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    Top 25 Under 25: Ranking the NFL’s Best Young Players

    Who are the NFL's top 25 players under 25 years old? Youth reigns supreme on PFN's countdown. Where do C.J. Stroud, Trevor Lawrence, and Brock Purdy rank?

    Young, talented players are the lifeblood of every NFL franchise. Youth reigns supreme at most positions, with NFL teams deriving most of their value from players during their rookie contracts.

    Who are the NFL’s 25 best players under 25? Pro Football Network is counting down the list, with a few caveats.

    Minnesota Vikings WR Justin Jefferson turned 25 recently, so he wasn’t included on our list. Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Micah Parsons had his 25th birthday at the end of May; he’s also been excluded. Jefferson and Parsons would’ve ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

    Meanwhile, we didn’t include any rookies on our list. Rookies like Caleb Williams and Marvin Harrison Jr. could take the league by storm in 2024, but we won’t rank them until they actually play.

    The NFL’s Top 25 Players Under 25

    Honorable mention: RB Breece Hall, RB Jahmyr Gibbs, WR Chris Olave, WR Drake London, WR Tank Dell, TE Trey McBride, G Trey Smith, C Tyler Linderbaum, EDGE George Karlaftis, LB Ernest Jones, CB Riq Woolen, S Xavier McKinney

    25) De’Von Achane, RB, Miami Dolphins

    From an efficiency and explosion perspective, few RBs were as dominant as the Miami Dolphins’ De’Von Achane in 2023. The Texas A&M product lapped the field in rushing yards over expectation per attempt, finishing with more than double the production of second-place Christian McCaffrey. Achane was the only RB who accounted for more than half his total yardage on 15+ yard runs, per PFF.

    So why isn’t he higher on our list? Injury issues. Achane appeared in 11 games and played just 300 snaps while missing time with shoulder and knee sprains.

    Durability is a concern, but Achane’s ceiling is through the roof.

    24) Martin Emerson, CB, Cleveland Browns

    While Denzel Ward is the Cleveland Browns’ most high-profile cornerback, Martin Emerson had the better season in 2023. He played in all 17 games, ranked fourth in passer rating allowed (53.3), and didn’t give up a touchdown until the Browns’ Wild Card Round loss to the Houston Texans.

    Emerson is scheme fluid, while his 6’2″, 201-pound frame and physical mentality make him a perfect fit in Cleveland DC Jim Schwartz’s system. He could overtake Ward as the Browns’ CB1 as soon as 2024.

    23) Tyler Smith, G, Dallas Cowboys

    After playing primarily left tackle during his rookie campaign, Tyler Smith spent the entirety of the 2023 season at left guard and improved every phase of his game. Smith is a find for the Dallas Cowboys and will be critical as the club integrates rookie starters at left tackle (Tyler Guyton) and center (Cooper Beebe).

    22) Derek Stingley Jr., CB, Houston Texans

    Derek Stingley Jr. has been hindered by hamstring injuries since the Texans selected him third overall in 2022. He’s only appeared in 20 NFL games, but Stingley looked like a lockdown CB1 at the end of last season

    Stingley earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for December after leading the league with three interceptions and nine pass breakups while allowing just a 1.7 passer rating in coverage. DeMeco Ryans can design Houston’s entire coverage plan around him.

    21) Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets

    There’s a chance that Garrett Wilson will rank much higher after the 2024 season. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2022 and has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two NFL campaigns despite working with atrocious New York Jets quarterback play.

    Wilson was an elite prospect coming out of Ohio State and has overcome a poor offensive environment to post consistent results.

    If Aaron Rodgers can stay healthy next season and look like a semblance of the player who won back-to-back MVPs in 20201 and 2021, Wilson could be an All-Pro.

    20) Christian Barmore, DT, New England Patriots

    The New England Patriots saw enough from Christian Barmore to give him a four-year, $84 million extension in April. He’s one of only three players on our list who’s received a second NFL contract.

    Always a consistent interior presence, Barmore broke out with a career year in 2023, setting new highs in sacks (8.5), tackles (64), tackles for loss (13), and QB hits (16). He’s still ascending and could emerge as an even more dominant force in his fourth NFL season.

    19) Devon Witherspoon, CB, Seattle Seahawks

    Rookie cornerbacks usually have much to learn before becoming the player we believe they could be at the NFL level. But that’s changed over the past few seasons, and Devon Witherspoon is the prime example.

    A menace at the college level, Witherspoon excelled from Day 1 with the Seattle Seahawks. His 10 QB pressures ranked second among cornerbacks, and we expect new Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald to continue using Witherspoon as a slot blitzer.

    18) Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons

    Don’t judge Bijan Robinson on his counting statistics alone. While he didn’t clear 1,000 rushing yards in his rookie campaign, the Atlanta Falcons only asked him to carry the ball 214 times. With fellow RB Tyler Allgeier handling 186 carries, Robinson didn’t have the opportunity to put up gaudy rookie year numbers.

