Most years, Football Outsiders' rankings of teams with the most talent under 25 years old are settled by the value of their young quarterbacks. But 2022 is different.
Joe Burrow just led the Bengals on an unexpected Super Bowl run in his second season. But after entering the league at 24 years old, Burrow already graduated from consideration in this exercise.
Meanwhile, the crowded 2021 quarterback draft class underwhelmed in its freshman season, and the 2022 draft saw just one quarterback taken in the first round and none in the first 19 picks. All told, the lack of standout young quarterbacks allowed a team with a veteran signal-caller to snag the No. 1 spot here.
These rankings are more than a snapshot of young talent. They consider the value and length of player contracts, and so they view less experienced players as more valuable than more experienced players with similar expected future contributions since the former probably will make more of those contributions on inexpensive rookie contracts.
As is our standard, we have created these rankings based on a combination of factors:
Number of starts made by players under 25 years old
Number of snaps played by players under 25 years old
Quality of play of players under 25 years old, age-adjusted to capture the fact that a 21-year-old player of X ability will likely improve more than a 23-year-old player of X ability and with extra consideration given to Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections
Relative importance of positions, in particular with quarterbacks being more important and running backs, off-ball linebackers and specialists being less important than other positions
Draft value added in the 2022 draft with extra emphasis placed on the premium picks in the first two rounds
Expected key starters and reserves under 25 years old for teams in 2022
Team track records of talent evaluation and development
Significant injuries or suspensions that will affect the 2022 availability of players under 25 years old
The rankings will frequently reference Football Outsiders statistics that may be unfamiliar to you. You can learn more about Football Outsiders statistics here, in the Football Outsiders glossary, or in the newly released Football Outsiders Almanac 2022.
In addition to stacking teams, we mention "blue-chip players," who are cornerstone performers from whom teams will likely derive their biggest future value.
Here are our 2022 under-25 talent rankings:
2021 ranking: 20 | 2020 ranking: 24
After handing out massive extensions to veteran running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott before the 2019 and 2021 seasons, the Cowboys were backed into a corner. They were short on cap space and couldn't afford to keep all of their offensive linemen and wide receivers, the position groups that spurred the team's pair of playoff berths to that point in Prescott's career. And worst of all, Prescott's Cowboys never made a deep playoff run, not even in the quarterback's rookie season in 2016 when the team finished second in football with a 24% DVOA. Teams in similar positions have often tried and failed to patch a leaking boat and lost a few more games each season until they accepted reality, blew up their rosters and started over. The Cowboys were on that path. But then 2021 happened.
The Cowboys have just one losing season in Prescott's tenure. They rarely pick at the top of the draft. Still, it's difficult to imagine a team having a better run of early draft success than the Cowboys did in 2020 and 2021. Lamb was the surest bet and is a feather in the cap of an approach to draft talent over team need. After near-exclusive usage in the slot as a rookie, Lamb saw 47% of his targets out wide in 2021 and still broke an absurd 22 tackles and produced 5.6 average yards after the catch. With Amari Cooper now in Cleveland, Lamb should push for the receiving yardage crown this season.