As much as NFL teams would like to have a roster loaded with veterans in their primes, the salary cap dictates that most rosters have a distribution of rookies, developing players, prime veterans, and guys on their last legs.
While it is always preferable to be good than to be merely young or old, young talent tells us more about where a team is going in the future. So it's time again for our annual ranking of all 32 teams by their talent under the age of 25. Last year's under-25 rankings had the Jaguars at No. 1 and the Patriots at 32. You'll find those teams much closer together in this year's rankings -- but it's the other elements of the team, not to mention coaching, that really provide the difference in on-field results for those franchises.
The under-25 talent list is a focus on the building blocks teams are putting in place that should help define the next four to eight seasons -- maybe longer if the teams are fortunate. For more on the methodology behind this list, check out the bottom of the article.
Here are our rankings for this season. All ages are as of Sept. 7, 2017. Read through the full file 1-32, or jump to your favorite team using the quick links below.
2016 ranking: 24
Dallas climbed higher (23 spots) than any team in our rankings this year for two huge reasons: Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The pair was phenomenal in leading the No. 3 offense to the NFC's No. 1 seed. They didn't disappoint in Dallas' playoff loss either, losing 34-31 on a last-second field goal to the Packers.
While skeptics point to the great Dallas offensive line that helped these rookies, that line was intact when the offense finished 31st in 2015 and the Cowboys were 4-12. Elliott won the rushing title by 318 yards without even playing in Week 17. Prescott had arguably the best rookie season ever by a quarterback. In ESPN's advanced quarterback metric for expected points added (EPA), Prescott's 102.5 EPA ranked No. 13 among all seasons since 2006. The only seasons ahead of him were all engineered by the group of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. Prescott is in incredible company after one season.
Dallas' under-25 talent extends beyond Dak and Zeke. La'el Collins is moving to right tackle and just signed a contract extension through 2019. Safety Byron Jones, a 2015 first-round pick, has quietly charted well in his two seasons in spite of just one career interception. He ranked ninth among safeties in adjusted success rate last year. Anthony Brown was promising for a sixth-round rookie cornerback. Rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins had 11 hurries as a starter.
David Irving will be suspended for the first four games this season, but he finished 2016 with a perfect run-stop rate and had a team-high 26 hurries. First-round pick Taco Charlton will be expected to contribute, and the Cowboys may finally get something out of very talented linebacker Jaylon Smith. He missed all of last year after a serious knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl.