Earlier this offseason, Pro Football Focus released a list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 entering the upcoming NFL season. The New England Patriots were nowhere to be found, prompting the question: how about their under-25 talent?
The Patriots obviously have several players in that age group under contract, including starting quarterback Mac Jones. A look at the whole list shows that the former first-round draft pick is just one of the projected core contributors or valuable rotational and depth pieces that have yet to celebrate their 25th birthdays:
- 21 years old: RB Kevin Harris, WR Tyquan Thornton
- 22 years old: DT Christian Barmore, OL Chasen Hines, LB Cameron McGrone, LB Ronnie Perkins, LS Ross Reiter, OL Andrew Stueber
- 23 years old: S Joshuah Bledsoe, QB Mac Jones, CB Marcus Jones, P Jake Julien, TE Dalton Keene, DE DaMarcus Mitchell, K Quinn Nordin (NFI), OL William Sherman, G Cole Strange, RB Pierre Strong Jr., LB Josh Uche, CB Shaun Wade, QB Bailey Zappe
- 24 years old: TE Devin Asiasi*, CB Myles Bryant, OL Yasir Durant, WR N’Keal Harry, WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey, CB Jack Jones, DT Bill Murray*, WR Tre Nixon, G Michael Onwenu, DT LaBryan Ray, DT Sam Roberts, C Kody Russey, RB Rhamondre Stevenson, RB J.J. Taylor, CB Joejuan Williams, LB Mack Wilson
*will turn 25 before the regular season
Two of the players listed here — tight end Devin Asiasi and defensive tackle Bill Murray — will turn 25 before the start of the regular season, which for our purposes makes them ineligible for consideration as under-25 players. As for the 35 others, they feature some comparatively big names and players who are projected as key members of the 2022 Patriots.
Let’s take a closer look at them, while always keeping in mind that 25 is a rather arbitrary cut-off line that would better be replaced by rookie contracts. But, the rules were made by Pro Football Focus, and so we shall play by them.
RB Kevin Harris: A sixth-round draft pick by the Patriots earlier this year, Harris projects as a depth option at running back. He is not guaranteed a spot in what is a deep position group, but at the very least should be a practice squad candidate.
WR Tyquan Thornton: The Patriots’ second-round selection is a lock to make the roster, but his contributions in 2022 are TBD. Thornton definitely has some high upside, however, and should play a prominent role in the team’s offense in the future regardless of his rookie role.
DT Christian Barmore: Coming off an impressive first NFL season, the second-year lineman projects as a key member of New England’s defensive front in 2022. Barmore was one of the most disruptive rookies in recent memories, and should only be able to build on his production while further developing into a building-block for the future.
OL Chasen Hines: The Patriots selected Hines in the sixth round of this year’s draft, and he will compete for a backup spot along the interior offensive line this summer. The LSU product is not guaranteed a spot on the 53-man team, however.
LB Cameron McGrone: After virtually missing all of his rookie season while still recovering from a torn ACL suffered at Michigan, McGrone projects as a valuable member of New England’s new-look linebacker corps. The 2021 fifth-round draft choice saw starter-level reps during offseason workouts.
LB Ronnie Perkins: Perkins was effectively redshirted last year, but will be part of New England’s rotation along the defensive edge alongside Matthew Judon and Josh Uche. The 2021 third-round selection has a lot of untapped potential.
LS Ross Reiter: Reiter was brought aboard as a rookie free agent earlier this year, but his outlook is not particularly favorable. With Joe Cardona likely not going anywhere as New England’s long snapper, the youngster will have to aim for the practice squad.
OL Andrew Stueber: New England’s 10th and final selection in this year’s draft, Stueber projects as a depth swing tackle. Like fellow late-round rookie Chasen Hines, him making the team is not guaranteed — especially after both missed mandatory minicamp for undisclosed reasons.
S Joshuah Bledsoe: The 2021 sixth-round pick did not see the field as a rookie, and the path onto the field is still a tough one this year. Bledsoe’s versatility to play both cornerback and safety is a plus, however, as is his youth and small salary cap hit.
QB Mac Jones: Jones did not leave any doubt about his outlook in 2021. The 15th overall selection in last year’s draft earned the starting role in training camp and went on to produce an impressive if at times a bit inconsistent rookie campaign. Nonetheless, he proved himself worthy of first-round status and is a prime candidate to make the famous second-year jump — thus fully becoming the Patriots’ franchise QB.
CB Marcus Jones: A third-round pick out of Houston, Jones is still recovering from offseason surgery on both of his shoulders. His outlook for 2022 is up in the air, but the youngster is a realistic candidate to take over as New England’s starting slot cornerback at one point further down the line.
P Jake Julien: Julien is in the same boat as the aforementioned Ross Reiter. He too has to go up versus an established veteran to make the roster, and the odds are against him in his competition with former All-Pro Jake Bailey.
TE Dalton Keene: Coming off two disappointing and injury-plagued seasons, Keene might be in a do-or-die situation. With Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith firmly atop the depth chart, and with Devin Asiasi looked like the TE3 in minicamp, he faces an uncertain future.
DE DaMarcus Mitchell: The Patriots added Mitchell as a rookie free agent out of Purdue earlier this year, and he will play for a depth spot on the defensive edge. Given his lack of experience on defense, he might be a candidate for the practice squad.
K Quinn Nordin (NFI): The second-year kicker was released earlier this offseason and converted to the non-football injury list. It therefore seems highly unlikely he will see the field this year, at least as a Patriot.
