Football Outsiders recently published its annual rankings of all 32 NFL teams based on the overall talent of players under 25 years old on their rosters (via ESPN, Insider required).
Two numbers stood out immediately: 28 and 8 – the first being the Vikings’ ranking this season and the second being the Vikings’ ranking just a year ago, a drop of 20 spots.
The methodology takes into account a variety of factors, including number of snaps played and relative value of contracts for players under 25 who are expected to contribute in 2019.
When you distill all the numbers, though, what you’re left with is this: an interesting and telling snapshot of exactly where the Vikings stand.
*Teams high on the list, for instance, tend to be ascending teams who haven’t necessarily proven much yet. They are loaded up on young talent because they have had high draft picks – the result of underachieving seasons and/or roster rebuilds that included deals high on potential.
The Browns, for instance, top this year’s list. The Bills, Jets and Giants are also in the top-7.
*Teams low on the list, by contrast, tend to have older rosters that are built to win now. The Eagles and Patriots are No. 32 and No. 31, respectively. They met in the Super Bowl two years ago, the Patriots won last year, and it would hardly be shocking if one or both made it this year.
Lacking players under 25 doesn’t necessarily mean a roster is old. Rather it means that in the case of a good roster, at least, there are a lot of players in their prime who possibly have played together for a while.
That sounds a lot like the Vikings, particularly on defense. And on offense? Stefon Diggs no longer qualifies as under 25, but that doesn’t mean he’s suddenly lost a step even if he makes the Vikings go down in the rankings.
*For further evidence of a short-term edge gained by more veteran teams: Football Outsiders also tracks average roster age, taking into account playing time for a more accurate measure, and has found that seven of the last eight Super Bowl winners had rosters that were among the 10 oldest in the league.
The Patriots had the NFL’s oldest roster last year when they won the Super Bowl, and Football Outsiders notes that they routinely chart very low in the under 25 talent rankings.
*That said, the Vikings’ tumble from No. 8 to 28 does likely reflect a need to eventually replenish their talent pool. Contributions from young offensive linemen Brian O’Neill and Garrett Bradbury and a strong rebound season from 2018 first-round cornerback Mike Hughes are important not just for 2019 but for the long-term success of the Vikings.
After all, not everyone can be the Patriots – a team that has a knack for maximizing value from young veterans and knowing when to move on. NFL players get expensive as they get older, and gauging when their talent will drop off is tricky.
By Football Outsiders’ measure, the Vikings had the NFL’s eighth-oldest defense last season. A lot of that core is still intact, while a lot of their key offensive players are another year older as well. That’s either a positive or a negative, depending on how you look at it.
The Vikings’ window is still open, but there’s no guarantee that will mean success in 2019 – nor does it mean the window will stay open much longer.