This article came from Football Outsiders. I think it's interesting to see where the Falcons are in this list. 24th the Falcons rank with young talent 25 and under. Only Spoon and Jones are considered potential stars if not already. I've been saying this for awhile TD needs to get better young talent on the team. It isn't easy but it can be done looking at the 49ers and Seahawks as examples. Because we have Ryan it makes up for a lack of young talent but if TD doesn't acquire it the window of opportunity will be short. The 49ers look strong for years,the Seahawks even with all their young talent went out and got to good def ends something the Falcons lack. Hopefully Osi can buy us some time until one of the youngsters can break through but if the youngsters don't break through and turn out to be just bench warmers what does that say about TDs drafting at a critical position. We;ve had this problem for years finding young quality def ends. The off line is also another area where the youngsters need to come through and the same applies. If the youngsters don't show they are going to be quality then it's another huge miss TD needs to improve upon.
NFL 25-and-under org rankings
Rating every team in the league based on the best 25-and-under talent
Updated: July 23, 2013, 4:56 PM ET
By Rivers McCown | Football Outsiders
Russell Wilson's Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick's 49ers are loaded with young talent.
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.)
1. Seattle Seahawks
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.
2. San Francisco 49ers
As was the case last season, only their NFC West brethren can match the level of elite young talent the 49ers possess. No team has a one-two punch as good and impactful as Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith, even if both have tiny blemishes on their overall résumés. Anthony Davis has blossomed from a raw, powerful tackle to a complete mauler in the run game, and NaVorro Bowman is either the best or second-best middle linebacker in the league, depending on how you rate him against teammate Patrick Willis. Oh, and even though he's injured, Michael Crabtree, who last year busted through with his first 1,000-yard season, still qualifies for this list.
Beyond those guys, the 49ers have solid young supplementary backs like LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter. Cornerback Chris Culliver, despite his struggles in the playoffs, was a very valuable player over the past couple of seasons. Then you really pull back and begin to look at the depth. San Francisco managed all this production in the now despite basically redshirting its entire 2012 draft class. It had more picks than any other team in the 2013 draft. Then the 49ers traded Alex Smith for two more high-round picks. The 49ers are "out-Belichicking" Bill Belichick, and as a result, their roster is downright scary.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have the horses to hang with the top two teams on this list. In Geno Atkins and A.J. Green, they have a one-two punch of Pro Bowlers that would be the envy of just about any team in the league. Carlos Dunlap just got a huge extension and is a credible young edge rusher. They upgraded their skill positions drastically by bringing in Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard to a unit that was already likely to get better with second-year improvements from Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. There's every reason to believe that Kevin Zeitler and Trevor Robinson can be long-term fixtures on the offensive line. Vontaze Burfict was a big hit as an undrafted free agent, and between 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick and 2012 third-round defensive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, there's a lot of draft value that hasn't even had a chance to break into the starting lineup yet.
What's separating them from the top is Andy Dalton. Dalton has proved that he's an average to slightly above-average starter over his first two seasons, but his arm strength limitations have been evident against the better defenses in the league. Until Dalton can put together a season like the quarterbacks ahead of him on this list have, the Bengals can't climb above them.
4. Washington Redskins
After the Robert Griffin III trade, we wondered if this team would be able to build a young roster without the benefit of the first-round picks it dealt to acquire its franchise quarterback. Finding a dynamic back like Alfred Morris in the sixth round last year certainly was a good start.
The Redskins had a lot of young players step forward last season even beyond RG III and Morris. Ryan Kerrigan had to take on top tackles after Brian Orakpo was lost for the second straight season, responding with 8.5 sacks and 27 hurries along with sterling play against the run. Trent Williams started all 16 games for the first time in his career. Kirk Cousins outplayed his draft value while RG III was hurt and has become an asset that could potentially be cashed in down the road. Perry Riley covered well and took on a big workload at middle linebacker. It would've been nice if Jarvis Jenkins took another step forward -- or if Washington found a reliable receiver between Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson last season -- but thus far they've done a good job of infusing the team with young talent. As long as RG III's star continues to shine, they'll only need to keep finding consistent contributors to be near the top of this list for the next few seasons.
