Earlier this week, NFL.com published an All-Under-25 team listing the league’s best talent under the age of 25. The New England Patriots saw two members of their current roster make the cut: offensive lineman Michael Onwenu and punter Jake Bailey were nominated, and thus recognized among the most promising young players in the game today.
Onwenu and Bailey making the All-Under-25 team did not come as a surprise.
Onwenu was a steal as a sixth-round rookie last year and proved himself a dependable member of one of the better offensive lines in football; he projects as New England’s starting left guard in 2021. Bailey, meanwhile, was the league’s best punter last season and was voted to the Pro Bowl and the first All-Pro squad. He was a critical member of the NFL’s premier special teams unit.
While those two naturally stand out, they are actually not the only Patriots under the age of 25 who are worth mentioning. Sure, they may not be atop the league at their respective positions or age groups, but they will likely play prominent roles on the team in 2021.
Including Onwenu and Bailey, New England has 31 players on its current payroll who have yet to celebrate their 25th birthday:
- 21 years old: DT Christian Barmore, LB Cameron McGrone, LB Ronnie Perkins
- 22 years old: S Joshuah Bledsoe, QB Mac Jones, TE Dalton Keene, K Quinn Nordin, OT William Sherman, LB Josh Uche
- 23 years old: TE Devin Asiasi, CB Myles Bryant, WR N’Keal Harry, LB Anfernee Jennings, DT Bill Murray, WR Tre Nixon, G Michael Onwenu, RB Rhamondre Stevenson, RB J.J. Taylor, CB Joejuan Williams
- 24 years old: P Jake Bailey, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley*, LB Rashod Berry, LB Terez Hall, RB Damien Harris, CB Michael Jackson Sr, WR Jakobi Meyers, WR Gunner Olszewski, CB D’Angelo Ross, QB Jarrett Stidham*, WR Kristian Wilkerson, WR Isaiah Zuber
*will turn 25 before the regular season
Two of the players listed here — linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and quarterback Jarrett Stidham — will turn 25 in August, which has made them ineligible for consideration on the All-Under-25 team. As for the 29 others, they feature some comparatively big names and players who are projected as key members of the 2021 Patriots.
Let’s take a closer look at them, while being well aware that 25 is a rather arbitrary cut-off line that would better be replaced by rookie contracts. But, the rules were made by NFL.com, and we shall play by them.
DT Christian Barmore: Regarded as a potential first-round pick before this year’s draft, Barmore slipped to the second round and saw New England trade up to get him. His impact in 2021 remains to be seen given the depth around him, but he is a high-upside option who should hold down the fort up front for years to come.
LB Cameron McGrone: Coming off a torn ACL, McGrone was drafted with the future in mind. A realistic candidate for the physically unable to perform list, his impact in 2021 will be limited or non-existent.
LB Ronnie Perkins: The third-round rookie is a powerful presence on the edge and should find himself a role as a package-specific pass rusher. He will likely not be an every-down player early on but should still get his fair share of snaps.
S Joshuah Bledsoe: Bledsoe is no lock to make the team due to his status as a sixth-round draft pick, but he offers some developmental upside. A possible practice squad candidate if he fails to crack a deep safety rotation.
QB Mac Jones: The Patriots’ quarterback of the future. Jones was drafted 15th overall in April and immediately showed the skills that made him a first-round draft pick during organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. Whether or not he can challenge Cam Newton’s standing as the starting quarterback in 2021 remains to be seen, but he will likely be taking over at one point either this season or next.
TE Dalton Keene: The first non-rookie on this list, Keene has had a quiet first year in the system and will now be fighting for his roster life despite getting drafted in the third round last year. The youngster has struggled with injuries so far in his career, and will have to take advantage of his positional versatility to make the team.
K Quinn Nordin: The only undrafted rookie on New England’s roster owns a powerful leg but it is still doubtful he will be able to beat out incumbent Nick Folk for the place kicker job. Another practice squad candidate.
OT William Sherman: The Patriots are well set at the starting offensive tackle positions but the versatile Sherman could have some value as a developmental backup behind starters Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown.
LB Josh Uche: Uche was one of the stars of mandatory minicamp due to his hot-running motor. The former second-round draft pick projects as a major candidate for the famous second-year jump, and could carve out a prominent role in the Patriots’ edge linebacker rotation and as a situational pass rusher.
TE Devin Asiasi: The former third-round pick showed some promise as a rookie last year, but will now have to play behind free agency additions Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. He therefore seems destined for TE3 status, but his development in 2021 will be fascinating to watch nonetheless.
