Assessing young talent in the AFC South

July, 17, 2012
7/17/12
8:47
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Who’s got the best young talent in the NFL?

There is a lot of it in the AFC South. But in league context, it didn’t fare as well in this ranking Insider from Danny Tuccitto and Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders as I might have guessed.

7. Tennessee Titans

Outsiders: “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.

“On defense, six of 11 starters are 25 or younger, and the emerging talent is spread out across all positions. “

Kuharsky: Any ranking of young talent pertaining to a team that’s drafted a quarterback of the future boils down largely to how well that quarterback can play. If Locker pans out, the Titans have great young talent. If he doesn’t, much of the rest of it won’t matter as much.

10. Houston Texans

Outsiders: “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… 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.”

Kuharsky: This is a nice ranking when you consider there is some age on offense in center Chris Myers, receiver Andre Johnson and quarterback Matt Schaub. They may all have a lot of good football in front of them, but they don’t score on the young scale.

13. Indianapolis Colts

Outsiders: “Yes, the Colts have (Andrew) 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.”

Kuharsky: Give them another offseason and if all those guys listed are pointing up and they have a solid draft, this ranking will shoot up.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars

Outsiders: “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… 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…

“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.”

Kuharsky: The Jaguars themselves have talked about it being time for their highest-ranking young guys to shine. That starts with Gabbert, who’s got to be a lot better, as well as Monroe, who they’d like to see graduate to elite. Alualu's knee can’t be an issue again.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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