5. Green Bay Packers
Two giant leaps spearheaded Green Bay's annual top 10 ranking: (1) the breakout year enjoyed by Randall Cobb, and (2) the show that Casey Hayward put on in his debut. Hayward ranked first among all cornerbacks in adjusted success rate, and Cobb finished sixth among wide receivers in defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) despite being the No. 1 option while Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings were fighting through injury-plagued seasons. They're joined as true stars by safety Morgan Burnett, who was recently given a large extension by general manager Ted Thompson that will keep him in Green Bay for the long term.
Youth, as always, is a focus for the Packers. Bryan Bulaga will come back from a fractured hip to assume the left tackle role, and Nick Perry will come off his wrist injury and get a chance to give Green Bay a second terrifying pass-rusher. (In our SackSEER system used to project the pass-rushing success of college edge rushers, he was the top-ranked prospect in the 2011 draft.) The Packers also have a stash of solid young defensive backs like Davon House and Sam Shields, and they were able to address their long-standing running back problem in the draft by selecting Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
6. St. Louis Rams
What the Rams lack in star power, they make up for in sheer numbers. The RG III trade with Washington has enabled St. Louis to stock its roster with high draft picks, and while not all of them have panned out as of yet, the Rams have to be happy with what they've dug up so far. Chris Long, 27, is the leader of a strong defensive line, while Robert Quinn joined the scene last season with a 10.5-sack campaign, and defensive tackle Michael Brockers also started to show flashes of stardom by the end of the season. Janoris Jenkins was up and down as a rookie, but his playmaking ability is a very promising sign for his future.
Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson and Zac Stacy make up a backfield in which every part is younger than 25. The St. Louis passing game has been inconsistent at best over the past few years, but the hope is that Tavon Austin and the free-agent additions of Jake Long and Jared Cook will push the young talent on that side of the ball into positions they are better suited for. Elsewhere, Chris Givens is more of a deep threat than a polished receiver, Lance Kendricks is more of a third option than a second banana, and Rodger Saffold is more of a right tackle than a left tackle.
That leaves Sam Bradford, amazingly still eligible for this list in his fourth NFL season, as the only person left to blame if the unit doesn't take a major step forward this year. The difference between the Rams and the NFC West teams above them on our list is the difference between "projected performance" and "actual performance."
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Despite the roller-coaster ride that is quarterback Josh Freeman, the Bucs still have accumulated a lot of impact young talent. Gerald McCoy is terrific against both the run and the pass at defensive tackle, Doug Martin immediately became one of the three or four best bell-cow running backs in the NFL, and Lavonte David helped turn the Buccaneers' run defense from meek (30th-ranked DVOA run defense in 2011) to mighty (third-best run defense DVOA in 2012) essentially overnight.
There's also still room for improvement, and not just with Freeman. Safety Mark Barron had an up-and-down rookie season and should see his responsibilities become a little more manageable with the signing of Dashon Goldson. Adrian Clayborn returns from his torn ACL and will be counted on to help the Bucs generate an actual pass rush this year. Plus, Luke Stocker should get to step into the starting lineup at tight end. They've also got a cadre of talent that, while underperforming thus far, could see sudden improvement: Players like linebacker Mason Foster, defensive back Leonard Johnson and defensive end Da'Quan Bowers all have the talent to put together better seasons than they did in 2012.
8. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly give this team a pair of cornerstones on both sides of the ball. Despite popular sentiment that Newton regressed, his DVOA numbers were better in 2012 than they were in 2011, and he's still lacking options on offense. Former seventh-rounder Greg Hardy, who has claimed he wants to garner 50 sacks this coming season, is still a good player even if he only tallies the 11 he posted last season.
Carolina has finally graduated Jonathan Stewart from this list, and none of its other players are star-level guys, but Captain Munnerlyn has been a creditable NFL cornerback even if he is a better fit in the slot. Josh Norman, Amini Silatolu and Byron Bell didn't have solid seasons last year but all were able to hold jobs as youngsters. The Panthers desperately need help at wide receiver, but they've done a good job addressing the other important elements of the passing game so far.
