NFL’s Best Defenders 25 Years Old and Under: Sauce Gardner, Micah Parsons Among Top 10

The NFL has a strong list of defensive stars comprising the 25-and-under category. Here's where PFN ranks each young defender.

The NFL is blessed with young stars leading the movement into the future. Especially on the defensive side of the football, as there are already decorated All-Pro defenders who are 25 years of age or younger.

Top Defensive Players Under 25 Years Old

We’re going to sort through who’s risen among the NFL ranks in the 25-and-younger category. These are talents who have become Pro Bowlers or, arguably, even the best at their position. From Nos. 1 to 10, here are our top NFL defenders at 25 years or younger.

1) Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys, 25

(EDGE) Crazy to think that Micah Parsons only just reached 25 years of age on May 25. He’s already the face of the Dallas Cowboys defense and is still very young.

Since his arrival from Penn State in the 2021 NFL Draft, all Parsons has done is emerge as a three-time Pro Bowler who has produced 13 or more sacks in every season. Parsons also has surpassed 13 tackles for a loss through his first three NFL campaigns.

If anything, Parsons is yet to lead the NFL in any major defensive category. But with continued progression, you could be looking at the league leader in sacks very soon and a future NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

2) Sauce Gardner, New York Jets, 23

(Cornerback) Few cornerbacks have the résumé Sauce Gardner possesses. He’s not even 24 years of age, as he’ll celebrate his birthday before the season starts on Aug. 31.

Gardner swiped away 20 passes in his 2022 NFL debut, a league-leading mark for pass deflections. He followed that up with 11 pass breakups last season. He’s swooped up back-to-back Pro Bowl honors in the process.

Furthermore, he’s yet to allow 82 receiving yards in a contest through 33 games played — that includes five games that saw Gardner allow zero to negative four yards his way.

3) Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos, 24

(Cornerback) If there’s any young CB who can challenge Gardner for the throne of top player at his position, it’s Patrick Surtain II.

The 24-year-old is another who’s posted two consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. Surtain, though, holds the edge in total interceptions with seven across his first three NFL years.

Surtain endured a troublesome 2023 defensive output with the Denver Broncos, as they ranked 29th in yards allowed and 27th in points scored against. Surtain, however, produced a career-best 69 tackles (59 solo), and he’s a pass-breakup artist in his own right, with 36 career deflections.

4) Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens, 23

(Safety) Yes, Lamar Jackson has become the face of Baltimore Ravens football, but the franchise has long had a defensive identity from the days of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs.

Now, Kyle Hamilton has kept the defensive prowess going for Baltimore as an interchangeable safety.

MORE: Ranking the NFL’s Best Defenses

Much like Reed before him, Hamilton brings versatility to the field. Noted by PFN’s Dallas Robinson, Hamilton lined up on 465 snaps in the slot, 301 at free safety, and 236 in the box last season. Hamilton is flexible and destructive. He tasted his first Pro Bowl last season after grabbing four interceptions and snatching three sacks off blitzes.

5) Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit Lions, 23

(EDGE) Here’s a Detroit Lions player who’s clearly embraced the “all grit” and blue-collar approach head coach Dan Campbell has installed.

The native of Plymouth, Mich., soared to stardom during the Lions’ NFC title game run — improving to 11.5 sacks after delivering 9.5 his rookie year. Additionally, he improved his tackles for a loss (14) and even broke up seven passes at the line of scrimmage during the Lions’ NFC North title pursuit.

Like Parsons, Aidan Hutchinson has the potential to earn an eventual DPOY nod with continued improvement and production.

6) Jalen Carter, Philadelphia Eagles, 23

(Defensive Tackle) We now gravitate toward our first impactful rookie from last year.

Carter was as good as advertised as a first-round gift to the Philadelphia Eagles at ninth overall. He used his 6’3″, 314-pound frame to tally six sacks along with eight TFLs while replacing the beloved Javon Hargrave. Carter even used that frame to simply bully interior offensive linemen.

7) Will Anderson Jr., Houston Texans, 22

(EDGE) We’ve now reached our youngest defensive star in this group. The fellow 2023 first-rounder Will Anderson Jr. won’t turn 23 until Sept. 2, right before the 2024 season commences.

The No. 3 overall pick, however, proved he was worth taking at that spot and trading up for, on the Houston Texans’ side. Anderson immediately wrecked offenses to the tune of seven sacks, 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage, and 45 total tackles, helping get a Texans defense that once ranked 30th versus yards to improve to 14th overall.

8) Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 25

(Safety) We now circle back to those players who are on the cusp at the age of 25. Antoine Winfield Jr., though, is labeled as one of if not the best safety in the league.

The 2020 season Super Bowl champion is versatile enough to single-cover the slot wide receiver and then step up and destroy the run. He raised his game another notch last season for the NFC South champs, collecting a career-high three interceptions while forcing six fumbles to lead the league.

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He’s now the richest safety in the league, as the two-time Pro Bowler earned an $84.1 million deal from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on May 13, which also made him the league’s highest-paid defensive back ever.

9) Jaylon Johnson, Chicago Bears, 25

(Cornerback) Jaylon Johnson just turned 25, but he’s become a beloved athlete in the Windy City as a result of his stellar cornerback play across his four NFL seasons. Plus, he’s fresh off his best campaign yet.

The ’23 season saw him snatch four interceptions while swiping 10 passes thrown in his direction — his most PBUs since the 15 he delivered as a rookie in 2020. The Chicago Bears rewarded him with a blockbuster $76 million deal this offseason. He’s gone from a physical press man CB to delivering teach-tape picks.

10) DaRon Bland, Dallas Cowboys, 24

(Cornerback) Completing the list is 2023’s best surprise and a 24-year-old rising star from the Cowboys.

DaRon Bland showed no panic once top CB Trevon Diggs went down with a torn ACL. Instead, the 2022 fifth-round find out of Fresno State placed his name in the record books by taking back five interceptions to the end zone.

Bland went on to lead the NFL in interceptions with nine and interception yards at 209, culminating in his All-Pro nod.

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