Having young talent is an enormous key to continued success in the NFL, but it isn't the only thing that matters.


That is the wording we'd use to describe the fact that 2010's No. 1 team in our U-25 organizational rankings, the Houston Texans, went 6-10 that season. It also helps explain the debacle that was the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, our first-place team in 2011. Both teams came into the season with high expectations and both teams flopped miserably due to poor luck, injury attrition and, in Tampa's case last season, essentially quitting on their coach.


Remember that these rankings represent nothing more than a snapshot in time. If there's anything the regression-analysis we mainly dabble in shows us, it's that what goes up may eventually come down. With that in mind, we'd like to offer our sincere condolences to fans of the AFC team that is No. 1 this year in the event that the No. 1 slot on this list becomes a hex of some sort.


Here are the criteria we used to come up with our rankings:


• The number of games in 2011 started by players under the age of 25
 • Whether or not a team's young starters last season were simply injury replacements
 • The number of 25-or-younger first-team All-Pros a team has on its roster
• The extent to which a team's 25-and-under talent plays impact positions in the passing game
 • Whether or not a team has a talented, young quarterback
 • The amount of value a team added in the 2012 draft
 • A team's recent track record of developing and retaining young talent


Once we had our objective rankings, discussion amongst the crew at Football Outsiders tweaked the list resulting in the final version that you see below.


The turnover on this list, from year to year, is staggering. While it goes without saying that football is a young man's game, it's also the sport where injury attrition is the worst for young players. Having young stars is an important thing in the NFL, but with most players able to stay on the list for only three or four NFL seasons, lists of organizational talent will shift dramatically based on recent draft pools.


You'll see a number of references to Football Outsiders stats on our list, in particular DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), which takes every play and compares its success to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You can read more about that and other FO stats on this page.


Without further ado, here are our organizational rankings for this season. (Note: All ages are as of Sept. 8, 2012.)



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1. New England Patriots


Truth be told, our statistical analysis last year said the Patriots had the best 25-and-under talent in 2011, but we went with our gut instead. Lesson learned. New England had 15 significant contributors last season who qualify this season as well, but we really need only to discuss the three who helped produce the No. 3 offensive DVOA in the league. If you can believe it, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are still only 23 years old. Whether we look at standard or advanced stats, Gronkowski had a record-setting season: He was the first tight end ever to lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns, and also had the best receiving DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) for any tight end since 1991. To put the latter in perspective, the second-through-fourth-best tight end seasons were clustered at 357 or 358 DYAR; Gronkowski beat that by about 100 (459).


Of course, lest we forget Hernandez in New England's double-shot of matchup nightmares; he led all tight ends by breaking 21 tackles and he actually carried the ball 11 times in the team's final five games. Nate Solder (24) helped make huge tight end seasons possible by giving up only 2.5 blown-block sacks in his rookie year. With the retirement of Matt Light, Solder will switch from right tackle to left tackle, further increasing his value.


Finally, the Patriots added LB Dont'a Hightower (22) and DE Chandler Jones (22) in the draft, both of whom should contribute this season and in the future.


Times are good in New England.



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2. Detroit Lions


Last year, Detroit was ranked only fifth on this list mostly because of concerns about QB Matthew Stafford's throwing shoulder. Well, Stafford put those concerns to rest, finishing 2011 in the top 10 in both DVOA and DYAR, so here the Lions sit at No. 2. Although Calvin Johnson is the obvious lynchpin, the growth of second-year slot receiver Titus Young (23) and the return of injured running backs Jahvid Best (23) and Mikel Leshoure (22) should allow Detroit's offense to maintain -- if not improve -- its No. 10 DVOA from last season. First-round tackle Riley Reiff is the Lions' left tackle of the future but is talented enough to beat out the underwhelming Gosder Cherilus for Detroit's starting right tackle job this season.


