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Age-old question: How young are 2013 Patriots?

09.03.13 at 3:53 pm ET
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At 22, Aaron Dobson is the youngest player on the Patriots' active roster. (AP)

At 22, Aaron Dobson is the youngest player on the Patriots’ active roster. (AP)

While much has been made about the Patriots suddenly going younger this year with the inclusion of 14 rookies on the roster — seven draftees and seven undrafted free agents — in truth, this year’s team is no different than the one that opened the 2012 season.

With the understanding that rosters change and evolve over the course of an NFL season — and that it’s entirely likely that things could change before Sunday’s opener against the Bills — the average age of the New England team that opened the 2012 season against the Titans averaged 25.7. And with the Tuesday morning addition of free agent tight end Matthew Mulligan to the 53-man roster, the current average age of the 2013 team is 25.7. (For more on how the Patriots stack up by age, check out this comprehensive roster breakdown across the league from ESPN’s Mike Sando. In his study, the Patriots have the 11th youngest roster in the league, as of last weekend.)

It is worth mentioning that the Patriots will open the season with 14 rookies on the 2013 roster — as this piece from Andy Hart notes, that’s more than any other season in New England in more than a decade. (On the other end of the spectrum, the 2007 Patriots broke camp with just four rookies on their roster, while they had six in 2003, 2004 and 2005.) According to The Boston Globe, at this point New England has more rookies (14) and more undrafted rookies (7) than any other team in the NFL.

But when you take the average of the team across the board, the numbers are strikingly similar to last year. Here are a few interesting points by position:

• As expected, with the losses of Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and the addition of rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins, the biggest age difference is at wide receiver. The season-opening roster in 2012 had an average age of 28, and it eventually ballooned to over 30 when the team added Deion Branch and lost Greg Salas shortly after the season began. Now the Patriots open the 2013 season with a receiving corps that averages 25 years old. That includes the youngest guy on the active roster in Dobson, who turned 22 on July 23. For some perspective, that means Dobson was 10 years old when Tom Brady and the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams in New Orleans. (As of Sept. 3, Dobson is one of 15 players on the roster who are 23 or younger.) On the other end of the spectrum, Matthew Slater is the oldest of three 27-year-old receivers New England currently has on its roster, a group that includes Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.

• Overall, the youngest position on average is at running back — 24.25 years old. That includes Brandon Bolden (23), Stevan Ridley (24), Shane Vereen (24) and LeGarrette Blount (26). It’s the second consecutive year the running backs have had the youngest average age — last season, they were at 23.75. This position would have been an older group on average going into 2013 if it had kept the 31-year-old Leon Washington around, but Washington was released earlier this week.

• When it comes to youth, the running backs just barely edge out the linebackers, who check in at 24.57, down from an average age of 26 in 2012 (thanks to the addition of Jamie Collins, Steve Beauharnais and Dont’a Hightower. Just behind them are the safeties and wide receivers, who both average 25 years old, and the tight ends, who average 25.5. One thing worth noting when you talk about the age of the tight ends — while some have called rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld “Baby Gronk” because of his size, the rookie actually is 26 days older than Rob Gronkowski. Sudfeld had injuries issues in college, and because of those problems he was able to land a sixth year of eligibility at Nevada.

• The average age of the cornerbacks has gotten a little older since the start of the 2012 season, moving from 24.5 to 25.6 to open the 2013 season, but there are a few reasons for that. One, the midseason acquisition of Aqib Talib (27) boosted the age of the group. And because Devin McCourty started last season as a corner but opens this season as a safety, we’ve bumped him to his new position and replaced him at corner with 22-year-old rookie Logan Ryan.

• Despite the fact that the Patriots released young defensive linemen Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick, the average age of the D-line got a year older. The 11 defensive linemen who opened the 2012 season averaged 25 years of age, while the eight defensive linemen the Patriots will take into the 203 opener average 26. Part of that is the addition of 32-year-old Tommy Kelly, one of three defensive linemen who are 29 or older.

• For the second straight season, Brady is the oldest player on the roster. The quarterback, who was born on Aug. 3, 1977, turned 36 last month. If he wins another Super Bowl ring, Brady would be in rare company indeed. Only four other quarterbacks have won Super Bowls after their 35th birthday: Johnny Unitas (37 when he led the Colts to a win in Super Bowl V), Roger Staubach (35 when the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII), Jim Plunkett (36 when the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII) and John Elway (37 and 38 when he led the Broncos to Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII titles). In all, the Patriots have seven players on their 53-man roster who are 30 or older, including Brady, Kelly (32), offensive linemen Dan Connolly, Logan Mankins and Will Svitek (all 31), defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (31) and safety Steve Gregory (30).

• The oldest average position by age is quarterback, with Brady and Ryan Mallett averaging 30.5. It’s the second straight year that quarterback has been the oldest average position — last year, the QBs were at 29.5.

Ultimately, with 14 rookies on the roster, it would appear that the Patriots were purposefully trying to get younger this offseason. But according to Bill Belichick, that’s not necessarily the case.

“No, we want to win. That’s what we’re here for,” said the Patriots coach. “We kept the players that we feel give us the best chance to be competitive this year. That’s what our job is.”

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