    However, he still managed 1,463 total yards, more than any other rookie RB in 2023. Robinson passed the eye test every week and could be an All-Pro if Atlanta’s new coaching staff gives him more touches in 2024.

    17) DaRon Bland, CB, Dallas Cowboys

    Sure, DaRon Bland can be beaten at times. But he posted nine interceptions and an NFL-record five pick-sixes while earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2023.

    Shifting from the slot to the perimeter after fellow Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs’ season-ending injury, Bland was among the most dangerous defensive backs in the game. He’s a turnover waiting to happen.

    16) Sam LaPorta, TE, Detroit Lions

    Tight end is such a demanding position that rookies often have trouble adjusting to the NFL — but don’t tell that to Sam LaPorta.

    After being drafted 34th overall by the Detroit Lions in 2023, LaPorta broke the league record for receptions by a rookie TE (86). His 10 touchdowns led all tight ends, while his 889 receiving yards ranked fifth.

    LaPorta will return as a critical Lions weapon in 2024, but he’s not the only Detroit pass catcher on our list.

    15) Jalen Carter, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

    While the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense was one of the more disappointing units in the league in 2023, the club’s overall performance didn’t stop Jalen Carter from posting an outstanding rookie season.

    Carter posted six sacks, second among first-year interior defenders, trailing only the Los Angeles Rams’ Kobie Turner. However, Turner also rushed the passer 70 more times than Carter. Among all NFL DTs, Carter ranked sixth in pass-rush win rate (16%) and 15th in pressures (50).

    14) Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Houston Texans

    The Texans gave up a haul to move up for Will Anderson Jr. in the 2023 NFL Draft, and the No. 3 overall pick more than delivered. Despite missing time with a high-ankle sprain, Anderson still posted seven sacks, 22 QB hits, and ranked third among edge defenders in pass-rush win rate, trailing only Parsons and Garrett.

    Houston bolstered its interior defensive line and signed fellow EDGE Danielle Hunter in free agency. Now that he has more help, Anderson could manage double-digit sacks and insert himself into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

    13) Creed Humphrey, C, Kansas City Chiefs

    Creed Humphrey is probably the Kansas City Chiefs’ top summer extension priority. A two-time Pro Bowler and a second-team All-Pro selection in 2022, Humphrey is arguably the NFL’s best center now that Jason Kelce has retired. He could become the league’s highest-paid pivot, but center contracts are so stagnant that he may only land $14 million annually.

    12) Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers

    No quarterback was as efficient in 2023 as Purdy, whose 0.338 EPA per play lapped the rest of the NFL. Of course, EPA can often tell the story of a successful passing unit — and few signal-callers had as talented a supporting cast or better coaching than Purdy.

    The former seventh-round pick improved both as a distributor and an off-schedule playmaker last season, and it’s impossible to ding Purdy for flawlessly operating the offense put in front of him.

    11) Puka Nacua, WR, Los Angeles Rams

    Puka Nacua’s 2023 receiving totals weren’t in the same dimension as any other rookie wideout. He had 500+ more yards and 20+ more receptions than Chiefs WR Rashee Rice, the next-best in both categories.

    The BYU product’s statistics could only be compared to those of other high-end NFL receivers. Nacua ranked top-six league-wide in targets (163), receptions (114), receiving yards (1,667), and yards per route run (2.75), all of which were new NFL rookie records.

    10) Trent McDuffie, CB, Kansas City Chiefs

    With L’Jarius Sneed playing boundary corner in 2023, the Chiefs primarily deployed Trent McDuffie in the slot. He was dominant from the inside and was critical in Kansas City’s Super Bowl win. McDuffie broke up three passes and executed a perfect fourth-quarter slot blitz against Purdy, enabling the Chiefs to get the ball back.

    Now that Sneed is gone, will K.C. put McDuffie on the outside? Or will he still play most of his snaps on the interior? Either way, McDuffie is arguably the Chiefs’ most valuable defender not named Chris Jones.

    9) Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions

    While the Lions don’t necessarily have a prototypical WR1 on their roster, Amon-Ra St. Brown more than fills the role.

    A true draft steal as a fourth-round selection, ASRB ranks fifth in receptions, sixth in targets, and eighth in receiving yards among WRs since entering the league in 2021. Only Tyreek Hill and CeeDee Lamb have generated more receiving first downs over the past two seasons.

    St. Brown is an outstanding slot weapon, but he played over 40% of his snaps from a wide alignment in 2023. He’s versatile, consistent, and can run any route from any position on the field.

    8) Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Detroit Lions

    Aidan Hutchinson’s sack production only increased from 9.5 to 11.5 from 2022 to 2023, but his underlying metrics made a much more significant leap. The ex-No. 2 overall pick more than doubled his QB hits (from 15 to 33); he went from 53 pressures in his rookie campaign to 101 last year.

