The New England Patriots are a team that is finally making the shift from competing as an old, weathered veteran team, to now becoming a talent pool of younger athletes built around Tom Brady's golden arm.
From Rob Gronkowski to Patrick Chung, New England saw phenomenal play from players under the age of 25 in 2011, performing alongside seasoned performers like Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork.
The Patriots kept the theme of youth going during this year's NFL Draft, especially bolstering their defensive unit. Here is a list of five players under the age of 23 that are going to have an impact in the 2012-13 NFL season.
1. Dont'a Hightower - University of Alabama - Linebacker
Fresh off of winning the BCS National Championship, Hightower is one of the most versatile defensive players in this year's rookie class. In his senior season with the Crimson Tide, Hightower posted 85 total tackles, earning him All-American and All-SEC first team honors. Hightower's flexibility as a linebacker gives the Patriots the opportunity to have an outstanding trio of Hightower, Brandon Spikes, and Jerod Mayo participating in the team's 4-3 defensive scheme. Hightower's presence will immediately impact the entire Patriots defense.
2. Chandler Jones - Syracuse - Defensive End
Jones is another talented rookie that will be given the opportunity to start for the Patriots defense on day one. With his superb athleticism as a pass rusher, Jones could be the consistent pass-rusher that New England has lacked since Richard Seymour was traded to the Oakland Raiders. The rookie pass-rusher measures at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, giving him decent size, along with great speed to rip past offensive linemen. A tandem of Jones and Nincovich at the defensive end position poses a constant threat to sack the opposing team's quarterback
3. Alfonzo Dennard - University of Nebraska - Cornerback
After being projected to be taken in the first or second round of the NFL Draft, Dennard ended up dropping to the seventh round because of an off the field issue. Dennard is very strong at the cornerback position, giving him the ability to manhandle wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and play with a physical approach to the game. The former Husker will most likely not start, due to the amount of depth at the corner position. Dennard, however, may slide into the defensive rotation at both the cornerback and safety position because of his great open field tackling skills and decent speed.
4. Tavon Wilson - University of Illinois - Safety
Wilson is also a player than can play both positions in the backfield, but finds himself more comfortable playing safety. At 6-feet tall and 205 pounds, he is strong enough to patrol the secondary as free safety, but is also capable of going one on one with wide receivers as a defensive back. In college, Wilson was extremely productive at Illinois, and racked up 81 tackles with two fumble recoveries. He most likely won't crack the starting lineup this year, but will also likely rotate in among the secondary positions.
5. Jake Bequette - University of Arkansas - Defensive End
Bequette was nabbed by the Patriots in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft and impressed the Patriots with his more than successful collegiate career, earning the honors of All-SEC first team. As a high energy player, Bequette is very persistent in shedding blocks and stopping the run, but needs to improve on his pass-rushing. Once again, he is one of those types of versatile players with great size at 6-foot-5 and 274 pounds that will fit in perfectly for the Patriots defensive scheme.