Aaron Schatz ranked the Patriots’ collection of under-25 players 30th in the league, despite the possible bright future of quarterback Mac Jones.

Mac Jones. Steven Senne/AP

The Patriots may have been able to retool on the fly to make themselves a playoff contender in 2021 with a strong free agency and draft.

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s sold on the brightness of their future just yet.

A new ranking on ESPN places the Patriots near the bottom of the league when it comes to their group of players under age 25. Author Aaron Schatz, who writes for Football Outsiders, slots New England just ahead of the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans, the only team in the league with no “blue-chip” players younger than 25 years old.

On one hand, you could argue the Bill Belichick’s crew has actually improved in this regard: the team came into 2020 ranked last in terms of their under-25 outlook.


Two key events — the drafting of first-round quarterback Mac Jones and the emergence of offensive lineman Michael Onwenu — are largely responsible for the boost.

“Mac Jones is the future of the Patriots and he’s just 22 years old; he’s clearly their most important young asset,” wrote Schatz. “After Jones, the best young asset here is one of last year’s big surprises: 23-year-old offensive lineman Michael Onwenu. The sixth-round rookie played all across the line. Ranked at right tackle, his most common position, he comes out sixth in snaps per blown block. He’ll replace Joe Thuney at left guard this year.”


Jones has turned heads at Patriots training camp with his accuracy, timing, and quick progression with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’s playbook. Though incumbent Cam Newton remains the favorite to start Week 1 of the regular season against the Miami Dolphins, who incidentally have the NFL’s best collection of under-25 talent according to Schatz, New England is giving Jones a heavy workload in camp with the team’s first preseason game approaching Thursday.

Onwenu, meanwhile, has been opening canyon-sized running lanes at left guard in padded practices alongside Isaiah Wynn, who is himself just 24 years old.

But while Jones and Onwenu are the only two “blue-chip” prospects in the Patriots’ cupboard right now, Schatz also highlighted several other young players that could make big strides for New England this year, including one of the guys Onwenu’s been paving the way for.


“Running back Damien Harris (age 24) is our No. 1 under-the-radar prospect this year,” Schatz wrote. “Last season, he ranked 17th in rushing DVOA and 19th in rushing success rate. Jakobi Meyers (age 24) was the only qualified Patriots wide receiver to finish with above-average DVOA last season, and he could be their No. 1 receiver again this season despite the additions of players such as Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Jake Bailey, a 24-year-old punter, made the All-Pro team last season and was No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ punting metrics.”

That sounds like a pretty solid group of young contributors. So why are the Patriots supposedly lacking in young talent in Schatz’s eyes? Because, well, too many of the other under-25s on New England’s roster just haven’t done enough yet.


One of the players on that potential breakout watchlist is 22-year-old linebacker Josh Uche. If he proves as unblockable against other teams as he looks against the Patriots, the Patriots will probably jump another spot or two next season just on his account.

Similarly, Schatz points out 2021 second-round pick Christian Barmore (22), who’s recently gotten some run with the starting defensive line unit and has dominated as a pass-rusher in camp, as a player to keep an eye on.

But for every one of those possible studs is a player like Joejuan Williams with tantalizing ability but little to show for it thus far in his career.


Or a N’Keal Harry, a 23-year-old former first-round pick who might be on his way out of town even as he enjoys his best stretch of football yet in camp.

Or a Sony Michel, who is almost certain to be playing for another team when the 2022 season begins after being supplanted by Harris as the Patriots’ top running back.

Though ESPN or Football Outsiders rankings may be subjective to an extent, the lack of impact players generated from recent Patriots drafts is not.

It will take strong showings from several of New England’s young playmakers to change that narrative this year and beyond.