Which team has the best core of young offensive talent at quarterback and the skill positions in the NFL? While answering that question with rankings won't predict the next Super Bowl winner, it will provide insight into the clubs positioned best to succeed long-term offensively. In today's NFL, nothing is more important.
So that you know I'm not labeling "young" arbitrarily, regardless of talent, to be considered for these rankings teams must have:
- A starting QB entering no later than his fifth NFL season.
- Receivers and tight ends entering no later than their fourth NFL season.
- Running backs entering no later than their third season
The thought behind the distinction between quarterbacks and skill-position players is simply based on positional shelf life. Quarterbacks can play well into their second decade in the NFL. Offensive skill-position players? Not so much. Therefore, I'll still consider a fifth-year quarterback "young." The same goes for a fourth-year receiver or tight end and a third-year running back.
Some players listed below are not in line to be full-time players but are still listed based on how I envision their futures unfolding in the NFL. Lastly, having a "young," currently starting quarterback weighed more than anything when deciding whether a team was to be included in these rankings or not. And, lastly, these cores aren't guaranteed to stay together -- mostly due to salary cap reasons -- but let's break down which clubs, theoretically, are best set up to flourish on offense for a long time.
No quarterback included keeps the Steelers outside the top 10. The skill-position talent is tantalizing. Harris is a new-age workhorse who won't have to leave the field in passing scenarios. Claypool is a throwback power forward who scored nine touchdowns as a rookie. Johnson is a nifty route-runner with No. 1 receiver abilities. He just needs to shake the drops this season. Washington is buried on the depth chart but has flashed down the field and quietly scored five touchdowns in 2020. Freiermuth has the athletic capabilities to become a upper-tier tight end because of what he provides after the catch.
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Higgins is everybody's favorite value-based fantasy pick at the receiver position. Chase's preseason has gotten off to an inauspicious start. He'll be fine though. Trust me. There's immense, well-rounded talent there, although I don't think he'll ever be an elite separator.
Of course, Burrow is the engine of the Bengals offense. How's his knee? Will he be tentative drifting in the pocket or when pressure mounts during the season? If he is... that's no bueno. If his LSU-esque confidence returns, the Bengals can be sneaky good offensively this season. Oh, and on Evans -- he flashed serious bounce and balance in the exhibition outing against the Washington Football Team and tested like a freak athlete at the Michigan Pro Day. Remember the name.
We're waiting on that legitimate breakout from Murray -- he was incrementally better in Year 2 than he was a rookie in almost every facet of the game. As a splash play waiting to happen after the catch, Moore will make Murray's life even easier than it's been playing in the same offense he ran in college and having DeAndre Hopkins on the perimeter. I won't be stunned if Johnson and Isabella chip in in their own ways this season too. This is a fun group. And, Kliff Kingsbury, give Benjamin some run! He's averaged more than eight yards per carry in the preseason and has soft hands.
The best player at the game's most critical position is the ultimate luxury for the Chiefs, and it's the main reason they're on this list. Mahomes is superhuman in Andy Reid's offense. But Kansas City's a few spots lower than you were probably expecting because, of course, their big horses, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are entrenched veterans who didn't meet the experience requirement here.
Edwards-Helaire will rebound in 2021 -- thanks to a plethora of light boxes. Hardman will step into a larger role in his third season, and Powell has the size and route-running chops to be a quality third or fourth read to move the chains for Mahomes.
We'll discover who Tagovailoa is as a passer this season -- there's a deep and diversely talented group of weapons around him in Miami. Gesicki has moved into the murky tier of tight ends just beneath Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller. Waddle has the most phenomenal blend of quickness, speed, and ball skills to enter the league since Hill in 2016.
And the former University of Washington backs have served another reminder that quality backs -- especially of the air variety -- can be found late in the draft or don't even need to be drafted at all.
The Bills get the slight nod over the Dolphins mostly due to the quarterback position. Allen has become one of the most difficult quarterbacks to defend in football. Singletary's elusiveness is vastly underrated, and Moss is a squatty but springy power back. Davis scored seven touchdowns at more than 17 yards per reception as a rookie. Knox has the requisite athletic traits to flourish as a receiving tight end. His hands just betray him too often to be a reliable target.
The preseason has been ugly for the Jaguars first-teamers who've seen the field, and now Urban Meyer's crew will be without Etienne for the entire year after a serious Lisfranc injury. But was this a team that needed Etienne anyway? Robinson returns after a rare 1,000-yard rookie campaign after going undrafted and Chark and Shenault can formulate a dynamic and complementary tandem.
After the Etienne injury, Shenault should move into Meyer's "Percy Harvin-Curtis Samuel" gadget role, and the former Colorado star can carry out traditional receiver duties too.
The Ravens get a top 5 nod because of their QB-RB-TE trio. Jackson is Jackson -- the most threatening running quarterback in the NFL today who takes good care of the football through the air. To date, he has a touchdown pass rate of 7.2% and an interception rate of 1.9%. That's a big-time ratio. Andrews is borderline elite at the tight end position.
As for the receivers, they could push this group into the top 3 if Brown and 2021 first-round rookie Bateman play consistently. Brown hasn't been the dynamic deep threat Baltimore expected to add to their offense when they made him a first-round pick in 2019 -- he averages just 13 yards per grab in his career -- but has scored 15 touchdowns in two seasons. Bateman can be the elevator.
Man, there's a lot of young talent in Philadelphia. I'm not particularly high on Hurts, but the rationale behind that statement is for another article. Sanders feels like he's been the Eagles lead back for, like, five seasons. He's only 24. We saw what Watkins can do with the ball in his hands in Philly's first preseason outing -- the 4.35 he ran at the combine legitimately translates to the field -- and Fulgham was a glimmer of hope in the Eagles receiving unit last season. Oh yeah, then there's the two first-rounders, Reagor and Smith. If healthy, they can be complete wideouts who win with separation ability, YAC juice, and ball-tracking mastery downfield. This is a young, fun core.
The future is bright in San Francisco. Most of that future hinges on Lance's development, but Samuel and Aiyuk are on the verge of being phenomenal themselves, thanks in large part to their capabilities after the catch. Wilson is currently injured but has proven himself as a quality backup runner, and Sermon is a big, bruising back with light feet who was born to run in Kyle Shanahan's zone-based scheme.
Sherfield, who came over from division-rival Arizona, has looked like the vertical facet the 49ers have needed for a while, and Jennings has flashed in the preseason after an illustrious career as a YAC monster at Tennessee.
Even after the mostly disastrous second year Lock had, the Broncos retain their top spot from a year ago. The Denver front office made a concerted effort to add fast, athletic pass catchers in the draft starting in 2018 with Sutton and haven't stopped since.
Just when we thought the Broncos were set offensively with youthful offensive skill-position collection, they traded up, ahead of the Dolphins, to pick Williams in the second round in April. Dude is a wrecking ball who doubles as an agility-based back when needed.
With Sutton back, Lock has everything needed to ascend in 2021, that is if he wins the starting job out of camp.