Earlier this afternoon, Mike Reiss made mention of the fact that 23-year old Rob Gronkowksi was named to the top 10 players under the age of 25 list by new NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout.
The contributions of both Gronkowski and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez over the first two seasons of their careers reflects the Patriots’ ability to find ready-made talent through the draft.
The two are also central figures in a young wave of talent that the Patriots possess on their roster, which includes left tackle Nate Solder, linebacker Brandon Spikes, running back Stevan Ridley, and cornerback Devin McCourty, among others.
And while the Patriots have counted on several youngsters in recent seasons, and figure to do so again in 2012, this team very much holds a veteran mix as well.
In fact, the Patriots are the only NFL team with seven players on their current roster that have 10 or more seasons of experience. Should the team re-sign free agent defensive end Andre Carter, that number would grow.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at each position on the roster and examine it through the age microscope to see what the short-term and long-term outlooks for the group appear to be.
Outlook: Brady has shown little in the way of slowing up in recent seasons, and has expressed an interest to continue to play until he is no longer wanted by the team. He’s signed through the 2014 season, and it’s reasonable to expect he’ll last at least that long as an effective player. Both Mallett and Hoyer have shown promise in limited exposure, indicating that the team is in good shape for the present and the future at the most important position on the field.
Outlook: Prior to the signing of Addai, the Patriots were headed for a training camp in which they relied upon a young core of runners. Addai brings both versatility and experience, and that may help him keep a spot in the roster, despite the fact that Vereen, Ridley, and Woodhead appear certainties to make the 53-man squad already. The Patriots remain young at the position, and the best would appear to still be ahead for Ridley and Vereen in particular.
Outlook: In 2011, the fullback position was a virtual non-factor in offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s system. That figures to change slightly with Josh McDaniels now calling the shots (at least based on what he has done in previous offenses that he has coordinated), and the team has two options in Fiammetta and Larsen. It seems unlikely that both stick around, but age isn’t likely a consideration in such a scenario. Both have enough experience to be reliable, and neither looks near slowing down.
Wide Receivers (12): Deion Branch (32), Britt Davis (26), Jeremy Ebert (23), Julian Edelman (25), Jabar Gaffney (31), Anthony Gonzalez (27), Brandon Lloyd (30), Chad Ochocinco (34), Matt Roark (22), Matthew Slater (26), Donte’ Stallworth (31), Wes Welker (31)
Outlook: The Patriots have a lot of receivers. They also have a lot of receivers with plenty of experience, which is a kind way of saying this is an older group. Many of the above players are also entering the final seasons of their contract in 2012, opening the door for New England to turn over the group (at least in part) next offseason. The Patriots are a little thin on young talent, although Edelman has previously flashed ability to be a receiving regular, and Ebert was highly productive in college. Not to look too far ahead, but the Patriots could invest in a receiver in next year’s draft.
Outlook: As already mentioned, the Patriots are stocked with young talent at tight end. This group features two stars, and Fells may prove to be an important offseason signing as well. He can help both on the field and in the film room, where he can be a leader for the rest of the group to look to.
Offensive Line (15): Marcus Cannon (24), Dan Connolly (29), Robert Gallery (31), Kyle Hix (23), Matt Kopa (25), Dan Koppen (32), Logan Mankins (30), Nick McDonald (24), Nate Solder (24), Donald Thomas (26), Jeremiah Warren (24), Brian Waters (35), Ryan Wendell (26), Sebastian Vollmer (27), Markus Zusevics (23)
Outlook: The Patriots have an enviable mix of depth, experience, and youth on their offensive line, even with the departure of left tackle Matt Light. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer figure to bookend the line next season, and the team has a number of options to play on the interior (Logan Mankins may not be ready for the regular season after suffering an ACL tear late in 2011, and Brian Waters may opt for retirement). With the talent and position coach (Dante Scarnecchia) that New England has in place, the offensive line appears set for now and the future.
Defensive Line (14): Jake Bequette (23), Ron Brace (25), Brandon Deadrick (24), Jonathan Fanene (30), Marcus Forston (22), Justin Francis (23), Marcus Harrison (27), Chandler Jones (22), Aaron Lavarias (24), Kyle Love (25), Myron Pryor (25), Trevor Scott (27), Alex Silvestro (23), Gerard Warren (33), Vince Wilfork (30)
Outlook: The Patriots would add veteran experience with the re-signing of Andre Carter, but for now are set to trudge forward with a youthful crop of defensive linemen. That being said, the future of this group looks extremely bright, with perhaps no player giving Patriots fans more to look forward to than Jones. Wilfork is an anchor and defensive leader, and should be able to guide this group along in 2012.
Linebackers (11): Bobby Carpenter (28), Markell Carter (22), Jermaine Cunningham (24), Dane Fletcher (25), Dont’a Hightower (22), Nico Koutovides (31), Jerod Mayo (26), Rob Ninkovich (28), Brandon Spikes (24), Jeff Tarpinian (24), Tracy White (31)
Outlook: Linebacker, like quarterback, figures to be an area of strength next season and down the line. The Patriots have intriguing depth and impressive starting talent that should afford head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia the flexibility to throw a ton of looks at opposing offenses. Mayo, even at the age of 26, is the leader of the group and filled with veteran savvy, having learned from the likes of Tedy Bruschi.
Defensive Backs (15): Will Allen (33), Kyle Arrington (25), Josh Barrett (27), Sergio Brown (23), Patrick Chung (24), Marquice Cole (28), Alfonzo Dennard (22), Ras-I Dowling (24), Nate Ebner (23), Steve Gregory (29), Devin McCourty (24), Sterling Moore (22), Ross Ventrone (25), Malcom Williams (24), Tavon Wilson (22)
Outlook: Age isn’t much of a concern for the Patriots secondary as production is. The team has a youthful core in the defensive backend, but injuries and inconsistency resulted in a poor showing in 2011. Should the team be able to rectify the woes from 2011 going forward, it has a chance to build an impressive position group. McCourty and Arrington have each had seasons of seven or more interceptions, while Chung, Gregory and Wilson bring promise to the safety spot.