- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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In a recent piece posted on ESPN.com, Football Outsiders' Rivers McCown broke down the 32 NFL teams based on the talent level of players under the age of 25 on their roster, with the Patriots placing ninth on his list.
In a related post, ESPN NFL draft expert and football analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. has unveiled his list of the top players in the NFL under the age of 25.
Among Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski, unsurprisingly, rates highest, coming in at 12th on Kiper's list.
He writes of Gronkowski:
Current: When healthy, Gronk might be the hardest player in the NFL to cover. He dips only on health worries. He has caught 38 touchdowns in 38 NFL starts and has done it for a team that is pretty good about spreading the ball around on offense. At 6-6, 265 pounds, Gronkowski is a power forward being guarded by point guards, and his 16-start 2011 season, in which he caught 90 passes for 1,327 yards and led the NFL with 17 TD catches, is as good a season as we've seen from a tight end. It all comes back to one phrase, though: "When healthy …"
Future: That Gronk's offseason surgeries have been overshadowed in New England doesn't mean they aren't a concern. He missed a full college season with a spine injury, and his list of ailments at the NFL level is starting to add up. The good news is Gronk is still just 24."
And while Gronkowski is among the most talented young players in the NFL, the Patriots also possess one of the most invaluable veteran pieces in quarterback Tom Brady, soon to be 36.
In his second annual trade-value column, Grantland.com's Bill Barnwell places Brady seventh, trailing five other quarterbacks.
This is partly unfair, because Brady left money on the table to help try to build a winner in New England; if he got traded, I suspect he would want to grab that money off the table, so I'm factoring that in.
Brady's numbers unquestionably dipped last year. His completion percentage was 63.0 percent and he averaged 7.6 yards per attempt; both are the lowest figures he's hit since Moss and Welker arrived in 2007. Those are still excellent figures, of course, but they're not the greatest-of-all-time figures from 2007 or 2010. At age 36, it's safe to say those days are gone. His interception rate was an unsustainably low 1.3 percent, so he'll add a few more picks next year, and this is all before we consider the drastic overhaul in his receiving corps and what that's likely to do to his performance. The odds are against Brady ever being this high again.
Brady is one of two Patriots to make Barnwell's list, as left tackle Nate Solder ranked 49th.
To read Kiper's piece (Insider content) CLICK HERE.
And to read Barnwell's piece, CLICK HERE.