As one does in the offseason, NFL.com’s Nick Shook got creative and put together an all-under-25 team. The team was compiled just like an All-NFL team with one or two players from each offensive, defensive and special teams position. The rules for this list, however, was that in order to be eligible, the player must be younger than 25 years old on September 9, the day the 2021 season kicks off.
How many Patriots made the team? Only two. Guard Mike Onwenu, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, made it. At just 23 years old, the University of Michigan product started all 16 games as a rookie in 2020.
All-Pro punter Jake Bailey also represented New England. The 24-year-old finished last season second in punts inside the 20 with 31, and with him booting the ball, the Patriots allowed less than two return yards per punt.
The two Patriots on the list are at relatively unimportant positions, which is concerning. Bailey and Onwenu have been real finds, to be certain. But the Patriots’ roster lacks surefire young pieces to build around in order to return to Super Bowl contention. Sure, there are names that generate some excitement – cornerback J.C. Jackson could have easily made the list, while 22-year-old linebacker Josh Uche has shown some promise. But there are no obvious snubs from the Patriots on the list, which is indicative of their need to develop more impactful young talent than they’ve had in the past couple of years.
The Patriots aren’t in rebuild mode, and they don’t need to be. They do have plenty of talent in general, especially with a recent free-agent spending spree and some big names returning on defense. However, when you look to the future, there just isn’t as much on the horizon. Their free-agent spending was, in large part, to make up for a cold streak at the top of the draft. And the draft woes are the biggest reason that they needed a fifth-round punter and sixth-round guard to even show up on the All-Under-25 Team.
Looking ahead, if Shook makes this list again in 2022 or 2023, New England fans should hope it includes at least one player from the 2020 or 2021 draft classes. The easy choice is quarterback Mac Jones, but he has a lot of talent to go up against at his position: Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, and Trevor Lawrence, to name a few. Can he really compete with those guys? It’s still early in the offseason evaluations, but Jones is even having some difficulty beating Cam Newton out of the Patriots’ starting spot. He would have to improve greatly to get up to their level.
Defensive tackle Christian Barmore should have a chance of making the list. The guy was a beast at Alabama and has the potential to make an immediate impact. Tennessee’s Jeffery Simmons and New York’s Quinnen Williams represent the interior defensive linemen on the All-Under-25 Team for 2021. Both have bright futures ahead and are only 23, but Barmore’s size (6-foot-5, 310 pounds) and explosiveness could earn him a place on the team in a season or two.
The big takeaway from this list: the Patriots aren’t young. They are an aging team with an aging coach in a division that is getting younger and more talented each year. If New England wants to continue to compete, they will need to start hitting on some of their young talent.