New England

The 5 Most Intriguing Young Players on the Patriots' Roster

It never hurts to mix in a little bit of youth where it makes sense, and the Patriots have the ability to do just that at several position across the roster this season

On the opening day of the 2018 NFL season, the Patriots sported the league's third-oldest roster, with an average age of 26.8 years old.

The adage of going young need not apply in Foxboro.

Still, it can be jarring when you read a piece like this one from ESPN, which declared New England is 31st out of 32 teams when it comes to talent under 25 years old. Or an even more in-depth look from Football Outsiders, which said the Patriots had the highest snap-weighted age in the NFL in 2018.

No need to fret, New England won't be going young just for the sake of going young. It never hurts to mix in a little bit of youth where it makes sense, however, and the Patriots have the ability to do just that at several position across the roster this season.

In no particular order, here are the five most intriguing young players on New England's roster at the moment — four of whom are yet to play a snap in a regular season game — that will have a chance to make a serious impact in 2019.

Ja'Whaun Bentley, Linebacker
True, Bentley appeared in three games for the Patriots as a rookie last season.

That's not nearly enough of a sample size to keep him off of our list, nor is it any reason expectations should be tempered for Bentley. In the first three weeks of the regular season, Bentley was one of the standout performers for New England, in on 14 tackles and recording an interception before landing on injured reserve.

By playing in only 11 snaps vs. the Lions last week, it's clear Bentley is still regarded as a starting-caliber player, or close to it, by the coaching staff. If the Patriots' base defense is a 3-4 on first and second down, Bentley should be on track to start alongside Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy — and possibly over Jamie Collins, should New England keep some 4-3 looks.

Jakobi Meyers, Wide Receiver
At this point, it's not about whether Meyers makes the 53-man roster or not. It's about whether or not he's in the starting lineup on Sept. 8 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's been well documented that Meyers went undrafted out of North Carolina State last April, in part due to a subpar 40-yard dash time (4.63 seconds, or 36th among wide receivers). Whatever shortcomings Meyers may have with his speed, he's consistently demonstrated throughout training camp that he can make up for it with his hands, awareness and knack for the big play.

Just today, in the Patriots' first practice since dominating Detroit, Meyers made perhaps the best play of the day by any receiver with a diving catch in the end zone on a Brian Hoyer throw.

"Timing straight-line speed and quickness are two different things, so I would never try to classify them as the same," Bill Belichick said when asked of Meyers' 40 time. "Whatever it is, it is, at this point."

Meyers had six catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Lions last Thursday. It's preseason football against a team that missed the playoffs last year, but for context, former Patriot receivers drafted in much higher rounds such as Chad Jackson, Aaron Dobson, Brandon Tate or Josh Boyce never came close to putting up in an exhibition.

Is it too soon to put Meyers in Canton? Absolutely. Similarly undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins once had an eight-catch, 116-yard performance in the preseason for New England his rookie season.

"I have to keep proving to my coaches that I deserve to be here," Meyers said after the Detroit game. "I'm not on the team yet, I'm trying to make sure I can stay here."

N'Keal Harry, Wide Receiver
Not that Harry was a bust against the Lions — his two catches each demonstrated a different portion of his own unique skillset — but it was a tad concerning to see him leave the game with an injured leg and subsequently miss Monday's practice.

Harry comes from Arizona State with virtually no injury baggage over three seasons, missing only the Sun Devils' bowl game last December as he shifted his focus towards the NFL Draft. He's now missed practices both leading up to and after his preseason debut, however, potentially throwing a wrench into his progress for the rest of the preseason.

In a way, the development of Meyers is intertwined with Harry's. The more Meyers continues to flash, the less reliant the Patriots will need to be on Harry to return prematurely. Make no mistake about it though: Harry was drafted in the first round for a reason, and if what we saw in Detroit — however brief — is any indication of what's to come, he can help take the New England offense to another level this season.

Chase Winovich, Defensive End
Why Winovich over Joejuan Williams, who was drafted 32 spots before him in April? It's all about the chances Winovich should get to play over Williams, especially at the beginning of the season.

Williams will by no means be buried on the depth chart at cornerback, but opposite Stephon Gilmore, he'll be battling against J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones and possibly even Keion Crossen for snaps at the beginning. Williams led New England defenders in snaps played on Thursday, a sign he's still a way's away from working with the starters.

Winovich, who went 77th overall to the Patriots out of Michigan, has made the most of his opportunities in the early going. He was credited with 1.5 sacks and another tackle for a loss in the Wolverine State last Thursday, doing so in 24 snaps, or 53 percent of New England's defensive snaps vs. the Lions.

The one knock on Winovich coming out of school was his struggles in setting the edge against the run, so if nothing else, Week 1 of the preseason proved he's as advertised in getting after the passer. Michael Bennett and Deatrich Wise Jr. are your likely starters along the edge, whether the Patriots play a 4-3 or a 3-4, but John Simon is the only other sub-rusher who has legitimate NFL experience on the roster at the moment.

Isaiah Wynn, Left Tackle
For the first time this training camp, Wynn took part in 1-on-1 full contact drills on Monday morning, as sure a sign as any that his Achilles is nearly ready to partake in real football. Dan Skipper still took the majority of the reps in 11-on-11 drills, but Wynn also made his training camp debut in that segment on Monday as well.

"I'm always anxious to get back out there recovering from an injury — not just at that left tackle spot, but wherever they need me to be, I'm working every day to get better," Wynn said.

Wynn added that the team hasn't been working him anywhere else, but it warrants mentioning that left guard Joe Thuney is in the final year of his rookie deal and is due for a steady payday next off-season. Wynn, who's a bit undersized for the outside of the line at 6-foot-2, played both guard and tackle while at Georgia.

"I play big," Wynn said, asked if his height could give him a unique advantage in a sense.

If Wynn is the guy at left tackle this season and plays to his potential as a first-round pick, there'd be zero reason to move him off of the blindside and create New England's fourth vacancy at left tackle in as many seasons next year.

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