Football Outsiders’ Bill Barnwell shared his organizational rankings with ESPN. The criteria used is as follows:
These rankings consider all players who will be 25 or younger as of September 1, 2010 — regardless of where they were drafted or how many games they’ve started. After compiling a list of eligible players for each team, we compared the groups on a variety of factors. We weighed issues like upside versus established production, quantity versus quality, and current staff versus historical ability to develop rookies when it comes to evaluating the talent available to each NFL franchise.
Hit the jump to see how the Falcons ended up at seventh and to see where the rest of the NFC South ranks.
7. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons don’t have the league’s top crop of young talent, but they may have the league’s best young asset in quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan was the lead pick in general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s franchise-altering 2008 draft, which brought in virtually all the talent that pushes the Falcons into the seventh spot: Ryan, left tackle Sam Baker, linebacker Curtis Lofton, corner Chevis Jackson, wideout Harry Douglas, safety Thomas DeCoud and sleeper defensive end Kroy Biermann. Ryan and Lofton together should be the faces of the franchise on either side of the ball for the next decade.
It’s hard not to get giddy when seeing all this young talent the Falcons have compiled. They are in a great position not for this season but for the next few seasons. The championship window is open for this team. Now it’s just a matter if they can go through it before it closes.
Now the rest of the NFC South:
2. Carolina Panthers
There are currently 81 players on the Panthers roster, 58 of whom are either 25 or younger. That’s a sign of how salary cap issues and a veteran roster forced the team to throw a lot of young talent at the wall and see what sticks. The reality, though, is that the Panthers have both quality and quantity. Their best young player, of course, is middle linebacker Jon Beason, who deserves to be in the conversations about the league’s best linebackers. No middle linebacker — not even Patrick Willis — is better in coverage. Carolina had the league’s second-ranked pass defense last year by Football Outsiders numbers, and its oldest starter in the secondary is 27-year-old Chris Gamble. He’s the only one of their top six defensive backs older than 25. Defensive end Charles Johnson is 24, and by the end of the year, he’ll be starting across from 2009 second-rounder Everette Brown, who is 22. The offense, though, is Carolina’s more impressive young unit. Even without including Matt Moore, who turns 26 in August, there’s serious talent to be had. The star is halfback Jonathan Stewart, who is every bit the back DeAngelo Williams is, but struggles to stay healthy. The offensive line opening holes for Stewart and Williams is among the league’s best, and it features two elite young players in center Ryan Kalil and right tackle Jeff Otah. This year, they’ll be joined by guard Geoff Schwartz, who made it to our Top 25 Prospects list and profiles as another excellent masher in the running game. They’ve even got a viable receiving prospect in tight end Gary Barnidge. With Moore, Jimmy Clausen, and Tony Pike on the roster, they’ve got three guys to compete for the long-term answer at QB.
Looking at the rankings, it’s a good thing the Saints won the Super Bowl when they did. Their window appears to be closing rapidly.
28. New Orleans Saints
Last year’s Saints were older than they looked. This year’s team may be even older, especially on defense, where they only have two starters who are 25 or under: defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter. The one-two punch of Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas holds it down at halfback, but the most important player might be left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who was erratic last year after taking over the starting gig from an injured Jammal Brown. With Brown gone to Washington, the team expects Bushrod to keep Drew Brees upright.
The Buccaneers have been near the bottom of every ranking this offseason and this list is no different.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
General manager Mark Dominik is just beginning the process of rebuilding an organization that was all but gutted when he took over a year ago. The 2006-2008 drafts under Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were dismal, led by 2007 fourth-overall pick Gaines Adams, who was traded to the Chicago Bears last year and then tragically passed away this offseason. 2008 first-rounder Aqib Talib has shown flashes of brilliance at corner, but the organization will only move forward if Dominik’s picks start to develop into elite players — notably, quarterback Josh Freeman and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.