9. New England Patriots
Start with the best tight end in the NFL in Rob Gronkowski; injury prone or not, he's in the discussion as one of the most valuable players in the league. Surrounding him on offense are the one-two punch of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the backfield, which should help New England replace some of Aaron Hernandez's production. Add a budding Pro Bowl left tackle in Nate Solder, and even if the Patriots get no value out of Ryan Mallett, they've got more than enough offensive talent to survive without Hernandez and Wes Welker.
Defensively, a youth movement could propel New England higher in future years. The Patriots got a solid rookie season out of defensive end Chandler Jones, who notched six sacks and 26.5 hurries. Dont'a Hightower and Tavon Wilson both had rough rookie debuts but should see improvement in their second seasons. Alfonzo Dennard was a seventh-round steal on the field but his being pulled over for drunken driving while on probation makes him a question mark going forward. Jamie Collins had one of our best SackSEER scores of 2013, and Armond Armstead made our top 10 prospects list.
10. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts had a terrific 2012 draft, as you might've heard. Andrew Luck is already an incredible quarterback, and that's before we even think about whether he will improve. Dwayne Allen busted out as a terrific versatile tight end right away, and there's reason to believe Coby Fleener can help him out in the long run. T.Y. Hilton was immediately great at stretching the field in Bruce Arians' offense, and Vick Ballard was able to step in and outplay the other Colts backs right away.
The problem is that the 2012 draft is basically all they have so far. Anthony Castonzo was awful last year, leading the league with 36 blown blocks. The only defensive asset the Colts have who qualifies for this list is Vontae Davis, who spent most of the year being injured and/or ineffective. This team is still a long way from being completely rebuilt, which just goes to show how far a franchise quarterback can take a team in this league.
11. New York Jets
With Darrelle Revis gone, the mantle of star Jets defender passes on to defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Five sacks don't properly show how disruptive he was -- he added on 19 hurries and was terrific in the run game, even when dealing with multiple blockers. He's joined by a pair of returning receivers in Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley, as well as fellow front-seven defenders Quinton Coples and DeMario Davis.
The biggest chunk of value that the Jets have on this list, though, was introduced in April when they selected Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson and Geno Smith in the draft. Milliner will replace Revis in the starting lineup and keep the Jets from having to move Kyle Wilson outside, Richardson gives New York another lineman who excels in penetrating the backfield, and Smith had the highest score of this year's quarterbacks in our Lewin Career Forecast projection system.
12. Cleveland Browns
The Browns are another team that, like St. Louis, finds solace in numbers. The headliner is Joe Haden, who missed games for a PED suspension but continued to post solid numbers despite being surrounded by underwhelming talent in the secondary. More important, they are now set up with a pair of talented young pass-rushers in Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard. Sheard notched seven sacks and 16 hurries last season, while Mingo was the top pass-rushing prospect in the draft, according to our SackSEER projections.
However, the position where the Browns are most like the Rams is receiver, where they have an arsenal of young talent and are trying to shake out who belongs where. Josh Gordon is the most talented of the bunch but will face a drug suspension to start the season. There is renewed hope for Greg Little's hands, and Travis Benjamin had the team's best receiving DVOA in a small sample size. Jordan Cameron has not yet proved much on the field, but Rob Chudzinski loves the tight end position and Cameron has the skill set to be a contributor.
Cleveland also has some potential for growth after seeing a few of its young players perform under their talent level or lose time to injury last year. Trent Richardson qualifies on both accounts. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz came on late in the season after taking his lumps early. The last time Brandon Weeden would have qualified for this list, he threw three passes as a freshman at Oklahoma State (while backing up the immortal Zac Robinson).
13. Denver Broncos
With Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos have a 25-or-under star on each side of the ball. After that, they thin out a bit. Orlando Franklin is a decent young tackle, but he's not much in pass protection. Thankfully, since Peyton Manning is his quarterback, it doesn't really matter. The Broncos also have a pair of unproven backs who should get a chance this season in Ronnie Hillman and 2013 second-rounder Montee Ball. Brock Osweiler has the pedigree, but he also looks like he's going to get to develop for a while before we figure out if he's actually any good.