Most of the Lions' 25-and-under talent on defense is involved heavily in the running game, which is one reason the unit improved from 27th to 18th in run defense DVOA. DT Ndamukong Suh (25) needs no introduction, but less-heralded youngsters like LB DeAndre Levy (25) and in-the-box safeties Louis Delmas (25) and Amari Spievey (24) each contributed their fair share. As a center fielder in pass defense, Delmas doesn't get his hands on too many balls (three passes defensed and zero interceptions the past two seasons), but he also doesn't get beat deep. His value was on full display in the last six games of last season, when the Lions' pass defense basically fell apart without him.



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3. Cincinnati Bengals


QB Andy Dalton (25) and WR A.J. Green (24) didn't disappoint in their rookie seasons. The former was the only other player besides Newton to garner votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and the latter made the Pro Bowl. Dalton played his best on third downs (38.9 percent DVOA) and in the red zone (28.0 percent DVOA), while Green had a 57 percent catch rate and dropped only two passes all year despite having 39 percent of his targets come 16 or more yards downfield. Cincinnati also has two other young pieces in the pass offense with TE Jermaine Gresham (24) and RT Andre Smith (25).


The Bengals' run defense improved from 25th to 16th in DVOA thanks in large part to the play of middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (25) and DT Geno Atkins (24), the latter of whom also led the team in sacks. DE Carlos Dunlap (23) was a force as a situational pass-rusher, producing a team-leading 13 quarterback hits and 20.5 hurries to go along with his four sacks. Cincinnati's pass defense ranked 18th in DVOA despite the front seven finishing 10th in adjusted sack rate, which spoke to problems on the back end. To help remedy that, the Bengals selected CB Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round of April's draft.



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4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers


The 2011 Buccaneers were a cautionary tale for those of us who take pride in these rankings. Tampa Bay was our No. 1 team last year, but virtually every youngster we cited ended up playing worse than advertised. Franchise QB Josh Freeman (24) threw 16 more interceptions than he did in 2010 and fell from inside the top 10 in DYAR and DVOA to outside the top 30. Freeman's No. 1 target, WR Mike Williams (25), had nearly 200 fewer receiving yards and eight fewer touchdowns than in 2010 despite an identical number of catches (65). RB LeGarrette Blount (26), though not a qualifier this year, lost his job thanks to a case of fumblitis. Hey, it's not all bad. Rookie Doug Martin, who had the fourth-highest speed score among this year's backs, replaces Blount in the starting lineup.


On defense, it was the same story. CB E.J. Biggers (24) allowed 4.4 yards per pass more than he did in 2010 and dropped from 13th to 76th in success rate. DE Da'Quan Bowers (22) finished third on the team in quarterback hurries despite limited playing time for most of the season, but he tore his Achilles tendon two months ago. LB Geno Hayes (25) was solid against the run once again, but he took his talents to the Windy City this offseason.


Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (24) tore his biceps (again) and ended up starting only six games. If there was any silver lining to the Buccaneers' black cloud last year, it was the promising play of young starters DE Adrian Clayborn (24), DT Brian Price (23) and LB Mason Foster (24). Add in first-round strong safety Mark Barron and the situation seems even less depressing.



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5. Green Bay Packers


Given that the Packers finished 2011 with the third-best pass offense DVOA since 1991, it's not surprising that the vast majority of their 25-and-under talent resides on that unit. Tight end Jermichael Finley has finished in the top 11 of both DVOA and DYAR for the past three seasons. RT Bryan Bulaga (23) has surrendered only 5.0 blown-block sacks in two years. His counterpart, LT Marshall Newhouse (25), assumed the left tackle position in place of an injured Chad Clifton (released in April) before he was ready, so his team-leading 9.0 blown-block sacks aren't as much of a concern as they otherwise would be.


On defense and special teams, Morgan Burnett (23) was involved in nearly 14 percent of the Packers' defensive plays last season, making him one of the most active safeties in the league. First-round pick Nick Perry will start opposite Clay Matthews at outside linebacker. In a down year for pass-rushing prospects, Perry was No. 1, according to SackSEER (SackSEER is Football Outsiders' projection system for pass-rushers, explained here.)". Randall Cobb (22) might be fifth on the depth chart at wide receiver, but he was the third-most valuable kickoff returner last year (6.4 expected points added), as well as the seventh-most valuable punt returner (4.7 expected points added).



