tackle, with Kline and the rookies Mason and Andrews in the interior. That was an actual football lineup.
The Patriots offensive line struggled at times, but appeared promising at its peak. Mason finished the year with a fantastic pair of playoff performances at right guard, while Kline looked more-than-adequate prior to his shoulder injury. A 2016 line of Solder, Kline, Stork, Mason, and Vollmer could very well be a step in the right direction, if only because of the gained experience for the young unit.
The Patriots offensive line was the third-youngest in the NFL on a snap-weighted basis.
Only the hapless Titans and Rams featured a younger line than the Patriots, which means that New England is in a good position for the future if the player development takes place as expected. That's why the return of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is so important- he has a green thumb when it comes to growing prospects.
On the other hand, four of the next five youngest teams all made it to the playoffs, and the Patriots were easily the worst line of the group. While New England made it further than their counterparts, the performance of the other line units shows that a young group could (and probably should) play better than what the Patriots put on the field.
Looking at the other side of the spectrum, the Jets have the oldest line in the league, which isn't a surprise. Starting tackles D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Breno Giacomini, along with center Nick Mangold, are on the wrong side of 30, and guard Willie Colon, who played heavy snaps, is also over 30. The Jets are one of the oldest teams in the league and they'll need a few successful drafts in a row, or else they'll implode.
The Steelers (28th) and Broncos (25th) are also in the old category when it comes to offensive linemen and those are the two biggest rivals for the Patriots. Like the Jets, they'll need an infusion of youth to remain competitive, although it's probable that the Broncos can shrug off the concern for a season or two while basking in the Super Bowl afterglow.
The Bengals (22nd) are also in the older group.
The Patriots are really banking on the growth of their younger players after a weak 2015, but perhaps we're viewing the unit through a difficult lens.
If any other unit was forced to play with such a degree of youth, they'd be granted a lot more leeway, much like the 2013 receiving corps, but since the line is supposed to protect quarterback Tom Brady there's no allowed room for error.
The Patriots offensive line was one of the youngest units in the entire league last year- younger than 95% of all position groups across the league, in fact.
They'll be better in 2016. They have to be.