On defense, Derek Wolfe was a high-motor handful in his rookie season, and the Broncos may have him move to defensive end after spending a first-round pick on North Carolina's Sylvester Williams. Danny Trevathan was an acceptable sub-package linebacker in his rookie season, and Chris Harris and Rahim Moore were both positives in the secondary. Except for that one play. You know the one.
14. Tennessee Titans
The Titans tend to attack in areas, and they have amassed a boatload of front-seven weapons and passing-game options. Derrick Morgan, finally healthy, had a breakout year with 6.5 sacks and 28.5 hurries. Akeem Ayers also showed some chops as a pass-rusher in a nickel role and, along with Zach Brown and Colin McCarthy, helped form a linebacker corps with upside. Morgan shares a line with the surprisingly nimble Jurrell Casey, as well as Mike Martin and Karl Klug.
Nobody can accuse Tennessee of not giving Jake Locker weapons. Even though the mercurial Kenny Britt looked less than healthy coming off a torn ACL in 2011, the Titans piled on their receiver corps with first-rounder Kendall Wright in 2012 and second-rounder Justin Hunter in 2013. Tight end Taylor Thompson could be ready to assume a role in passing formations as well, especially since Craig Stevens and Delanie Walker aren't exactly dynamic weapons.
The latest area of attack was the offensive line, with Chance Warmack and Brian Schwenke coming in to alleviate an interior line that has been holding Chris Johnson back for the past three years. (At least in Johnson's mind, anyway.)
15. New York Giants
The Giants are taking a little bit of a penalty here, because while the young talent that they do have is substantial, it's either banged up or not completely proven. Hakeem Nicks has yet to play a full 16 games and just had his worst NFL season as a starter, while fellow star Jason Pierre-Paul struggled through a 6.5-sack season (despite 24 hurries) and may not be ready for the start of the season after undergoing back surgery.
Beyond those two, the Giants have stockpiled plenty of young contributors on defense like Linval Joseph, Jacquian Williams, Jayron Hosley and Prince Amukamara. They also have a pair of wild cards in the wildly talented Rueben Randle and David Wilson. Neither of them played much last season, but when they received chances, Wilson was phenomenal and Randle was physically dominant. Come next year, they could be the ones vaulting this team back into the top 10.
16. Houston Texans
How much respect does a team receive for having the best defensive season in modern history among its 25-and-under talent? How about a middle-of-the-pack finish on this list despite not having much in the way beyond J.J. Watt? Watt is the linchpin to end all linchpins, and the only other player age 25 or under to start more than 10 games and flash in a positive way was Kareem Jackson, who made a huge leap in his third season. (Derek Newton also started 13 games, but most Texans fans probably wish he hadn't.)
Houston has plenty of other young pieces, but none of them have really taken that leap to steady contributor yet. Ben Tate had a down season following his stellar 2011, Whitney Mercilus had problems setting the edge as a rookie and DeVier Posey tore his Achilles in the playoff loss to New England and will probably start the year on the physically unable to perform list. The good news for the Texans is that they'll return basically everyone from this list except Jackson and Newton next season, so they have a chance to finish much higher in 2014's rankings.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas has only a few known young entities in its starting lineup, but it's hard to quibble with a foursome of Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Morris Claiborne and Bruce Carter. Each of those players has a shot to be a top-five player at his respective position, and Bryant is already one of the five most talented receivers even if the consistency isn't yet there. DeMarco Murray is hardly an unstoppable force, but he's a steady back when healthy and is a net positive.
The Cowboys were pretty roundly panned for their 2013 draft, especially after trading down to select center Travis Frederick, who many had pegged as a third-round talent. But Gavin Escobar, Terrance Williams and Joseph Randle will help grow the skill-position depth that has been a bit of a problem over the past few seasons.
18. Minnesota Vikings
Dealing Percy Harvin hurts, but the Vikings had one of the two or three best draft classes of 2012. Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith both had some struggles early but were difference-makers at their positions by the end of the season. Blair Walsh completely turned around a special-teams unit that had Harvin and nothing else in previous seasons. FO top-25 prospect Jarius Wright was the best Minnesota receiver by the end of the season. Rhett Ellison and Josh Robinson were both contributors as rookies. All they did in the draft this year was add three first-round picks: cornerback Xavier Rhodes, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and wideout Cordarrelle Patterson.