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6. Philadelphia Eagles


The bell cow of Philadelphia's 25-and-under talent is RB LeSean McCoy, who astonishingly is still only 24 years old. McCoy led all backs in rushing DYAR last season after finishing fourth in 2010. As a rookie starter, C Jason Kelce (25) helped open holes for McCoy and also did a good job of protecting QB Michael Vick (only one blown-block sack allowed). WR DeSean Jackson, who just missed our cut at age 26, might produce more fodder for highlight reels, but according to our metrics, Jeremy Maclin (24) has actually been a more efficient and more valuable wideout for Philadelphia over the past two seasons.


On defense, strong safety Kurt Coleman and free safety Nate Allen are both younger than 26. Coleman was merely adequate as the replacement for former starter Quintin Mikell. It was Allen, however, who showed a huge improvement from his rookie season, finishing first among safeties in success rate on pass coverage. Philadelphia's revamped front seven in 2012 includes two rookies who will see significant playing time. Second-round pick Mychal Kendricks has been handed the starting strongside linebacker job as a rookie. First-rounder Fletcher Cox might unseat 2011 starter Mike Patterson at defensive tackle, but even if he doesn't, he'll be heavily involved in the rotation.



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7. Tennessee Titans


The Titans offense was already replete with young talent in the passing game even before they drafted WR Kendall Wright (Baylor) in the first round. Jake Locker (24) is the heir apparent at quarterback, and Kenny Britt (24) is the star apparent at wide receiver despite his 2011 knee injury. Jared Cook, one of our top 25 prospects last season showed flashes of top-10 tight end performance at times, which was expected given his physical makeup. The only significant question mark is WR Damian Williams (24), who only caught 48 percent of passes thrown his way despite more than three-quarters of them being within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.


On defense, six of 11 starters are 25 or younger, and the emerging talent is spread out across all positions. DT Jurrell Casey (23) proved to be a stout run defender during his rookie season. Linebackers Akeem Ayers (23) and Colin McCarthy (24) led the team in defeats last year and both were ranked in the top 20 among linebackers with respect to run-stop rate. With the loss of CB Cortland Finnegan, Alterraun Verner (24) will join Jason McCourty (25) in the starting lineup. Verner played in nickel packages and posted the 13th-best success rate in the NFL. McCourty was one of the most targeted corners in the league last season, but he held his own, ranking 37th in success rate. The Titans secondary suffered from a lack of interceptions last season, but it wasn't for a lack of effort from McCourty and Verner: They combined for 25 passes defensed.



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8. Carolina Panthers


Cam Newton almost single-handedly vaults the Panthers into our No. 8 spot. A 15th-ranked DYAR and 16th-ranked DVOA for a quarterback at age 22 has that effect. Unfortunately for Panthers fans, there isn't much more 25-and-under talent. Jonathan Stewart (25) was one of the most productive (fourth in run DYAR) and efficient (second in run DVOA) backs in the NFL last season, but he's busy splitting time with DeAngelo Williams. Byron Bell (23) started 12 games at right tackle in place of an injured Jeff Otah, but led last year's line in blown-block sacks allowed (5.0). CB Captain Munnerlynn (24) ranked near the bottom of the league in coverage success rate and adjusted yards per target.



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9. Oakland Raiders


The Raiders got the second-least expected value out of the 2012 draft, so their ranking here is based almost exclusively on the under-25 talent of 2011. Aside from DE Lamarr Houston (25) and middle linebacker Rolando McClain (23), that talent is on offense. In the running game, Darren McFadden has built up quite a résumé when healthy and is only 25 years old. C Stefen Wisniewski (23) anchors the blocking in front of him. Both starting wide receivers also qualify for our list. Although nearly certain to be a draft bust given expectations, 2009 first-rounder Darrius Heyward-Bey "broke out" in his third season, improving his DYAR ranking by 42 spots. The revelation, however, was 2011 fifth-round pick Denarius Moore, who will start at split end opposite Heyward-Bey and figures to be the beneficiary of Carson Palmer's proclivity for deep passes. Further helping matters is LT Jared Veldheer, who gave up only 2.0 blown-block sacks in 2011.



