12 months ago
The success that football teams like the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Giants, and the Oakland Raiders have had with first-year starters and free agents has not gone unnoticed by the NFL. In fact, according to The Ringer, it’s unprecedented.
Just a few years ago, football fans and experts alike held to the idea that free agents and rookies had to be molded and shaped by coaches. They certainly weren’t considered big-money prospects capable of making a big impact on their own merits. So, throwing a lot of money at them was dismissed as trying to hotshot a team without allowing enough time for development.
However, we’ve since seen Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison do wonders for the Giants, not to mention the boost Atlanta, last year’s NFC champions, has gotten from Alex Mack, Mohamed Sanu, and defensive talent like Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. Rookies are not only changing how teams are made, they’re changing the landscape of professional football itself.
Along with reversing the fortunes of mid-tier teams, this younger generation is affecting the league’s overall demographics. Rick Gosselin reports that the average age of NFL starters is now under 27 years old, down from last year and way down from a decade ago. There are also fewer 30-years-and-over players on opening day rosters now than ever before. In particular, Jacksonville and New Orleans have embraced this youth movement, and they’re likely at the forefront of something much bigger.
Now more than ever, a team’s front office needs to pay close attention to incoming draft classes. But The Ringer also advises teams to blend those dynamic rookie acquisitions with well-placed veterans, a tactic that got Atlanta to the brink of a Super Bowl title last season.