The New England Patriots are transforming into a team that no one should want to face in January. They've won four straight games, just blasted the Cleveland Browns 45-7 on Sunday, and they're only a half-game behind the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. might have quietly been the biggest winners of the entire slate.
The Patriots went on a well-document spending spree in the offseason, but their veterans aren't the only ones fueling their success. Their 2021 draft class has been equally impactful.
First-round quarterback Mac Jones is an early Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Second-round defensive tackle Christian Barmore played a season-high 76 percent of the defensive snaps Sunday. And fourth-round running back Rhamondre Stevenson (100 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Cleveland) looks like a future star.
Eight weeks remain in the 2021 season, but the Patriots could lay an early claim to having the best class in this year's draft. But how does it stack up with the best classes from the last three years?
That's what we're here to examine. We'll run down our top five classes from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 drafts based on factors like overall production, top-end talent, draft value and positional value.
5. 2021 New England Patriots
Do the 2021 Patriots really belong on this list already? Yes, and for a few key reasons.
The first is that they appear to have found their franchise quarterback in Jones. They didn't trade up for one like the San Francisco 49ers or Chicago Bears did. They stayed put at 15th overall and let Jones fall to them.
Jones didn't produce gaudy numbers against the Browns, but he was an extremely efficient 19-of-23 for 198 yards and three touchdowns. On the season, Jones has passed for 2,333 yards with 13 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 94.1 passer rating. Those aren't Aaron Rodgers-esque numbers, but they're impressive for a rookie.
Jones was the fifth quarterback taken in the 2021 draft, but he's playing as well as any quarterback taken over the last three years.
"Mac Jones is every bit as good as Joe Burrow," one NFL coach said, per NBC Sports' Peter King.
Barmore is proving to be a game-wrecker on the defensive interior—he has 25 tackles and 11 quarterback pressures—and was a tremendous value pick in Round 2. Meanwhile, Stevenson appears capable of being a longtime contributor in New England's backfield and perhaps a future starter.
These players are making a huge impact for a likely playoff-bound Patriots team.
New England's 2021 class might top this list in a few years. For now, though, it comes in at No. 5 due to its limited resume and the fact that Jones, Barmore and Stevenson are the only real contributors right now. Sixth-round tackle William Sherman has played only six snaps, and the rest of the rookie class has watched from the sidelines.
Round 1, No. 15: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Round 2, No. 38: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
Round 3, No. 96: Ronnie Perkins, DE, Oklahoma
Round 4, No. 120: Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma
Round 5, No. 177: Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
Round 6, No. 188: Joshua Bledsoe, S, Missouri
Round 6, No. 197: William Sherman, OT, Colorado
Round 7, No. 242: Tre Nixon, WR, UCF