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10. Houston Texans


With only S Danieal Manning and DE Antonio Smith over 30 years old, Houston has one of the youngest projected starting defenses in the league. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing (25) was the Texans' most valuable defender last year, but 2011 first-round pick J.J. Watt (23) was a one-man wrecking crew during his rookie season, finishing first on the team with 19 defeats (i.e., third- and fourth-down stops, tackles for negative yardage, forced fumbles and interceptions), second in quarterback hits (16) and third in hurries (21). The fact that his impact came at the typically anonymous position of 3-4 defensive end makes it all the more impressive. Watt's 2011 classmate, outside linebacker Brooks Reed (25), was a constant nuisance to opposing quarterbacks in the role of pass-rushing specialist, accumulating 20 hurrries (fourth-most on the team) despite limited snaps. Speaking of pass-rushing specialists, Houston's first-round pick was Whitney Mercilus, who will back up outside linebacker Connor Barwin for the time being. Mercilus' SackSEER projection ranked third among this year's crop of pass-rushers.



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11. Denver Broncos


Signing Peyton Manning might have improved the Broncos' level of 35-and-over talent for this season, but a pair of 25-and-under emerging stars helped them reach the divisional round of the playoffs last season. Demaryius Thomas (25) is entering the all-important third season for a wide receiver, and the end of his second season bodes well. His performance against Pittsburgh in the wild-card round will be what's remembered, but he also followed that up with a six-catch, 95-yard game against New England. The key for Thomas to reach his vast potential is shaking the injury bug he's had since even before he was drafted. The other star, LB Von Miller (24), won Defensive Rookie of the Year last season thanks primarily to his 11 sacks. Not in the box score, however, is that he also had 19 quarterback hits, 17.5 quarterback hurries and ranked 13th among linebackers in run-stop rate.


Denver would rank higher on our list if it had much in the way of 25-and-under talent past these two, however. The best of the rest is WR Eric Decker (25), whose roller-coaster ride catching passes from Tim Tebow should turn into a smooth sail across calm waters with Manning taking over at quarterback.



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12. Seattle Seahawks


The Seahawks have a few different position groups that have almost unmatched young depth. In the secondary, they have a pair of young Pro Bowl safeties in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, as well as a solid young corner in Richard Sherman. They have two very promising tackles: Russell Okung is the one who can actually block pass-rushers, but there is still time for James Carpenter to grow into that kind of player. They also have three different wide receivers who cracked FO's top-25 prospects list: Doug Baldwin, Ricardo Lockette and Kris Durham. Add DE Bruce Irvin to that and the pattern is emerging: Not only is this team developing many solid young players, they're also doing it with a focus primarily on the passing game. If Russell Wilson can become the QB some in the scouting community think he can, this is going to be a very dangerous team come the middle of the decade.



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13. Indianapolis Colts


Yes, the Colts have Luck at QB now. But look beyond him and you'll see that this is shaping up to be a real nice draft for Indianapolis. The Colts added two of the best tight ends in the draft in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, as well as an interesting (if tiny) receiver in T.Y. Hilton. Add those four onto the core that was already in place (CB Jerraud Powers, T Anthony Castonzo, LB Pat Angerer, LB Kavell Conner, DT Drake Nevis, RB Donald Brown) and there is enough young talent to conceivably find the Colts dealing with a short rebuild rather than a long one.



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14. New York Giants


The Giants have a pair of certifiable young stars in ultra-athletic DE Jason Pierre-Paul and wideout Hakeem Nicks. Linval Joseph and Marvin Austin should be a formidable pair of defensive tackles, in the same recent Giants tradition that has brought us players such as Rocky Bernard, Chris Canty and Barry Cofield. Prince Amukamara will get a chance to step in at corner since Aaron Ross took off for Jacksonville. The team probably has an answer at linebacker next to Michael Boley somewhere between Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams and Mark Herzlich. The running back situation looks to be addressed by David Wilson. Despite graduating S Kenny Phillips and RB Ahmad Bradshaw, this team should be in good shape going forward.



