The backbone of the Patriots' dynasty has been Tom Brady, but that doesn't mean that young players haven't made a big impact over the years. However, ESPN disagrees, as they ranked the Patriots 32nd in the NFL in terms of talent under 25 years old. What?
The Patriots are no Jaguars, who have a top-15 QB, two top-20 WRs, a standout MLB, and shutdown CB all under 25 years old, but the cupboard isn't bare in New England. Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Malcolm Butler are all 26, and Dion Lewis and Logan Ryan are 25, which hurts the Pats in the rankings (under 25 doesn't include 25, unfortunately), they still have starters Malcolm Brown, Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson, and Cyrus Jones, and key backups Malcolm Mitchell, DJ Foster, and Jonathan Jones, all under 25. Unfortunately, ESPN didn't place much value on the starting guards (most likely because they didn't exactly set the league on fire) and completely discounted Cyrus Jones, Mitchell, and the rest. It's surprising, considering they gave other recent draftees much more weight.
Some other teams are ranked higher, though they seem to have less real U25 talent. Take the Cowboys, for example. ESPN ranked them 24th on the back of who? Left guard La'el Collins. Him, corner Byron Jones, and rookie Ezekiel Elliot are the only real young talent the 'Boys have, considering Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence are suspended and Jaylon Smith is injured.
Another interesting example is the Jets, ranked 19th because of two significant contributors: DE Leonard Williams and FS Calvin Pryor. For New York, ESPN also gave heavy credit to situational pass-rusher Lorenzo Mauldin and injured tight end Jace Amaro (who has yet to play a down after missing his rookie year with a torn labrum). If two good starters and two role players was all it took to get a middle-of-the-road ranking, the Pats should be at the top! New England has four young starters (Brown, Mason, Jackson, Cyrus Jones), and three more role-players (Mitchell, Foster, Jonathan Jones). And that doesn't even touch special teams, where rookies Kamu Gruiger-Hill and Elandon Roberts are expected to play heavy roles. None of this explains the fact that the Jets were ranked 13 spots higher.
ESPN has long had a grudge against the Pats (see: Deflategate, Stephen A. Smith, Ray Lewis, the Bill Simmons saga), but they've usually grudgingly acknowledged the Patriots' greatness (they ranked Tom Brady #1 in their QB rankings, for example). This, though, takes it to another level--the Patriots don't have the league's best under-25 talent, but they're certainly better than 32nd. Come on, ESPN. Come on.
Read the original ESPN article here (Insider required)
Photos courtesy Bleacher Report, 24/7 Sports, Youtube
Like what you read? Read more by me here, and follow me on Twitter @aidan_stenson!