OL William Sherman: A guard/tackle hybrid, Sherman will compete for a depth spot along New England’s O-line this year. His versatility, age and contract status might just allow him to stick around after appearing in just one game as a rookie.
G Cole Strange: The Patriots’ first-round draft pick this year looks like a plug-and-play starter at left guard. While it remains to be seen how he will fare against NFL-caliber competition in training camp and preseason, the team appears to be confident in his abilities to hold down the fort at left guard.
RB Pierre Strong Jr.: New England brought Strong Jr. aboard in the fourth round of this year’s draft, and he can therefore be seen as a roster lock. His opportunities as a rookie will likely depend on various factors, though, such as James White’s recovery and his ability to make an impact in the return game.
LB Josh Uche: Entering his third season in the NFL there is some hype surrounding the former second-round draft pick. The coaching staff has spoken highly of him this offseason, and he currently project as the starting edge opposite Pro Bowler Matthew Judon.
CB Shaun Wade: Wade joined the Patriots via trade last August, and was unable to make much of an impact as a rookie. However, with the days of Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson over he will be given a chance to compete for a role on the new-look perimeter cornerback depth chart.
QB Bailey Zappe: Coming off a record-breaking season at Western Kentucky, Zappe was picked in the fourth round of this year’s draft. With Mac Jones the undisputed QB1, however, he was brought in to serve as a backup and understudy to veteran QB2 Brian Hoyer.
CB Myles Bryant: Serving as the starting slot cornerback after Jonathan Jones’ season-ending injury, Bryant had some ups and downs during his 2021 sophomore season. Nonetheless, the former UDFA could very well earn a roster spot again as a cornerback/safety hybrid.
OL Yasir Durant: New England acquired Durant via trade last year, and he ended up appearing in nine games as a depth player at right tackle and right guard. Heading into 2022, he will compete for a similar spot again.
WR N’Keal Harry: Mandatory minicamp left little doubt about Harry’s future in New England. The former first-round draft pick saw most of his reps with the scout-team offense, and is buried on the wide receiver depth chart. The N’Keal Harry experiment will soon be coming to its disappointing end.
WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey: The Patriots signed Humphrey last week to bolster their wide receiver depth. The fourth-year man needs to get up to speed quickly or else he will be little more than a camp body.
CB Jack Jones: One of the surprise stories of minicamp was Jones seeing starter-level reps at outside cornerback. Obviously, he has a long way to go before any role is set in stone but it was encouraging to see the fourth-round rookie play some competitive football in his most extended NFL action to date.
WR Tre Nixon: Speaking of minicamp standouts, Tre Nixon put on a show during the two-day event. The 2021 seventh-round pick was Mac Jones’ top target and displayed some deep-ball and contested-catch abilities. Training camp and the preseason will ultimately determine his roster outlook, but the young wideout certainly built some momentum.
G Michael Onwenu: An on-again/off-again starter during his first two years in the league, Onwenu will be New England’s starting right guard moving forward. With Shaq Mason now in Tampa Bay, the former sixth-round selection out of Michigan is the next man up.
DT LaBryan Ray: It is far too early to say which undrafted free agents will have the best shot at making the 53-man roster this fall, but Ray will be a player worth watching in training camp. The Alabama product played five full seasons under Nick Saban, and has some run-stuffing potential.
DT Sam Roberts: New England used a sixth-round draft pick on Roberts in early May, meaning that he has to earn his spot on the team. That said, the Northwest Missouri State product offers the positional flexibility along the interior D-line to carve out a depth role.
C Kody Russey: With David Andrews set in stone as the Patriots’ starting center, Russey will have to fight for a depth spot. He has considerable experience after having started 60 games across six collegiate seasons and looks like a developmental option.
RB Rhamondre Stevenson: A fourth-round pick last year, Stevenson had a solid rookie campaign as the Patriots’ RB2 behind Damien Harris. His role is only expected to grow entering his second year in the system.
RB J.J. Taylor: With James White still nursing a hip injury that cost him most of the 2021 season, Taylor was asked to serve as the lead receiving back in mandatory minicamp. If the third-year man can build on that role, he might be able to yet again sneak onto the roster.
CB Joejuan Williams: Another member of what is starting to look like a rather disappointing 2019 draft class for New England, Williams is in a similar spot as N’Keal Harry. The former second-round pick saw only limited action over his first three seasons, and is not guaranteed to make the team in Year 4.
LB Mack Wilson: The Patriots acquired Wilson via trade from the Cleveland Browns this year, and he should be able to make the team. Not only does he offer an intriguing skillset as an off-the-ball linebacker, he also has considerable special teams experience.
As can be seen, the Patriots have some intriguing talent on their roster aged 24 or younger. The biggest name on that list obviously is Mac Jones, who will serve as the team’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future and who showed full control of the New England offense so far during the offseason.
Other players worth mentioning as the best under-25 talent on the current payroll are defensive tackle Christian Barmore, linebacker Josh Uche and running back Rhamondre Stevenson — all of whom project as key members of the team this year. As for the rest, it is a mix of intriguing potential (e.g. Cameron McGrone), relatively unproven talent (e.g. Cole Strange) and disappointing former early-round draft picks (e.g. N’Keal Harry).
All in all, however, the Patriots have a solid foundation as far as the youth on their roster is concerned. It would therefore not be a surprise to see at least one if not more players on the PFF best-under-25 list next year.