Some of the best NFL players in the whole league are under 25. While some positions are more difficult to assimilate to at the NFL level, requiring some projection in a starting lineup, what’s the fun in ranking a bunch of players comprised largely of wide receivers and offensive linemen?
Best NFL Players Under 25
Note: Players must still be under 25 when the season begins on Sept. 8 to be considered for the exercise.
Many of the names are no-brainers. We’ll spend some time on the more difficult internal dialogues among the team members.
Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence
Running Back: Jonathan Taylor
Wide Receiver No. 1: Justin Jefferson
Wide Receiver No. 2: Ja’Marr Chase
Wide Receiver No. 3: Jaylen Waddle
Tight End: Kyle Pitts
Left Tackle: Rashawn Slater
Left Guard: Landon Dickerson
Center: Creed Humphrey
Right Guard: Trey Smith
Right Tackle: Tristan Wirfs
Perhaps if Breece Hall remains healthy, he has the chance to usurp Taylor at running back, but Taylor’s size, athleticism, and vision make him a home-run threat every time he touches the ball.
Wide receiver and tackle were the two most difficult positions to sort through on the offensive side of the ball. Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase are non-negotiable. Jefferson is the best all-around wide receiver in the NFL, and Chase is arguably the most dangerous deep threat in the entire league.
The third spot was incredibly difficult. Jaylen Waddle and CeeDee Lamb are outstanding players that have both spent significant time playing in the slot. Although Waddle spent most of his time playing out wide a season ago, he was in the slot about 60% of the time the year before.
But that’s not even the end of the conversation. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tee Higgins deserve their flowers as well. Higgins couldn’t beat out his teammate or Jefferson on the outside, and St. Brown doesn’t have quite the same juice as Lamb or Waddle in the slot. But it is incredible to see how much talent there is at the position that is still under 25.
And it doesn’t stop there. Offensive tackles have one of the most difficult assignments in professional sports. But there is a heap of young men doing it at an incredibly high level at a very young age.
MORE: Best NFL Offenses 2023
Jedrick Wills falls just outside the conversation at tackle, but he has been far from disappointing for the Browns in his three NFL seasons.
The conversation came down to Rashawn Slater, Andrew Thomas, and Christian Darrisaw on the left side, while the argument on the other side was between Tristan Wirfs and Penei Sewell.
Sewell has been incredible, but Wirfs hit the ground at an All-Pro level as a rookie and hasn’t let up. The conversation between Thomas and Slater was more difficult.
Darrisaw was fantastic a season ago for the Vikings, but he probably would have had to play at that same level the year before to be a true contender against Slater and Thomas.
Thomas got better as his rookie season went on and was outstanding in his second season. However, what Slater did as a rookie was on another level. And it’s safe to say he would have done the same had he stayed healthy a season ago. His 2021 tape gave him the nod over Thomas, who is already one of the best left tackles in the game.
EDGE No. 1: Micah Parsons
EDGE No. 2: Jaelan Phillips
Defensive Tackle No. 1: Jordan Davis
Defensive Tackle No. 2: Christian Barmore
Linebacker No. 1: Nick Bolton
Linebacker No. 2: Patrick Queen
Cornerback No. 1: Patrick Surtain II
Cornerback No. 2: Sauce Gardner
Defensive Back: Devon Witherspoon
Safety No. 1: Jevon Holland
Safety No. 2: Talanoa Hufanga
Creating the defensive depth chart was a bit more grueling than the offensive side of the ball.
Quinnen Williams, Dexter Lawrence, and Jeffery Simmons all missed the age cutoff. Linebacker has become a bit undervalued at the NFL level, and the mental side of the position often means the best in the league are often close to or over 30.
And surprisingly enough, defensive end and outside linebacker were a bit thin as well. Micah Parsons is the most obvious name on the entire team.
Jaelan Phillips lines up on the opposite side after a really strong sophomore season. Adding Vic Fangio and Jalen Ramsey to the Dolphins’ defense will likely keep the ball in the opposing QB’s hand for a tick longer, and Phillips could feast in his third year. But a season ago, he finished sixth in the league with 77 defensive pressures.
MORE: Best NFL Defenses 2023
Derrick Brown aged out, or he would have been one of the defensive tackles. Christian Barmore had a disappointing sophomore campaign playing only 10 games, but he is the only legitimate pass rusher to choose from on the interior. The nose tackle position came down to Jordan Davis and Alim McNeill, but it’s fair to expect Davis to begin excelling soon, given his absurd athleticism.
Cornerback was easily the most satisfying position group to choose. Leaving Tariq Woolen off the list hurt, but Patrick Surtain and Sauce Gardner might be the two best cornerbacks in the entire NFL. And in this case, who do we feel comfortable playing in the slot? We’ll throw in Woolen’s teammate, Devon Witherspoon.
Witherspoon plays with the type of tenacity and gnat-like coverage ability that teams covet in the slot. He can fill the alley against the run and make sure opposing pass catchers can’t breathe along the route stem. Is it a bit audacious to add a rookie onto the team above other defenders who have proved it at the NFL level already? Absolutely. But Witherspoon deserves the hype.
This team is playing a whole lot of Cover 3 and 1 variants. That means we need someone to roam as a center fielder adequately, and another to play down in the slot, come downhill as a buzz player, and defend the run.
Jevon Holland was an easy pick for free safety. Because Antoine Winfield Jr. aged out of the program, we lost out on what would have been a perfect scheme fit. Hufanga was an All-Pro in 2022 and deserving of a spot on the field. Although he’s prone to intermittent coverage gaffes, he’s the kind of playmaker who could feast in a defense with this much talent (like the 49ers defense he plays in.)