In fact, the only reason the Vikings are this low on the list is that they are just now starting to turn around the program after a few bad drafts. Outside of tight end Kyle Rudolph and FO's No. 1 prospect, defensive end Everson Griffen, the Vikings really don't have much to show from the 2011 and 2010 drafts. Yes, Christian Ponder, your ears should be burning.
19. Miami Dolphins
The perception of the Dolphins as a young up-and-coming team has some basis in reality, but they're much older as a group than you'd expect. The strongest part of the team, the defense, is mainly driven by older players like Cameron Wake and Randy Starks. Jared Odrick is a stellar end and Olivier Vernon has shown flashes of brilliance, but we have no idea how much of Dion Jordan's obvious physical ability will actually show up as he assumes more of a role as a pass-rusher. Beyond them, the only projected starter younger than 26 on that side of the ball is safety Reshad Jones, who had a busy season as the Dolphins struggled to adjust to defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's zone concepts.
On offense, Ryan Tannehill showed a lot more than expected as a rookie, and Mike Pouncey is a building block at center. Jonathan Martin struggled in his transition from right tackle to left tackle after Jake Long's injury, and while it'd be foolish to say that he can't continue to grow, there were plenty of scouts who thought he was purely a right tackle coming out of Stanford. Lamar Miller has a prominent spot on our top prospects list and should be an improvement on Reggie Bush. But again, that's only four young players with prominent projected roles on this side of the ball. The Dolphins have some nice young pieces -- they just do not have much young depth around them.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
If stock in the Pittsburgh youth were a publicly traded commodity, now would be the time to jump on it. The main pieces of the puzzle for the Steelers are All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey and wideout Antonio Brown, who proved himself matchup proof in the eyes of Andy Benoit last season.
But the Steelers also have practically an entire young offensive line coming off injury-plagued seasons among David DeCastro, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. Cortez Allen has performed every time he's been given a shot and should be able to step in seamlessly for the departed Keenan Lewis. The draft added a potential star pass-rusher in Jarvis Jones and a scouting favorite in Oregon State wideout Markus Wheaton. Even though Brown will graduate from the list next year, the Steelers have a chance to be much higher on the 2014 list based solely on talent that wasn't given a full shake in 2012.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki have graduated from the list, so the two young returning cogs the Chiefs are relying on are Eric Berry and Justin Houston. We've been big fans of Houston from the beginning -- he was a SackSEER sleeper back in the day -- and increased playing time along with setting up across from Tamba Hali got him 10 sacks and 22 hurries. Berry struggled a bit in man coverage coming off missing most of the 2011 season, but his athletic tools were obvious, and he should continue to grow more polished with age. Dontari Poe did not provide much penetration but was solid against the run while notching an 84 percent stop rate (percentage of a defender's plays that are stops).
Beyond those two, the Chiefs brought in Eric Fisher with the first overall pick to help cement a line that they hope will grow together. Fisher joins Jon Asamoah, Jeff Allen, Rodney Hudson and Donald Stephenson up front. Stephenson struggled a bit with speed rushers but flashed enough to be a worthy starter had the Chiefs found a suitor for Branden Albert. Asamoah was the best of the four last season, while Hudson missed most of the year after breaking a bone in his leg. The less said about how the returning young skill-position players on the roster have developed, the better.
22. Detroit Lions
The Lions tumbled from second place last year after watching the vast majority of their defense become ineligible for the list. Matthew Stafford still qualifies, which is enough to get them out of the bottom few teams. Nick Fairley had a monster half of a season and could be unblockable next to Ndamukong Suh.
The problem is that beyond those players, the skill-position talent has seen its stock fall heavily since last offseason. Ryan Broyles tore his ACL for the second straight season, Jahvid Best is on his way to retirement after being let go, and Titus Young went AWOL and had to be released. The only young skill-position player outside of Stafford who stayed on the field was the disappointing Mikel Leshoure, whom the Lions thought so highly of that they made signing Reggie Bush an offseason priority. The top-tier talent and the possibility that Broyles can emerge keeps the Lions out of the cellar, but they have as little established young talent as any team in the league.
