EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The potential of young players on the Vikings roster landed Minnesota as the fourth-ranked "farm system" in the NFL in an evaluation by ESPN Insider Matt Williamson.
Professional football, of course, does not implement a farm system like other professional sports leagues, and each year rookies have an opportunity to make an impact out of college.
Such was the case in 2014 for Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the ninth and 32nd overall picks of the NFL Draft. Bridgewater is up for Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year (visit NFL.com/rookies to vote for Bridgewater through Jan. 29).
Williamson ranked all 32 teams based on the talents of players who were 25 or younger on Jan. 1, 2015, through the prism of "if you were to take over one team in the NFL to run for the next 10 years based on the young players in its organization, which would you pick?" The assessment factored in "positional value, durability and contract status" but also made adjustments if a peaking "franchise QB" who is older than 25 was on the roster.
Bridgewater and Barr, both 22, were at the top of Williamson's review of the Vikings, along with safety Harrison Smith, 25, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, 23, and Kyle Rudolph, 25. Williamson said he considered cornerback Xavier Rhodes instead of Rudolph for the fifth spot and added Rudolph's "size and dependable hands are exactly what a developing quarterback like Bridgewater needs."
Indianapolis was ranked first, with QB Andrew Luck, WR T.Y. Hilton, TE Dwayne Allen, G Jack Mewhort and OLB Bjoern Werner leading the young group of Colts.
New England ranked second with TE Rob Gronkowski and four defenders (OLB Jamie Collins, DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont'a Hightower and DT Dominque Easley) receiving mentions.
St. Louis was third in the review that cited DE Robert Quinn, DT Aaron Donald, OL Greg Robinson, RB Tre Mason and DT Michael Brockers as reasons for the Rams ranking.
Houston rounded out the top five. J.J. Watt was described as the "best non-QB building block a team could ask for." He was joined by LB Jadeveon Clowney, WR DeAndre Hopkins, G Brandon Brooks and OLB Whitney Mercilus.
Among NFC North teams, Green Bay was ranked ninth, Detroit checked in at 20, and Chicago was listed 31st, one spot above Washington, by Williamson.
The Vikings are scheduled to select from the 11th overall spot in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft on April 30.