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15. San Francisco 49ers


Some teams on this list have an inordinate amount of young starters; the 49ers aren't one of those teams. However, if you were to skip over the foursome of T Anthony Davis, WR Michael Crabtree, G Mike Iupati and LB NaVorro Bowman as only "pretty good" you'd be missing the forest for the trees. DE Aldon Smith showed he could be a dynamic pass-rusher last season, Chris Culliver played early and often at nickelback and RB Kendall Hunter is going to be part of a large group of committee backs that will also include 2012 second-rounder LaMichael James. This group has a few potential stars and, perhaps most importantly, very few young starters who started purely due to injury attrition.



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16. Kansas City Chiefs


If we judged the Chiefs just on last season's results, they would be much lower on the list. It looks like they have the beginnings of a good young offensive line with G Jon Asamoah and C Rodney Hudson, and Jon Baldwin should become a contributor at wideout. RB/WR Dexter McCluster is still hanging around, and our SACKSEER system loved LB Justin Houston heading into last season. That doesn't sound like much, but then you remember that RB Jamaal Charles, S Eric Berry and TE Tony Moeaki barely played last season, and top that off with the selection of physical freak Dontari Poe as an actual stab at fixing their long-running issues at nose tackle. Yes, the future is setting up quite nicely for the Chiefs -- as long as they can keep these players on the field rather than in the trainer's room.



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17. Arizona Cardinals


This all starts with CB Patrick Peterson. It's not often you find a player with the talent to both cover No. 1 receivers and return punts at a high level, and we nudged Arizona up accordingly. With LBs Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield having another year of NFL experience under their belt, odds are the Cardinals will generate a better pass rush than they did last season. Dan Williams had a down year, but he's still one of the more physically gifted nose tackles in the game. The offense isn't as settled, but what's impressive is the sheer number of NFL-caliber players they can throw at you: QB John Skelton, WR Andre Roberts, WR Michael Floyd, TE Rob Housler and RBs Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling. We have to reward that quantity, even if most of that group hasn't made a huge impact yet.



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18. Cleveland Browns


Last year, we had the Browns ranked sixth mostly on the strength of CB Joe Haden, QB Colt McCoy, RB Peyton Hillis and C Alex Mack. Haden (23) appeared to have a down year in 2011 by shutdown-cornerback standards, but his 18 passes defensed alongside zero interceptions was a massive statistical anomaly. Mack also did his part, giving up only .5 blown blocks sacks on the year. Unfortunately, at 26 years old, he no longer qualifies for our rankings.


McCoy (25) and Hillis (26), however, regressed considerably, so the team drafted Brandon Weeden to unseat McCoy and Trent Richardson to replace Hillis, who signed with Kansas City. Our Lewin Career Forecast projects Weeden as the fifth-best quarterback prospect in this year's draft, but his age (28) and slow release are concerns. However, the 2012 draft also produced RT Mitchell Schwartz, who will step into the starting lineup immediately.



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19. Baltimore Ravens


The Ravens are stacked with young guys who played a big role last year. RB Ray Rice is your headliner, but CB Jimmy Smith (who was excellent in our charting stats last year), WR Torrey Smith, TE Ed Dickson and DT Terrence Cody also gave the team a lot of productive snaps. DE Pernell McPhee generated a ton of pressure in limited action, and we even think T Jah Reid could develop into a decent player. The Ravens suffer a bit in the ratings because they just didn't give many snaps to youngsters outside of those seven. Still, that's an enviable young core, especially once LB Courtney Upshaw is added to it.



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20. Dallas Cowboys


Tyron Smith was an instant hit at right tackle and should be a building block on the offensive line for years to come. Phil Costa's snaps were a source of comedy at times last season, but even if he has to move inside to guard, the Cowboys have to like what they saw of him overall. Like their colleagues in Washington, they should be able to cobble a decent run game together between Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray, two young backs. Oh, and did we mention WR Dez Bryant? The Cowboys still have a few long-term holes to start digging their way out of, but with CBs Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr in tow, the secondary looks much better than it did in February.



