Patriots’ young talent ranked among worst in NFL by ESPN

Patriots

The Patriots’ under-25 talent was ranked 25th in the NFL by ESPN.

The Patriots selected Drake Maye in hopes that he’ll turn around their recent fortune with young offensive players. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Patriots had their highest draft selection in decades when they held the third overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, which might have been much-needed considering the talent on their roster.

New England’s under-25 talent was ranked 25th in the NFL in a recent list of each team’s young cores by ESPN’s Aaron Schatz. In determining the list, Schatz used the number of starts and snaps played by players under 25, an age-adjusted quality of play, positional value, accolades, value added in the 2024 NFL Draft, and expected starters for the upcoming season, among other variables.

Of course, the Patriots added quarterback Drake Maye with the third overall pick. But beyond Maye, Schatz doesn’t see much else elite, young talent on the Patriots, as he only lists Christian Gonzalez as another “blue-chip” player.

“The Patriots don’t have as much young talent as you would expect from a rebuilding team, but there are some strong young assets here,” Schatz wrote. “The top one is Maye, the quarterback of the future and this year’s No. 3 overall pick. He will be throwing to a receiving corps that includes second-round pick Ja’Lynn Polk (22), fourth-round pick Javon Baker (22), slot receiver DeMario Douglas (23) and potential deep threat Tyquan Thornton (24).”

While Schatz wrote that the Patriots might have some intriguing young players on offense, Bill Belichick’s inability to draft effective offensive players has been evident over the last few seasons. Mac Jones, a 2021 first-round pick, had a strong rookie season and finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. But he cratered by Year 3, getting benched on four different occasions in 2023 before losing his starting job for good.

Those issues go beyond Jones, though. A year after selecting the quarterback in the first round, the Patriots surprisingly took guard Cole Strange with their first-round pick in 2022. Strange has had some moments of decent play, but most would agree that he wasn’t with a first-round selection. He allowed three sacks and 22 pressures in 10 games last season, per Pro Football Focus. He also dealt with knee injuries last year, with one leaving his status to open the 2024 season in doubt.

Even Thornton, whom Schatz listed as a possible asset, hasn’t produced. The 2022 second-round pick only has 35 receptions for 338 yards and two touchdowns over the first two seasons of his career. Injuries have also played a role in Thornton’s ineffectiveness, playing in just 22 games to this point. He’s also had some crucial drops in the limited time he’s seen the field.

That’s not to say that all of the offensive players the Patriots have selected in recent years have been bad. Guard Michael Onwenu and running back Rhamondre Stevenson were both rewarded this offseason with new contracts. But both are 26, making them ineligible for this list, and some would argue that they play the least impactful positions on offense.

Defensively, the Patriots’ younger players have shown a bit more promise over the last few seasons. Gonzalez, as Schatz noted, is obviously the headline talent. The 2023 first-round pick appeared to be the favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year last season before a torn labrum sidelined him for the remainder of the year. He notably slowed down A.J. Brown, Tyreek Hill, and Garrett Wilson over his first three games, allowing 16 receptions on 24 targets for 167 yards and an interception, per PFF.

Christian Barmore, who turns 25 later in July, was arguably Belichick’s best draft pick over his final several seasons in New England. He broke out in a major way toward the end of the 2023 season, finishing the year with 64 total tackles and 8.5 sacks. He also had 49 pressures and 40 run stops, according to PFF.

Eliot Wolf prioritized keeping standout players New England drafted in his first offseason running the Patriots. While he retained notable contributors like Kyle Dugger, Joshua Uche, and Anfernee Jennings, each of them is at least 25 years old, making them ineligible for Schatz’s list. Additionally, the Patriots only have 12 non-rookies under the age of 25 on their roster, making it a bit more difficult to rank highly on Schatz’s list.

The view on the Patriots’ young talent can change in just a matter of a season, though. Many analysts gave their 2024 draft class high marks, liking that they selected offensive players with their first five picks. If Maye, Caedan Wallace, and one of Polk or Baker produce right away, it would be tough to imagine that they wouldn’t be highly ranked on this list come 2025.

Luckily for the Patriots, they aren’t the lowest-ranked AFC East team on Schatz’s list. The Dolphins were ranked last, graduating players such as Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips as they didn’t have any first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. The Jets and Bills didn’t rank too high, either, coming in at 11 and 16, respectively.


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