Why Pro Football Focus ranked Patriots' 2021 draft class as NFL's best

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Why Pro Football Focus ranked Patriots' 2021 draft class as NFL's best originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots have had some weak draft classes over the last five or so years, which hurt the team's depth and made it necessary to splash in free agency last offseason to address major weaknesses on the roster

The tide appears to be turning, though.

The Patriots' 2021 draft class had a strong rookie season. In fact, the class was so impressive that it ranked No. 1 in Pro Football Focus' recent list of the top rookie classes during the 2021 regular season.

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Here is PFF's explanation for putting the Patriots atop this ranking:

"Why they're ranked here: Mac Jones was the most impressive rookie quarterback this season, earning an 80.4 PFF grade that ranked 11th overall. Christian Barmore became an impact player on the defensive line with 48 pressures that lead all interior rookie linemen. And Rhamondre Stevenson was a big part of the team's backfield all season."

The Patriots had three players from their 2021 class -- quarterback Mac Jones, running back Rhamondre Stevenson and defensive tackle Christian Barmore -- make an impact this past season. Defensive end Ronnie Perkins, linebacker Cameron McGrone, safety Joshuah Bledsoe and wide receiver Tre Nixon all did not play a single snap. Offensive tackle William Sherman played in one game.

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Many players from this class have not yet made their NFL debuts, but those who did see the field played at a high level.

Jones, as noted above, was the top rookie quarterback despite being the fifth player at his position drafted in the first round. He led all rookie QBs with a 67.6 completion percentage, 3,801 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes. Stevenson looked like a starting running back and Barmore was one of the top defensive rookies after playing a key role in New England's pass rush and run defense.

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One goal for the Patriots in 2022 should be getting even more production from Jones, Stevenson and Barmore, while also developing the other players from the 2021 class into regular NFL contributors. Perkins has a lot of potential as a pass rusher -- an area the Patriots need to improve entering next season. McGrone could give the linebacker corps a much-needed injection of youth and athleticism. Bledsoe could do the same for a safety group with some older veterans such as Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips.

The Patriots' 2021 class has been excellent so far, but it could be even better depending on how the other players develop over the offseason.