10 NFL Teams with the Best Young Talent
The NFL is increasingly a young man's game.
That statement feels like deja vu after writing about young quarterbacks last week.
It's not just a true statement for quarterbacks, though. Teams across the league are looking to get younger, though there are nefarious reasons beyond youthful upside involved.
As such, there are many teams on the rise that feature great, youthful talent. Some teams are just plain young all around, while others have some big-time talent at 26 years old or younger.
Which teams boast the best young talent in the league?
Honorable Mention: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings run on Adrian Peterson power, no doubt about it. The reigning MVP is 28, so he is out of this conversation in terms of age, but Minnesota boasts some fantastic players south of 26 years old.
Let's start with the rookies.
Minnesota was able to land some serious talent in the first round of the 2013 draft, taking Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson thanks to some trade ingenuity on the part of Rick Spielman. Each of those players should contribute as rookies.
They join promising second-year guys like safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Josh Robinson on defense and starting left tackle Matt Kalil on offense. Needless to say, Spielman has done a nice job in the draft in recent years.
The most enigmatic youngster on this team might be the most important one, however. Quarterback Christian Ponder is just 25 heading into his third season, but he has had a roller coaster ride with the Vikings.
The problem is that roller coaster hasn't exactly reached terrible heights. The Vikings made their surprising playoff run thanks to MVPeterson, at times in spite of Ponder's play. If he develops into a reliable starter, this offense could cause problems in the NFC North.
One of his best weapons is Kyle Rudolph, who is just 23 entering his third season. The big tight end will look to enter the upper echelon at his position this season—if Ponder can get him the ball consistently.
The Vikings roster is littered with promising young talent, but less accomplished, unproven individuals like Ponder and this year's rookies keep Minny outside of the top 10.
10. Detroit Lions
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They might be coming off an abysmal season, but the Lions have plenty to look forward to given the young talent on this roster.
He might get attention for all the wrong reasons, but 26-year-old Ndamukong Suh is one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the league. His partner in crime—no pun intended—is 25-year-old Nick Fairley, who is no slouch himself.
The defense isn't as privileged at other positions on defense (though 2013 first-round pick Ziggy Ansah may counter that point), but there are a lot of talented youngsters with potential in that secondary.
Offensively, the Lions have some of the best talent in the league. Calvin Johnson may not be a budding rookie anymore, but he is still just 27 years old (just outside the criteria here, but we'd be remiss not to mention him). His starting quarterback, 25-year-old Matthew Stafford, just signed a big extension.
9. Kansas City Chiefs
This might come as a surprise given Kansas City's recent woes, but the Chiefs have plenty of young talent.
The offensive line is one of the best and youngest in the league, averaging 24.5 years of age. Aside from 28-year-old left tackle Branden Albert, guys like Jon Asamoah (25) and rookie Eric Fisher (22) are big-time contributors.
Then there is the big kahuna, Jamaal Charles, who powered an otherwise ineffective offense last season. As running backs go, 26 isn't exactly young, but Charles still has plenty of time before age concerns hit him.
On defense, there are young studs like Eric Berry (24) at safety and Dontari Poe (22) at defensive tackle. Neither has quite lived up to his potential just yet (though Berry did make the 2012 Pro Bowl), but there is certainly promise there.
In all, the Chiefs are a bit older than some of these other teams, but there is plenty of talent there.
8. Cleveland Browns
The writing was on the wall for Cleveland's front office when Jimmy Haslam III bought the team in the middle of last season. After all, a new owner is going to want to hire his own staff to run the team.
But general manager Tom Heckert did an underrated job of stockpiling young talent in Cleveland before his ouster.
Don't believe me? Set aside the Brandon Weeden arguments (everyone knows Methuselah is somewhere between 47 and 969 years old) and just scan the roster.
What about Trent Richardson, the bruising second-year running back out of Alabama? Josh Gordon, for all his faults, is one talented dude at 22 years of age. Joe Haden is one of the league's best cornerbacks, and he just turned 24 in April. Mitchell Schwartz is a fine offensive tackle of the same age.
What's more, the Browns' leading pass-rusher last year was 24-year-old Jabaal Sheard. Add rookie first-rounder Barkevious Mingo to the mix, and this team seems to have the makings of a fearsome, young defensive line.
7. Miami Dolphins
For all the criticism general manager Jeff Ireland has received throughout his tenure in Miami, he has put together a team with plenty of solid, young players.
It all starts with the man under center, Ryan Tannehill. Heading into his second season at the helm, big things are expected from 24-year-old former Aggie. Likely lining up behind him at running back will be fellow sophomore Lamar Miller, who, at just 22, possesses fantastic upside. He also has a couple studs protecting him in Mike Pouncey (24) and Jonathan Martin (23).
On defense, the Dolphins have one of the best-kept secrets in the NFL: Reshad Jones. At 25, the fourth-year veteran has become one of the best safeties in the league.
Cameron Wake (31) might be a bit long in the tooth, but the Dolphins got him some help in the draft when they took Dion Jordan, a versatile defender out of Oregon who could get snaps at both defensive end and outside linebacker. He is fighting with second-year pass-rusher Olivier Vernon for playing time.
