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 these rankings have also increasingly captured teams' short-term chances of success, 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 2018 Los Angeles Rams. They made it all the way to the Super Bowl the same year that they jumped from 27th to first in 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 we 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 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, and go here for intel on some stats we reference throughout. You can learn more about these and other Football Outsiders statistics from this article, the Football Outsiders glossary, or in the newly released Football Outsiders Almanac for 2019.
Here are our rankings for this season. All ages are as of Sept. 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:
2018 ranking: 4
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 2016-2018 controversial might be underselling it. They traded away the No. 2 pick that became Carson Wentz; selected pass-rusher Myles Garrett ahead of quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson; and finally selected Mayfield and Denzel Ward with their resulting top-four picks when many preferred Sam Darnold, Bradley Chubb or Saquon 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 system and other advanced metrics that preferred Mayfield to the more physically gifted Darnold and Josh 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 contributed more than 300 combined rushing and receiving DYAR in 11 games in 2018 before the Chiefs cut him after the release of a video that showed him assaulting a woman in early 2018. If he continues his pace on the field after returning from an eight-game suspension, he and second-year back Nick Chubb could form 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 receivers Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins, tight end David Njoku, and their second- and third-round draft picks in 2019, cornerback Greedy Williams and linebacker Sione 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.