In the NFL, the skill position players reign supreme. The quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends are the stars, the ones who have their likenesses plastered all over billboards and video game covers.
When a team has a number of exciting young playmakers, the fans’ optimism skyrockets. Fans who had previously been depressed about their team are suddenly excited to watch football again. These young, dynamic athletes set the groundwork for a franchise to have future success, providing plenty of highlights along the way.
So what team has the claim to the best, most promising young trio in the league? I’m glad you asked.
The requirements are:
- Can only include skill position players (so no defensive players no matter how great they are)
- Can only include players ages 26 and under. This eliminates Dallas and Tampa Bay (Doug Martin and Dez Bryant are 27), among others.
- I have to have seen some sustained success. The Texans would be here, but I haven’t seen enough from Brock Osweiler to be sure he belongs.
This leaves just two teams: the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars. Both garnered a lot of buzz this off-season because of the young foundations they have at the skill positions. Let’s break down each team.
Oakland’s trio consists of QB Derek Carr, WR Amari Cooper, and RB Latavius Murray.
Carr, 25, threw for 3987 yards and 32 touchdowns last season with a 91.1 quarterback rating. Those are really good numbers for a second-year player. Carr showed he could make big plays for huge chunks of yardage because he can make any throw on the field. He’s mobile and throws a beautiful deep ball.
That talent for the deep pass was especially helpful for Amari Cooper. Cooper, 22, went for 1070 yards and 6 touchdowns and became the first NFL rookie since Bears tight end Mike Ditka in 1961 to record three 100-yard receiving performances in his team’s first six games.
Cooper’s 14.86 yards per reception show he can make big plays while still being a team’s top option (he was targeted 130 times, which ranked 18th in the league). He moves smoothly and explosively at 6’1, 210 pounds, and is a great route runner.
Murray rounds out Oakland’s version of the three musketeers. Murray, 26, rushed for 1066 yards on 266 attempts, which ranked sixth and third in the league respectively. He knows how to carry the load for a team, and he ranked third in receptions among running backs who had at least 200 rushing attempts. That means he’s a consistent dual threat, and he should benefit from the renovated Oakland offensive line.
Which brings us to Jacksonville’s young core: QB Blake Bortles, WR Allen Robinson, and WR Allen Hurns.
Bortles, 24, threw for 4428 yards and 35 touchdowns last season, which ranked seventh and tied for second in the league respectively. That’s really incredible after his first season didn’t go so well. Bortles is big and strong enough, at 6’5 and 232 pounds, to make any throw and take any hit the defense has for him. He has a rocket arm and is very mobile for a man his size.
The Jaguars’ star receiver is Allen Robinson. Robinson, 23, caught 80 passes for 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns, which tied for the league lead. At 6’3, 220 pounds, Robinson has the athleticism and body control to make highlight plays down the field (he averaged 17.5 yards per reception, seventh in the league), even when tightly guarded.
Hurns, 24, is a different type of force. He’s reliable, with a 61% catch percentage, but he can make plays down the field as well, as evidenced by his 16.1 yards per reception (17th). He also had 1031 yards and 10 touchdowns.
But which trio gives its team more reason for optimism? The Raiders have the weakest of the six players in Murray, but they also have the better quarterback (Bortles threw a league-leading 18 interceptions to Carr’s 13). Jacksonville’s two receivers open the field for each other, but Murray’s ability can take the top off the defense for Cooper.
I’m going with Oakland, and here’s why. Jacksonville’s passing numbers were inflated simply because of how many times Bortles threw the ball. Jacksonville was second in the league in pass play percentage, at 65.02%. Robinson and Hurns accounted for 42.24% of Bortles’ attempts, so it makes sense that their numbers would also be inflated.
Not only that, but Bortles’ 58.1% completion percentage and 3.0 interception percentage each ranked 31st in the NFL. Carr was 23rd and 20th in those categories, so he’s simply more efficient.
It’s hard to go wrong with either team. And do you know how each backed up its off-season hype in Week 1? The Jaguars took the high-powered Packers down to the last possession, and the Raiders outgunned Drew Brees and the Saints at the Superdome. Good luck defending these any of these guys in a couple of years.