23. Philadelphia Eagles
Another team whose stock can be bought at its low point right now is the Eagles, where everything crashed and burned last season. LeSean McCoy is an incredibly talented back but dealt with concussion issues. Jeremy Maclin had the worst season of his career while playing through a variety of ailments. Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen both saw their values plummet while playing for a team that regularly gave up long completions.
About the only two young players who didn't plateau last season were Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. Cox turned in a promising season as a run-stopper, and Graham resurrected his career with 5.5 sacks and 26 hurries in a very limited role off the bench. The Eagles had a lot of other young players surface last season, but most of them didn't play beyond replacement level. Bryce Brown made a strong run at looking like a promising young back, but he was hit and fumbled it.
24. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons deserve a lot of credit for successfully sussing out that Julio Jones would be worthy of the bounty they spent to acquire him, and they are rewarded as such in our ratings despite how few important pieces they have who are 25 or under. But beyond Jones and Sean Weatherspoon, the talent Atlanta has that qualifies for this list tends to be more supplementary than anything.
Robert McClain had an excellent season in the slot last season, but as we went over at the beginning of this chapter with Brice McCain, that doesn't necessarily mean he's a long-term fixture in the lineup. Jacquizz Rodgers appears to be more of a change-of-pace back than any threat to Steven Jackson's job. Peter Konz will be shifting from guard to his college position of center after the retirement of Todd McClure -- hopefully that transition and the seasoning from his first year can help elevate the Falcons higher on this list next season.
25. Arizona Cardinals
The good news: Patrick Peterson is one of the very few cornerbacks in the NFL who can play boundary-man coverage without any safety help. That alone is worth a few bumps up this list despite the lack of supporting talent. Bobby Massie blew only four of his 27.5 blocks after Arizona's Week 10 bye. Plus, Michael Floyd has some untapped potential that could be better utilized after a full year of offseason activities and the acquisition of an actual quarterback.
The bad news: Nobody else on the roster in 2012 who qualified for this list moves the needle past "Just A Guy" status, and a few of them at this point would kill to be thought of as "Just A Guy." The 2013 draft brought in some high-quality players, but defensive back Tyrann Mathieu works primarily in the passing game and converting him to safety may be something that takes him some time to acclimate to.
26. Baltimore Ravens
After finally graduating Ray Rice from the list, the defending champions find themselves with a lot of could-be stars, but they haven't seen any sustained steps forward from the talent yet. Torrey Smith was phenomenal in the playoffs -- especially in Denver -- but hasn't put it together for a full season. Kelechi Osemele has cover-your-eyes tape at tackle but sterling tape at guard. Bernard Pierce played like he was shot out of a cannon, but only as a reserve. The same can be said regarding Pernell McPhee as an edge-rusher. Last year's top pick, Courtney Upshaw, was better at setting the edge than he was at rushing the passer.
On pure production, the Ravens probably deserve to be a few spots lower. But between respect for Ozzie Newsome and the fact that Baltimore has a recent record of late bloomers like Paul Kruger, the Ravens should do fine. Especially if they can turn around a few of their picks who have stagnated, like cornerback Jimmy Smith and nose tackle Terrence Cody.
27. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo had a lot of young starters last season, but most of them probably should not have been on the field: Aaron Williams had so many problems at cornerback that Buffalo is converting him to safety this offseason; T.J. Graham was so promising that the Bills selected two more young receivers in the first three rounds of the draft; and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard was practically given away to the Colts for first-round bust Jerry Hughes after the season.
Still, Stephon Gilmore and Marcell Dareus are a pair of very talented young building blocks, even if Dareus didn't always play up to his potential last season. EJ Manuel and Robert Woods should be the beginnings of the same kind of youth movement on offense, and Cordy Glenn played much better at left tackle than many expected him to coming out of college.
28. Chicago Bears
The strongest thing the Bears have going for them on this list is their up-the-middle defense. The young safety tandem of Major Wright and Chris Conte is among the best duos in the league, Stephen Paea was a monster at nose tackle last season, and second-round pick Jon Bostic should step in to Brian Urlacher's old spot sooner rather than later.
