Just how important is the quarterback position when it comes to evaluating the young talent on an NFL team?
That's the question that faced us as we put together this year's ranking of all 32 NFL teams based on talent under 25 years old. Is it better to be the Los Angeles Chargers, where Justin Herbert might be the most valuable young asset in the entire league after establishing himself with one of the best rookie quarterback seasons in NFL history? Or is it better to be the Washington Football Team, where the defense is packed with young talent led by Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young -- but the quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is emphatically not included in any calculation of talent under the age of 25?
In the end, we ended up with a third team in the No. 1 spot: the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have amassed a lot of draft capital in recent years, and they've used those picks well. Like the Chargers, they have a promising young quarterback, even if his rookie year didn't demonstrate the same amount of promise. Like the Washington Football Team, they have young talent all across the roster, although there's no star who looks quite as stellar as Young. Unlike Los Angeles or Washington, the young talent in Miami includes both a quarterback and is deep at other positions.
These ratings consider not just talent under 25 but also the value and length of those players' current contracts. This 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. Check out the bottom of the article for more on our methodology.
Here are our rankings for this season. All ages are as of Sept. 1. Blue-chip players are cornerstone assets from whom teams will likely derive their biggest future value.
It's not hard to rank a team at No. 1 in young talent when they've had five first-round picks over the course of the last two seasons.
Those five first-rounders are led, of course, by last year's fifth overall pick, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Many fans see Tagovailoa's rookie season as a disappointment, but honestly it is only a disappointment if you compare him to the stellar season that Justin Herbert had for the Los Angeles Chargers. Most quarterbacks, even first-rounders, start their careers off slowly, and Tagovailoa was no exception. Tagovailoa ranked 26th among qualifying quarterbacks in both ESPN QBR and Football Outsiders DVOA. That was the worst of last year's three first-round passers, but not worryingly so. Looking at history, Tagovailoa had a slightly above-average rookie season. His passing DVOA ranked him 20th out of 54 qualifying first-round rookie passers since 1983 (min. 200 passes).
However, Miami is on top because the young talent here goes far past just Tagovailoa. Let's start on the offensive line, where the Dolphins started two rookies last year. They certainly played like rookies: Left tackle Austin Jackson was in the top 15 for blown blocks despite missing three games, while guard Solomon Kindley ranked 84th out of 111 interior linemen in snaps per blown block. But both linemen also showed promise for growth in their second seasons. On the defensive side of the ball, nose tackle Raekwon Davis played well enough that he made veteran Davon Godchaux expendable this offseason. And cornerback Noah Igbinoghene could be moving into the starting lineup if the Dolphins meet Xavien Howard's trade request.
These rookies from 2020 are joined by the Dolphins' incoming rookie class, which featured four picks in the top 50. Edge rusher Jaelan Phillips was the top sack candidate in the 2021 draft according to our SackSEER projection system. Our Playmaker Score projections for wide receivers were not quite as excited about Jaylen Waddle, whose collegiate production comes with small sample size concerns. But there's no doubt he's a significant talent and deep threat who averaged 18.9 yards per reception at Alabama.
In the second round, Miami then added free safety Jevon Holland and offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg. They've already cut Bobby McCain to make room for Holland in the starting lineup, and Eichenberg could beat out Robert Hunt for the right tackle job in training camp. (Born in August 1996, Hunt was only seven days away from also being counted in Miami's under-25 talent for this ranking.)