- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The Patriots took a step in the right direction.
After missing the playoffs in 2020, the Pats were back in the postseason this season. Although it ended in embarrassing fashion in Buffalo, a big takeaway from the 2021 season is that the Patriots franchise took a step forward in its reconstruction from the Tom Brady years.
The key for any franchise is to acquire talented young players and develop those players into cornerstones. When it comes to the NFL Draft, the Patriots have struggled mightily in the first three rounds. The last Pro Bowler the Pats drafted in the first three rounds was Jamie Collins in 2013. They haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl player on offense since Rob Gronkowski in 2010.
Lessons Learned: Pats can learn from QB Jim Plunkett when it comes to developing Mac Jones
This past year, however, we saw a collection of rookies and other young players make an impact. Here are 10 Patriots players, age 25 and younger, who should make the future bright in Foxboro.
Mac Jones, age 23
Jones was the best rookie quarterback of the 2021 season — and one of the best of all time. His 67.6% completion rate was the second-best for a rookie and his 3,801 passing yards were the fifth-most in NFL history. Those 22 touchdowns were tied for eighth among rookie quarterbacks in league history.
A lesson in humility: Here's how Patriots' Mac Jones developed into the ultimate teammate
Kyle Dugger, 25
After being drafted out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, Dugger developed into a starter in his second season. This season the safety finished with 92 total tackles, tied for second on the team, and led the Pat with 70 solo tackles. Dugger also improved in pass protection, finishing second on the team with four interceptions.
Damien Harris, 24
Harris was arguably the Patriots most dangerous weapon on offense. The third-year running back finished 10th in the NFL with 929 rushing yards and tied for second with 15 rushing touchdowns. After the Pats’ wild-card loss, running backs coach Ivan Fears told Harris, “You keep that attitude and you’re going to have a great career.”
Barmore looks like a future stud and absolute steal of a pick from the second round. The rookie defensive tackle finished tied for second on the Patriots with nine quarterback hits. Barmore is a blue-chip prospect and the Pats should be excited.
Jakobi Meyers, 25
Meyers led the Patriots with 83 receptions and 866 receiving yards. His 168 receptions through his first three NFL seasons are the fourth most in Patriots' history, trailing Gronkowski (187), Aaron Hernandez (175) and Vincent Brisby. Meyers is reliable and consistent, and is a restricted free agent.
Unlike most rookie running backs in New England, Stevenson didn’t need a redshirt year. He finished with 606 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The fourth-round pick looked explosive at times and created a dangerous 1-2 punch with Harris. The Pats running back position is in great hands with those two.
Jake Bailey, 24
Bailey’s play was down this season, but in 2020 the punter was a first-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. Bailey had three punts blocked this season but that wasn’t on him. He has the capability to be one of the best in the NFL. Bailey’s the first Pro Bowl player drafted since Collins.
Michael Onwenu, 24
It was a strange year for Onwenu. He started as the Patriots’ starting left guard but lost the job to Ted Karras. He started all 16 games as a rookie but started just eight games this season. You still have to like Onwenu’s talent and his future might be better suited at tackle.
Large-Scale Success: Michael Onwenu is quickly earning a place on the Patriots offensive line
Josh Uche, 23
The pass-rush potential is there. Uche had seven quarterback hits in nine games as a rookie. This year, he had three sacks in his first two games before falling out of favor with the coaching staff. Uche’s playing time was inconsistent but the linebacker brings speed and athleticism.
Cameron McGrone, 21
The Pats drafted McGrone in the fifth round knowing he wouldn’t play because of a knee injury suffered playing for Michigan. We’ve heard, however, that the Patriots really like this athletic linebacker. McGrone was the youngest player on the roster last season. If all goes well, he could have an impact in 2022.
Missing the cut
Ronnie Perkins, age 22, linebacker; Dalton Keene, 22, tight end; Myles Bryant, 23, defensive back; J.J. Taylor, 23, running back; Shaun Wade, 23, cornerback; Joshuah Bledsoe, 23, safety; Kristian Wilkerson, 24, receiver; Anfernee Jennings, 24, linebacker; Devin Asiasi, 24, tight end; N’Keal Harry, 24, receiver; Joejuan Williams, 24, cornerback; Gunner Olszewski, 25, receiver and returner; Jahlani Tavai, 25, linebacker.
There’s concern about the development of some of these young players. Harry and Williams look like busts at this point. We don’t have much hope for 2020 third-rounders Asiasi and Keene, either. There's some hope for Bledsoe, Bryant and Wade.
Perkins was a third-round pick who essentially had a redshirt year. He never played as a rookie — and that’s never a great sign for someone drafted that high who wasn’t hurt all season. When was the last time a third-round pick who didn't play as a rookie contributed later?
Patriots third-rounders (since 2000) who didn’t play as rookies: Yodny Cajuste (2019), Antonio Garcia (2017), Tyrone McKenzie (2009), Shawn Crable (2008), Guss Scott (2004) and Brock Williams (2001). It happened with second-rounder Duke Dawson in 2018.
There were 42 players drafted in the third round in 2021. Two didn’t play a game last season — Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai had knee surgery last summer; the other was Perkins.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Mac Jones and the Patriots: How Belichick can rebuild post-Brady