Both of last year's top picks, Shea McClellin and Alshon Jeffery, had up-and-down rookie seasons. Jeffery, in particular, is an important piece in this offense because the lack of secondary receivers around Brandon Marshall suffocated Chicago's offense last season. He's got the size to be a move-the-chains receiver in Marc Trestman's new offense, but he'll have to play to it.
29. New Orleans Saints
Not much has changed from last year's stark appraisal of young Saints talent. Between "Bountygate" and the trade to acquire Mark Ingram, the Saints have been starved of precious high-round picks, and it shows on game day. The only two players who qualified for this list to have started more than five games last season were Malcolm Jenkins and Cameron Jordan. Both were solid, but neither could help keep the Saints from finishing dead last in defensive DVOA.
Beyond that, the Saints are littered with young players who require a "but": Ingram has shown he can be a goal-line pounder, but he's not a lead back; Joe Morgan was an explosive deep threat but not a reliable part of a game plan; and Martez Wilson and Junior Galette have shown some ability to rush the passer, but haven't stuck in the starting lineup. Jenkins and first-rounder Kenny Vaccaro should be the kind of young safety combo that Rob Ryan needs to make his defense hum. The rest of this team's success will likely rely more on the aging Drew Brees.
30. San Diego Chargers
Perhaps the worst piece of analysis on last year's list was the idea that Ryan Mathews was a potential franchise back. Whoops! Mathews graduated, and Louis Vasquez's defection to Denver leaves the returning talent almost completely focused in the front seven. Donald Butler has shown the ability to be a star inside linebacker. Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes both blossomed under defensive coordinator John Pagano; Liuget finished second in the NFL in passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, and Greg McElroy still has nightmares of Reyes after what he did to the Jets offensive line in Week 16.
But with Melvin Ingram down for the year with a torn ACL and a rather iffy draft by new general manager Tom Telesco that brought in D.J. Fluker and Manti Te'o in the first two rounds, this team lacks a true impact player in the passing game (on either offense or defense). That's a serious problem, since San Diego has already watched Philip Rivers level off and Vincent Jackson walk over the course of the past calendar year.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
Under Tony Khan and David Caldwell, the Jaguars have begun to embrace analytics. It's not a moment too soon, because there's really not much in place for this team at the moment. Trade-ups for Blaine Gabbert (in 2011) and Justin Blackmon (in 2012) have robbed this team of a lot of draft value, and neither has been worth it thus far. Second-rounder Andre Branch (2012) had little impact in his rookie season, and the snaps that 2012 sixth-rounder Mike Harris played were more about injuries and poor play in the secondary than any real cause for joy. About the only pleasant surprise Jacksonville had last season was the breakout of wideout Cecil Shorts, and concussions limited him down the stretch.
This year's draft will help. Luke Joeckel should be an instant improvement over the woefully overmatched Cameron Bradfield, and for the first time in a while, the picks seemed to have a consistent theme that matched the coaching staff's ideas: big defensive backs for head coach Gus Bradley and speedy weapons for offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.
Oh, and they do have the best young punter in the league in Bryan Anger. Totally worth a third-round pick.
32. Oakland Raiders
The Carson Palmer and Richard Seymour trades are now old enough for the impact to be fully felt on the analysis of this system, and the effects are ugly. With Rolando McClain released, the Raiders return only three players under 26 who started 10 games last year: Stefen Wisniewski, Denarius Moore and Miles Burris. None of those three is exactly the next NFL superstar, though Moore's size-speed combination would be tantalizing if he could consistently stay healthy.
Can the Raiders squeeze some more value out of their in-house talent next year? Possibly. Cornerback Phillip Adams made our top 25 prospects list, and receivers like Juron Criner and Rod Streater stand to benefit from increased playing time. But what Oakland needs more than anything is a run of successful first-round picks. General manager Reggie McKenzie should have plenty of leeway, given the circumstances under which he took this job, but it won't matter if D.J. Hayden and the rest of this rookie class fail to make an impact on a weak roster.
Sometimes running the Mularkey offense makes me feel like I'm in a prison.