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Scott SprattSpecial to ESPN.com
- Senior Analyst, Football Outsiders. Scott is a Sloan Analytics Research Paper Competition and Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner and was a 2018 finalist for FSWA Football Writer of the Year.
Football Outsiders’ annual effort to rank every team by its talent under 25 years old has always provided a preview of the teams most likely to compete for the playoffs in future seasons. But increasingly, these rankings also capture teams’ short-term chances, in particular for the ones that hit on their drafted quarterbacks and can use the cost savings from their rookie deals to load up on veteran skill-position and defensive talent.
Look no further than the 2018Los Angeles Rams. They made it all the way to the Super Bowl the same year that they jumped from 27th to firstin our under-25 rankings. Perhaps this year’s top team can follow suit with a similar formula.
This year’s rankings have a new wrinkle: We are still ranking teams based on their under-25 talent, but are giving consideration to the value and length of those players’ current contracts. That will push up the teams with productive players who have several years left on inexpensive rookie contracts and push down the teams that have already had to, or will soon have to, pay their experienced young talent. That change adds a bit of complexity to the rankings, but better aligns them with the mission of this endeavor to identify the teams best positioned to succeed over the next few years.
Head here for more information on our ranking methodology, andgo here for intel on some statswe reference throughout. You can learn more about these and other Football Outsiders statisticsfrom this article, theFootball Outsiders glossary, or in the newly releasedFootball Outsiders Almanac for 2019.
Here are our rankings for this season. All ages are as of September 1, 2019. “Blue-chip” players are cornerstone assets from whom teams will likely derive their biggest future value. Read through the full file 1 to 32, or jump to your favorite team by clicking on a link here:
Blue-chip players:Baker Mayfield, QB;Denzel Ward, CB;Myles Garrett, DE; Kareem Hunt, RB
Notable graduated players:Larry Ogunjobi, DT,Joe Schobert, MLB;Emmanuel Ogbah, DE; Duke Johnson, RB;Trevon Coley, DT
Calling the Browns’ draft-day decisions from 2016 to 2018 controversial might be underselling it. They traded away the No. 2 pick that becameCarson Wentz; selected pass-rusher Myles Garrett ahead of quarterbacksMitchell Trubisky,Patrick Mahomes, andDeshaun Watson; and finally selected Mayfield and Denzel Ward with their resulting top-four picks when many preferredSam Darnold,Bradley ChubborSaquon Barkley, among others. Executive Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson couldn’t survive those decisions — and maybe should not have considering their entire body of work — but new general manager John Dorsey and head coach Freddie Kitchens are poised to have the last laugh at the helm of the league’s most valuable young roster.
Mayfield is the Browns’ keystone asset. They were rewarded for adhering to QBASE-Football Outsiders’quarterback prospect projection systemand other advanced metrics that preferred Mayfield to the more physically gifted Darnold andJosh Allen. Mayfield looks like a star in traditional statistics (63.8% completion percentage, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions) and by his 628 passing DYAR,12th in the NFL, as a rookie.
Ward and Garrett join Mayfield as blue-chip players with several years left on their rookie deals. The former had the third-highest success rate in coverage in his rookie season (63%), and the latter was a top-10 run-stopper at his position who added 13.5 sacks and 33 hurries. Kareem Hunt has been a blue-chip performer on the field, as well, adding more than 300 combined rushing and receiving DYAR in 11 games in 2018 before the Chiefs released him after the release of a video that showed him in an altercation with a woman in early 2018. If he makes good on his second chance, he will return from an eight-game suspension to join second-year backNick Chubbin what could easily be the best running back duo in football.
Beyond their top talent, the Browns are flush with young depth on both sides of the ball in the form of receiversAntonio CallawayandRashard Higgins, tight endDavid Njoku, and their second- and third-round draft picks in 2019, cornerbackGreedy Williamsand linebackerSione Takitaki. They might not be the favorite to win the upcoming Super Bowl, but they will be the best-positioned team to make runs in each of the next five seasons if they can correctly balance their new talent’s disparate personalities.