With the NFL training camps kicking off and the season on the horizon, teams around the league are busy evaluating and developing their young talent. Which clubs are best poised for the future? That was our task in ranking all 32 NFL teams by 25-and-under talent.
After dubbing the Texans the best such group in 2010, the Buccaneers the best in 2011 and the Patriots the best last year, we saw those teams suffer a lot of injury attrition and regression the following seasons. The idea of having a humongous base of young talent is desirable, but those players also tend to have massive fluctuations in perceived value.
Sample sizes in football are inherently smaller due to the short schedule, and this is something that should be taken into consideration every time we compose a ranking like this. Here are the criteria we used to come up with our rankings:
• The number of games in 2012 started by players under the age of 25
• Whether a team's young starters last season were simply injury replacements
• The number of 25-or-younger first-team All-Pros a team has on its roster
• The extent to which a team's 25-and-under talent plays impact positions in the passing game
• Whether a team has a talented young quarterback
• The amount of value a team added in the 2013 draft
• A team's recent track record of developing and retaining young talent
Once we had our objective rankings, discussion among the crew at Football Outsiders further tweaked the list, resulting in the final version that you see below.
You'll see a number of references to Football Outsiders stats on our list, in particular defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), which takes every play and compares its success to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You can read more about that and other FO stats here.
Here is our 25-and-under organizational ranking for this season. (Note: All ages are as of Sept. 5, 2013.)
Some teams can match Seattle's depth and some can match its star power. But no team can match both. It starts with star quarterback Russell Wilson, who has Golden Tate out wide while Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung protects the standout signal-caller. This year's draft added Christine Michael and Robert Turbin as potential long-term replacements for Marshawn Lynch.
But where the Seahawks really shine is on defense. Every level of the unit has at least one potential star player. Bruce Irvin was a divisive first-round pick on draft day and isn't much in run support yet, but it's hard to turn your nose up at an eight-sack rookie season. Bobby Wagner is another of the new wave of speedy linebackers who can bring the pain without being 250 pounds, and K.J. Wright has been an exemplary outside linebacker early in his career. Most important, the Seahawks have a shutdown corner in Richard Sherman and possibly the best safety combo in the game in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Teams that jump from 7-9 to 11-5 generally need a consolidation year before they're set to become contenders for good -- but the talent already in place in Seattle should keep any talk of regression a distant thought.