The New England Patriots aren't exactly loaded with fresh-faced talent, but you could make the case they have two of the NFL's best young players at their respective positions.
NFL.com this week unveiled its 2021 "All-Under-25" team, which lists the best player at every position who is younger than 25 (as of Sept. 9). The Patriots had two players on the list: 23-year-old Michael Onwenu (offensive guard) and 24-year-old Jake Bailey (punter).
Offensive guard and punter aren't the sexiest positions, but Onwenu and Bailey certainly earned their spots here. A sixth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Onwenu started all 16 games as a rookie, playing both guard and tackle while earning a spot on Pro Football Focus' All-Rookie Team.
"Onwenu blossomed into a dependable blocker as a rookie," NFL.com's Nick Shook wrote. " ... Onwenu is a prime example of what effective scouting can do for a team. In this instance, the Patriots unearthed a late-round gem who projects to be a rock-solid blocker for years to come."
Bailey joined the Patriots in 2019 as a fifth-round pick and earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2020 as one of the league's best punters. A lone bright spot for New England, Bailey was very effective at helping the Patriots win the field position battle.
"Bailey finished second in punts dropped inside the 20 with 31, trailing Seattle's Michael Dickson by one while also punting six fewer times," Shook wrote. "Perhaps most impressively, Bailey allowed just 71 return yards for the entire season (sixth fewest). The quick math tells us returners averaged less than a yard and a half gained per Bailey punt. That's elite production from the Patriots' punter."
We should clarify the "All-Under-25" team lists just one player per position, which is why there's no mention of rookie Mac Jones (Lamar Jackson was the choice at quarterback) or promising second-year safety Kyle Dugger (Jessie Bates and Minkah Fitzpatrick earned the nods there).
The Patriots will need their young players to step up if they want to improve upon their 7-9 record from 2020, so it will be interesting to see if any more Patriots crack this list in 2022.