CB Myles Bryant: A former rookie free agent, Bryant saw his fair share of opportunities in 2020. He likely won’t challenge the starters at the cornerback position yet, but he could still carve out a role as a versatile nickel or dime back.
WR N’Keal Harry: Harry has had two disappointing seasons after getting drafted in the first round in 2019. His main issue? Injuries — he has missed considerable time in both 2019 and 2020 — and inconsistency. Harry is seemingly facing a make-or-break season on a wide receiver depth chart that saw the additions of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency.
LB Anfernee Jennings: Jennings received inconsistent playing time as a rookie in 2020 and was a limited participant during offseason workouts. The former third-round draft choice will need to make a step forward to earn a spot in a deep linebacker rotation.
DT Bill Murray: A former rookie free agent, Murray finds himself near the bottom of a deep defensive tackle depth chart. He will have to break out in training camp to make the team.
WR Tre Nixon: Hand-selected by since-retired research director Ernie Adams, Nixon is far from a lock to make the team. Seeing the seventh-round rookie make the team would be a minor surprise.
G Michael Onwenu: As noted above, Onwenu was impressive in his first year in the Patriots’ system — all while playing a new position. Now slated to slide into the left guard spot following Joe Thuney’s free agency departure, he seems like a lock to make the starting lineup.
RB Rhamondre Stevenson: A powerful early-down back, Stevenson projects as Sony Michel’s eventual heir. Whether or not he can unseat the former first-round pick as a rookie remains to be seen, but his skillset certainly is intriguing.
RB J.J. Taylor: Taylor showed some promise in 2020 but was given inconsistent opportunities to prove himself. The youngster will face a more favorable situation this summer; the preseason in particular should help him.
CB Joejuan Williams: Williams did carve out a regular role in the kicking game last year but essentially remained a non-factor at his listed position of cornerback. Will this change in Year 3? The Patriots better hope it does, or else Williams could become the latest second-round defensive back to turn into a bust.
P Jake Bailey: Despite again serving double-duty as punter and kickoff specialist, Bailey was outstanding in 2020. He was clearly the best punter in football and as such a field position weapon for New England. Not much is expected to change this year.
LB Rashod Berry: The tight end/linebacker hybrid has had some encouraging moments as a rookie but he would have to take a massive leap forward to crack a rebuilt defensive front seven this year.
LB Terez Hall: With the Patriots struggling to field proper linebacker depth in 2020, Hall was pushed into action. Despite being used in eight games, he is no lock to make the team in his third year.
RB Damien Harris: Harris was not just one of the Patriots’ breakout stars last season but actually one of the most effective running backs in football: of players with more than 100 rushing attempts, only Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry averaged more yards per run. Harris will be the number one member of New England’s running back rotation again in 2021, and would have been a strong candidate for the All-Under-25 team as well.
CB Michael Jackson Sr: The Patriots have a deep cornerback group, which will make it difficult for Jackson to crack the rotation. That said, his physical style might help him beat out the likes of Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant and D’Angelo Ross.
WR Jakobi Meyers: Meyers turned from depth player to number one wide receiver during the 2020 season and again projects to play a prominent role in New England’s offense this year. While the additions of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne might cut into his playing time total, he still should be able to see a high number of snaps and targets.
WR Gunner Olszewski: While Olszewski’s contributions as a wide receiver are nothing to write home about so far in his career, he has established himself as the best punt returner in football. In fact, he was named first-team All-Pro in 2020 and could very well have made the All-Under-25 squad.
CB D’Angelo Ross: Ross finds himself in the same boat as Michael Jackson above. He will have to stand out in training camp to crack a deep cornerback group. The odds of that happening are, unfortunately, small.
WR Kristian Wilkerson: Wilkerson played only two snaps as a practice squad elevatee in 2020, which reflects his standing on the roster. He is near the bottom of the wide receiver depth chart and faces an uphill climb to make the team.
WR Isaiah Zuber: While Zuber saw more prominent action than Wilkerson last year, he too is not guaranteed a spot on the 2021 roster. That said, he had some encouraging moments during offseason workouts and might just challenge players such as N’Keal Harry.
As can be seen, the Patriots have some solid talent under the age of 25 on their current roster. While the arguably “best” players at the moment are Michael Onwenu and Jake Bailey as well as Damien Harris, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski others are also worth keeping a close eye on.
Josh Uche in particular showed considerable promise during offseason workouts, and, if all goes right, could become a cornerstone player for the team for years to come. Obviously, though, the most prominent player under 25, though, is still Mac Jones: as noted above he was drafted to become the Patriots’ next franchise quarterback — and the leader of the club for the foreseeable future.