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Barnwell on Youth: Bengals Defense One Of The Most Talented In the League

As we approach Training Camp -- the day the trigger is finally compressed to signify that the new season is upon us -- many start analyzing and developing dynamic rankings comparing teams with each other. Typically these lists rank individual players based on specific groupings (positions, rookies, second-year players, etc...).

However, Football Outsider's Bill Barnwell (through ESPN's Insider) creates an interesting look, ranking each team's players that are 25-years of age or younger.

Instead of limiting our analysis to players who have yet to emerge in the NFL, these rankings consider all players who will be 25 or younger as of September 1, 2010 -- regardless of where they were drafted or how many games they've started. After compiling a list of eligible players for each team, we compared the groups on a variety of factors. We weighed issues like upside versus established production, quantity versus quality, and current staff versus historical ability to develop rookies when it comes to evaluating the talent available to each NFL franchise.

Interesting, right? The Redskins were the worst and the Texans were the best. As for the division, Barnwell ranks Pittsburgh 19th writing that their "2008 draft was a huge disappointment by anyone's standards." Not-so surprisingly, Pittsburgh was the only team, in Barnwell's list, that ranked outside the top-ten. As we've witnessed, Cleveland has done a decent job putting together a good group of young players and Baltimore's General Manager Ozzie Newsome always puts together a talented pool of youth. Baltimore ranked fourth.

Enough about others in the division. What about the Bengals?

The Cincinnati Bengals ranked sixth:

Although the Texans have the league's best crop of impact defensive talent, the Bengals sure come close. They have a big three of 25-and-under talent in middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, weakside linebacker Keith Rivers and cornerback Leon Hall -- who was jobbed on a Pro Bowl spot last year. The problem is that there's not much young talent on the offensive side of the ball; 2009 first-rounder Andre Smith will move into a starting role this year, but he'll take a job away from the only other 25-and-under guy who could start, Anthony Collins. The only other young player expected to play any sort of role on the offense is rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham, and rookie tight ends are usually an invisible species. The Bengals will need to address the offensive side of the ball with a multitude of picks in the 2011 draft.

In truth, Barnwell is only referring to our best players within his 25-years or younger prerequisite. However, he left off his list defensive players like Domata Peko, Michael Johnson, Pat Sims, Chinedum Ndukwe and the more recently, though unproven, drafted players like Geno Atkins and Roddrick Muckelroy. Truly, the Bengals foundation of young players on defense is enough to encourage thoughts of long-term success, while focusing on an aging offense down the road.

However, we wonder if Barnwell isn't overstating the offenses's age slightly. Of the team's ten wide receivers (nine of which are signed), six are 25 years old or younger. All, except for Chad Ochocinco, receivers are under the age of 30 and the team employs one 30-year old offensive lineman: Bobbie Williams. Cedric Benson is the older running back and he's only 27 years old and while Carson Palmer will turn 31 on December 27, quarterbacks are probably one of the few positions in sports that ages well.

Players 25 and younger (by September 1, 2010):

Rahim Alem, DE
Geno Atkins, DT
Dezmon Briscoe, WR
Freddie Brown, WR
Andre Caldwell, WR
Chase Coffman, TE
Anthony Collins, OT
Carlos Dunlap, DE
Cordera Eason, RB
Brandon Ghee, CB
Jermaine Gresham, TE
Leon Hall, CB
Darius Hill, TE
Kevin Huber, P
Otis Hudson, G
Michael Johnson, DE/LB
David Jones, CB
Jonathan Luigs, C
Gabriel Manns, T
Rey Maualuga, LB
Clinton McDonald, DT
Jeromy Miles, S
Andrew Mitchell, T
Roddrick Muckelroy, LB
Rico Murray, S
Chinedum Ndukwe, S
Tom Nelson, S
Cedric Peerman, RB
Domata Peko, DT
Maurice Purify, WR
Vincent Rey, LB
Keith Rivers, LB
Johnny Sears, CB
Jordan Shipley, WR
Jason Shirley, G
Jerome Simpson, WR
Pat Sims, DT
Dan Skuta, LB
Andre Smith, OT
Reggie Stephens, C
Morgan Trent, CB
Joe Tronzo, FB
Mike Windt, LS