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21. Washington Redskins


We are unabashed RG3 boosters. He had one of the two highest Lewin Career Forecast scores in the history of the system. However, the cost of trading up to get him, as well as decades of bad drafting by Bruce Allen's predecessors, mean that the cupboard around him is mostly bare. Stars and scrubs continues to be the theme in Landover. DE Brian Orakpo graduates our list and is replaced by Ryan Kerrigan. Between Roy Helu and Evan Royster there are probably a few good seasons of rushing to be found. LT Trent Williams is good, if injury-prone, and Perry Riley stepped in nicely at linebacker at midseason. Griffin III will probably be worth his weight in gold, but beyond him, players without questions are hard to find. And this ranking will probably plummet further in future years as the Redskins struggle to find worthy young players without first-round picks.



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22. Jacksonville Jaguars


The Jaguars' young talent is all about quantity over quality. On both sides of the ball their youngsters affect the passing game, which we like. However, LT Eugene Monroe (25) gave up 8.3 blown-block sacks in 2011 and QB Blaine Gabbert (23) looked like a deer in the headlights at times last season. Gabbert finished 46th in passing DYAR (defensive yards above replacement, explained here) in 2011 and had the 10th-most number of long sacks in the league (i.e., sacks 3.0 seconds or more after the snap). If Monroe and Gabbert don't show progress, then it's a wonder how first-round pick Justin Blackmon (22) will have much of an impact in his rookie season.


Second-round DE Andre Branch (23) will start in his rookie year, but our SackSEER projection ranks him as only the fifth-best pass-rushing prospect coming out of April's draft. DT Tyson Alualu is coming off knee surgery after a season in which he gave up the most yards per running play among Jacksonville's starting front seven for the second year in a row.



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23. Minnesota Vikings


The good news is WR Percy Harvin apparently backed off his stance of missing camp; the bad news is the Vikings don't have much else settled at this point. They get a quarterback boost from Christian Ponder, though he was much more notable for his running ability than his throwing ability last season. Toby Gerhart filled in admirably for Adrian Peterson, and we have TE Kyle Rudolph pegged as a real fantasy sleeper coming into 2012. Most of the rest of Minnesota's youth toils in the secondary and in the immortal paraphrased words of Rodney Dangerfield, "Whoa, put [them] back in, [they're] not done yet."



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24. St. Louis Rams


The Rams have teamed the developing pass-rush skills of DE Robert Quinn with a bevy of picks designed to help them have a top-flight passing game. Despite that, QB Sam Bradford is still looking for his first season with an above-average DVOA. (DVOA is Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average metric, explained here.) Last year, the Rams employed two tight ends, four receivers and a left tackle (Rodger Saffold) who qualified for this list. Chris Givens and Brian Quick bring the total number of receivers up to six. The talent is there, but until the results follow, it's not enough to get the Rams out of the bottom 12.



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25. Miami Dolphins


If the Steelers are heavily dependent on their offensive line for these ratings, the Dolphins are heavily dependent on their secondary. Between Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, Miami has a starting cornerback duo that would make any team envious. S Reshad Jones and CB Nolan Carroll have also earned prominent roles in the secondary, and Mike Pouncey came in and started 16 games at center as a rookie. We don't think anyone would argue that QB Ryan Tannehill is as good of a prospect as Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but last year nobody thought Cam Newton would adjust easily to the professional ranks either. It's hard to tell with quarterbacks until you see them on the field -- which might not happen for Miami in 2012.



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26. Pittsburgh Steelers


Pittsburgh has spent heavily over the past few drafts in an attempt to fix its offensive line. Between C Maurkice Pouncey, G David DeCastro, T Marcus Gilbert and T Mike Adams, the Steelers might do the unthinkable: give Ben Roethlisberger enough time to throw a ball unmolested. Beyond that, though, much of the Steelers' value on this list is in running pieces such as Rashard Mendenhall and David Johnson. We think very highly of CB Cortez Allen and DE Ziggy Hood, but if they are the top two young players on your defense, that's a bit troubling.



