In a league built on the principles of parity, the New England Patriots have been the one major exception: for the last 18 years, the team has continuously been in the hunt for the Super Bowl and despite salary cap and free agency won five titles since the turn of the century. The Patriots did this not only by having the greatest quarterback of all time in the fold, but also by finding a way of keeping the roster quality high despite constant turnover.
How did New England accomplish that? By keeping the core of in-house talent intact, adding veterans on high-value contracts, and regularly finding contributors through the draft and rookie free agency. The latter, however, is where the self-proclaimed “world wide leader in sports” sees an issue moving forward: in a recent insider story by guest columnist Scott Kacsmar, the Patriots are ranked dead last in young talent.
Kacsmar ranked the NFL’s 32 rosters by under-25 talent, and New England comes in 32nd – a ranking that suffers by projected starters Shaq Mason, Danny Shelton, and Trey Flowers all missing the cut by less than a month. What is left, however, is hardly filled with high-end players mainly because of a lack of experience: Malcom Brown, for example, is the most prominent player on the roster who will be under 25 on opening day.
While the veteran defensive tackle has been a solid contributor over the past three seasons, the rest of his fellow under-25s bring little experience or past production to the table. Deatrich Wise Jr., Elandon Roberts, and Jonathan Jones have all had their moments in the past but need to show additional growth to be long-term options at their respective positions. Behind them, there is a mix of talent and uncertainty.
Derek Rivers, for example, missed all of last year with a torn ACL. Even though he had a very good training camp thus far – just like Wise Jr. – he still needs to translate his work from the practice fields to the actual games. The same goes for tight end Jacob Hollister and a bunch of rookies: both first rounders Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel looked adequate, as did undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson. In the long run, all of them could contribute to the team.
As of right now, however, they are mainly judged by their potential and outlook to turn into possible quality players – just like Rivers, Wise Jr., and the rest of New England’s players under the age of 25. And while this age is a rather arbitrarily chosen line to assess talent, the main point stands: the Patriots need to find a way to a) turn some of their young guys into starting material, and b) keep finding contributors through draft and free agency.
Ultimately, that is exactly what New England has done over the last two decades and what it will continue to do in the future. Unless the philosophy drastically shifts over the next few years – which is doubtful with Bill Belichick protégé Nick Caserio a realistic candidate to lead the front office after his mentor decides to retire – the team will look to add young talent in April and May, but will not miss its opportunities throughout the rest of the year and via free agency, the waiver wire, and the trade market.
This recipe has proven to be a successful one, and one that mitigates a perceived lack of young talent.