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ESPN: Arizona Cardinals’ under-25 talent is top-3 in NFL

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In a salary cap world, it helps to have young players on rookie contracts producing at a high level. The Arizona Cardinals just might have that going better than almost any team in the NFL.

According to Football Outsiders in a special for ESPN.com, the Cardinals’ talent below the age of 25 is the third-best in the league, behind only the Baltimore Ravens (No. 1) and the New York Giants (No. 2). It should be noted that weight was given in these rankings not just to the talent of under-25 players but also the value and length of their contracts. Players on cheaper deals for more years are worth more.

The Cardinals are up at No. 3 after being 10th just a year ago. The team’s marquee youngster — quarterback Kyler Murray — has since had a year of playing time to prove his worthiness of being the No. 1 overall pick, and GM Steve Keim added Clemson defender Isaiah Simmons in this year’s draft.

“[Murray’s] neutral rookie efficiency of a -3.1% DVOA [defense-adjusted value over average] and 55.7 QBR in 2019 puts him on a star trajectory, and his four remaining years of inexpensive team control put him on the short list of most valuable assets in football,” wrote the article’s author, Scott Spratt.

Without even getting into Football Outsider’s in-depth analytics, it’s impressive enough that Murray had 3,722 passing yards in 16 games with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions when he was playing as the starter in his first NFL season, doing so with a first-year head coach in Kliff Kingsbury. He also added 544 yards and four scores with his legs.

Murray took too many sacks in 2019 — perhaps the chief blemish on his rookie tape — but experience, continuity on the offensive line and more weapons around him could all help him take a step forward. Keim’s addition of DeAndre Hopkins comes to mind.

Speaking of wideouts, Spratt also praised the under-25 talent in the receivers group.

“Christian Kirk has enjoyed the most success to date with more than 100 catches on near-neutral efficiency in his two seasons. But Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler offer major promise as well just a year removed from their second- and fourth-round draft selections and with standout Playmaker Scores that bode well for their potential to bounce back from disappointing rookie seasons.”

On the other side of the ball, Simmons will have to prove it at the NFL level in 2020. But the defense boasts at least one bona fide stud under 25: safety Budda Baker. The 24-year-old, who is on the last year of his rookie deal, already has two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro selection to his name in three seasons. Last year, his 104 solo tackles led the NFL.


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