On top of all this, the Dolphins brought in 26-year-old speedster Mike Wallace in the offseason. The future is bright in Miami if Joe Philbin can wrangle his team for success. Whether Ireland is there to see it or not very much depends on a successful 2013.
6. Washington Redskins
Franchise quarterback? Check.
Young stud running back? You betcha.
The nascent Redskins have a bright future thanks largely in part to Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. The second-year players figure to buoy a resurgent offense in Washington and build on last year's playoff appearance.
Griffin has plenty of young talent around him.
Pierre Garçon is just 26, and he has displayed his ability to produce fireworks in that offense. The other receiver spots might be a bit unsettled, but youngsters Aldrick Robinson (24) and Leonard Hankerson (24) are going to be major players.
On the other side of the ball, Jarvis Jenkins (25), Ryan Kerrigan (24), Brian Orakpo (26) and Perry Riley (25) bring a lot of talented youth to that defensive front.
There is more than a smattering of youth sprinkled throughout the Redskins roster. There are also plenty of savvy veterans to help guide this team.
5. Cincinnati Bengals
There is a reason the Bengals have made the playoffs in the tough AFC North the past couple of seasons: young talent.
We can start with the obvious in A.J. Green. The 24-year-old receiver is entering his third season as one of the league's top wideouts, perhaps challenging Calvin Johnson at the top of the heap.
He is the catalyst that boosts 25-year-old quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense.
The offense is littered with young players. Receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are both 23. Tight end Jermaine Gresham, another one of those players who seems to have been in the league forever, just turned 25.
The Bengals also drafted some talented rookies in Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard.
Geno Atkins is arguably the most dominant defensive lineman in the league—he and J.J. Watt can duke it out for that title like Thor and Hulk—and he is just 25 years old.
4. Baltimore Ravens
What's this, you say? The Ravens, reigning Super Bowl champions that featured soon-to-be-AARP-eligible Ray Lewis have young talent?
With Lewis retired and Ed Reed gone, the average age of that defense went down about four years. That is not to say the team doesn't still have savvy veterans, but there has been a bit of a youth movement in Baltimore.
Rookie Arthur Brown looks to step in and take the mantle from the departed Lewis. Fellow rookie Matt Elam may not play the same position as Ed Reed, but he could step in and start right away as well.
Courtney Upshaw is entering his second season, and he figures to be a big contributor on that defense, too.
Though Joe Flacco doesn't qualify for a mention here at 28 years old, perennial Pro Bowler Ray Rice (26) may be considered overqualified. And the team's No. 1 receiver, 24-year-old Torrey Smith, is primed to explode in his third season in the league.
3. St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher has something brewing in the shark-infested NFC West, and it involves plenty of young talent.
Offensively, the Rams have one of the youngest cores of skill players in the league. Rookie Tavon Austin looks to electrify a wide receiver corps that has been lackluster in recent years.
He is flanked by second-year pros Brian Quick and Chris Givens, who promise to offer 25-year-old quarterback Sam Bradford some dependable weapons. That workload will certainly be lighter with two athletic tight ends in Jared Cook (26) and Lance Kendricks (25).
The only thing keeping the entire offensive unit from being one of the youngest in the league is an older offensive line.
Defensively, the Rams feature 24-year-old playmaking cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Michael Brockers, a 22-year-old defensive lineman who flashed great potential in his rookie season last year. James Laurinaitis, still just 26, has held it together as the starting middle linebacker since he entered the league.
2. Indianapolis Colts
Perhaps no team has done a better job of stockpiling young talent over the past couple seasons than the Colts.
A major stroke of luck allowed Ryan Grigson to draft a stud franchise quarterback with the first overall pick of the 2012 draft. Andrew Luck replaced the venerable Peyton Manning, and Indianapolis fans only had to suffer through one terrible season—2011, the one before Luck's arrival.
But luck isn't the only thing going for the Colts.
Grigson hit on just about every draft pick last offseason. Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard and even LaVon Brazill all contributed on offense as rookies.
The Colts were unexpected playoff darlings last season thanks to their young players. Whether they can grow and continue that success will be one of the more intriguing storylines of the 2013 season.
1. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle is one of the best teams in the league, but that doesn't mean it's full of crafty old veterans. There are some, to be sure, but the roster is full of fantastic youngsters.
Richard Sherman is a perfect example. At just 25, he has put himself in the conversation of the best cornerbacks in the league.
Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor might be the NFL's best safety duo, and they are 24 and 25, respectively.
Second-year inside linebacker Bobby Wagner sits in the middle of that defense, playing alongside 24-year-old K.J. Wright.
Even guys you think have been around forever are still young. Sidney Rice is only 26. His running mate, Golden Tate, is just 24. Offseason trade acquisition Percy Harvin just turned 25.
Of course, what could make the Seahawks both dynamic and dominant in 2013 is second-year quarterback Russell Wilson. He brought the offense to life last season as a rookie, and more should be in store from the diminutive quarterback.
Potentially losing Harvin for a chunk of the season (via USA Today) will hurt, but given the fantastic players on this roster, it might not matter much in the end.