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27. San Diego Chargers


The Chargers have a lot of their value tied up in one player: RB Ryan Mathews, who looks poised to become a perennial top-5 fantasy football pick, as long as he can stay healthy. Wideout Vincent Brown is promising and should see more action this year. They've also got a pair of decent young starters in LB Donald Butler and G Louis Vasquez but need leaps from highly drafted players such as DT Corey Liuget and CB Marcus Gilchrist to really start ascending the list. LB Jonas Mouton, a 2011 second-rounder, could join the fray quickly after missing last year to injury, and if the Chargers got as big of a steal as some experts are predicting by finding DE Melvin Ingram with the 18th overall pick, it wouldn't be a major surprise to see them 10 slots higher next season.



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28. Atlanta Falcons


Trading massive piles of draft picks for WR Julio Jones might yet be proven to be a terrific idea, but doing so has left this team with only a few eggs to place in their young-player basket. Jones, obviously, has a chance to be one of the best receivers in the NFL as soon as this year. Sean Weatherspoon, likewise, had a fantastic season for Atlanta in 2011 and should be a mainstay at linebacker.


After those two, it gets murky. LB Akeem Dent was a very good special teams player last year, but we have no real statistical track record to say that he'll be an adequate replacement for Curtis Lofton. G Joe Hawley, RB Jacquizz Rodgers and DT Corey Peters comprise the best of the rest. Then again, at least the Falcons have a team that can win now, which somewhat excuses their lack of young depth.



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29. Buffalo Bills


Marcell Dareus was an enormous addition as a rookie, notching 5.5 sacks despite playing some 3-4 nose tackle last season. Beyond him, the Bills had more questions than answers. CB Aaron Williams is going to be a contributor in their secondary, but RB C.J. Spiller is blocked by Fred Jackson, and the addition of Cordy Glenn in the draft could place LT Chris Hairston on the bench or at a different position. WR Donald Jones has been rather inconsistent, and the rest of the Bills' youth movement focuses an awful lot on quantity over quality -- or at least that's how it has gone so far.



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30. New York Jets


Remember what we just said about free-agent signings affecting the U-25 list? Well, at least DE Aaron Maybin actually started games and was productive at times -- he's still really a supporting edge rusher on a good team, but New York hasn't found that premium pass-rusher yet. WR Jeremy Kerley made our top 25 prospects list (coming Tuesday), and DT Muhammad Wilkerson and CB Kyle Wilson are a pair of decent, young building blocks for the defense. But nobody knows quite what to make of DE Quinton Coples, so forgive us for taking the same wait-and-see approach that he took toward going after quarterbacks in his senior season at North Carolina.



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31. Chicago Bears


With the graduation of RB Matt Forte and WR Johnny Knox, the Bears have very little youth on offense to fall back on. J'Marcus Webb still qualifies at tackle, but even if you are Mike Tice, sole believer in Webb's potential, Webb has yet to post a season worth crowing about. Gabe Carimi had to deal with injuries in his rookie season, and outside of Chicago's young safety tandem of Chris Conte and Major Wright, none of their young defenders managed to start multiple games in 2011.


Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (age 22) and Brandon Marshall should help rejuvenate this team's passing game, but at the cost of two third-round picks, the Bears will again be at a disadvantage when draft day rolls around next season.



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32. New Orleans Saints


Obviously they didn't know this at the time, but given the fact that the Saints were forced to forfeit multiple high picks in light of the bounty scandal, the trade up for Mark Ingram looks even sillier in retrospect. New Orleans now employs four solid running backs in Ingram, Chris Ivory, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. To make matters worse, Ingram was dinged up last year and made even less of an impact than you would expect given the other solid players at his position.


Malcolm Jenkins is a fine safety, but Patrick Robinson continued to struggle at corner, and Cameron Jordan notched just one sack in 15 starts. Perhaps Martez Wilson's conversion to defensive end will help raise the tide, but there isn't much help coming in future drafts due to the aforementioned punishment.


In short, this is a team that very much needs to win now. Which is why it's a good thing Drew Brees is now signed.

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