    Triple-digit pressure totals are rarified air. Future Hall of Famers like Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt have hit that mark, while Maxx Crosby and Micah Parsons have also reached 100+ pressures after the NFL added a 17th game in 2021. Hutchinson is the face of a revamped Lions defense that could show more improvement in 2024.

    7) Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

    While Trevor Lawrence hasn’t necessarily turned into the generational quarterback he was billed as in 2021, he ranks 12th in adjusted net yards per attempt and 14th in EPA + CPOE composite over the past two seasons after being released from Urban Meyer’s vice grip.

    Injuries hindered Lawrence down the stretch and eventually kept the Jaguars out of the playoffs. He still has all the traits of a high-end NFL QB, but Lawrence has to become more consistent on a down-by-down basis and limit turnovers to reach his full potential.

    6) C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans

    C.J. Stroud could hardly been more impressive in his 2023 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign.

    The No. 2 overall pick led the NFL in passing yards per game (273.9) and interception rate (1%), showing a rare blend of aggressiveness and patience while looking like a 10-year veteran under center.

    Stroud set a new rookie passing record with a 470-yard, five-TD performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9. He went over 4,000 passing yards in Houston’s division-title-clinching Week 18 win, then became the youngest quarterback to win a playoff game in the Texans’ 45-14 Wild Card Round victory against the Browns.

    5) Kyle Hamilton, S, Baltimore Ravens

    While Kyle Hamilton had some hiccups early in his career, he’s developed into one of the NFL’s most dynamic defenders, more than fulfilling the promise that made him the 14th overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.

    Hamilton joined Antoine Winfield Jr. as a first-team All-Pro and displays the same sort of versatility as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety. Hamilton played 465 snaps in the slot, 301 as a free safety, and 236 in the box, contributing in just about every phase of the game.

    The Notre Dame product is an eraser in coverage who can keep up with all types of opposing pass catchers. But Hamilton also posted three sacks and 14 pressures despite rushing the passer fewer than 40 times.

    4) Patrick Surtain II, CB, Denver Broncos

    Patrick Surtain II wasn’t quite as dominant in 2023 as he was in his 2022 All-Pro season, but that’s the life of an NFL cornerback — even an elite one. The Denver Broncos’ defense was a disaster early last year, and Surtain’s coverage numbers dipped during that stretch. Still, he’s typically as consistent as any corner in the league.

    While he was mentioned as a speculative trade candidate as the Broncos pursued a rookie QB, Surtain was too valuable for Sean Payton to give up. He should rebound in 2024 if the rest of Denver’s defense plays up to par. Surtain’s perfect technique lets him cover any receiver in the NFL.

    3) Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

    Ja’Marr Chase has been everything the Cincinnati Bengals hoped for and more since entering the league in 2021. He’s tied for second in receiving touchdowns (29) and ranks seventh in receiving yards (3,717) during that span and should become one of the league’s highest-paid WRs on his next contract.

    Only five receivers — including Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, and Odell Beckham Jr. — scored more touchdowns than Chase over their first three pro seasons. His connection with his college and pro teammate, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, is among the NFL’s most lethal.

    2) Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets

    Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only three defenders have earned first-team All-Pro nods in each of their first two seasons: Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, Parsons, and Gardner, who’s on an early Hall of Fame track with the Jets.

    NFL quarterbacks were terrified to throw at Gardner last year. In 2023, he was the only cornerback to start at least 14 games and receive fewer than 60 targets.

    Gardner only saw 55 targets in his coverage area last season as QBs avoided the former No. 4 overall pick’s zone. He’s broken up 31 pass attempts through two NFL campaigns while allowing just two touchdowns.

    1) Penei Sewell, OT, Detroit Lions

    It’s fair to say the Lions are embarking on a youth movement. In 2023, Detroit was the NFL’s fifth-youngest team by snap-weighted age. LaPorta, St. Brown, and Hutchinson all made our list, and Gibbs was an honorable mention, but we’ve saved the best for first.

    Penei Sewell is the NFL’s best player under 25 — and you can argue that he’s the top offensive tackle in the league, too.

    He’s moved ahead of Lane Johnson as the NFL’s best right tackle, earning a first-team All-Pro nod after a dominant 2023 campaign. Sewell is in the conversation with Trent Williams and Tristan Wirfs as the best tackle overall. He’s certainly being paid like it — Sewell is the league’s highest-paid OT after signing a four-year, $112 million extension with Detroit in April.

    So many individuals — including head coach Dan Campbell, general manager Brad Holmes, and quarterback Jared Goff — deserve credit for the Lions’ recent surge. Sewell, the first draft pick for the Campbell-Holmes regime, is among those franchise cornerstones and emblematic of Detroit’s turnaround.

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