Top NFL rosters 25-years old and younger

It's important to have a young core in order to build a contender. Which roster under 25-years-old is the best?

To win in today’s NFL, you have to have a balanced roster. While having a very veteran team can bring an advantage, it’s the young talent takes a team from pretender to contender.

Young roster pieces are vital to a team’s long-term success. A unit that can replace a talented veteran with an up and coming star usually keeps a franchise in playoff contender for the foreseeable future. They say that new is always better and a fresh new face could be the pick-me-up to help any aging roster.

NFL’s Network’s Daniel Jeremiah asked the question on which roster has the most promising young talent. Naturally, everyone has their own opinions based on what they look for. Some hope to have a robust young quarterback while others believe key defensive pieces could be the answer.

There’s no one right answer, but several rosters are stronger thank to their young core set in motion. Let’s take a look at the top 10 rosters with players under 25. There are several rules, however, just so no one complains when their team isn’t mentioned.

  1. A player must be 25 or younger when the 2019 season begins
  2. A player must have played at least one season
  3. Injuries will affect a roster

10. New York Jets

(Notable players: QB Sam Darnold, TE Chris Herndon, DL Leonard Williams, OLB Jordan Jenkins, S Jamal Adams)

As crazy of an offseason the Jets had, there’s undoubtedly promise for the long-term. With the addition of key free agents, the New York Jets might not contend this season but should be a team on the rise.

Sam Darnold proved he was a franchise quarterback last season. With 2,865 yards and 17 touchdowns, the USC product has the size, mechanics and leadership quality a franchise wants under center. Chris Herndon surprised the NFL world with a strong rookie season. Last year, he collected 39 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns.

Leonard Williams is still 25-years-old even though it feels like he’s been in the league forever. The focal point of New York’s defensive line, Williams has collected 17 career sacks and been an excellent run stopper. Jamal Adams is one of the league’s top safeties thanks to his hard-hitting demeanor and cover skills. While Jordan Jenkins isn’t perfect, he’s collected 12.5 sacks in three seasons.

Several teams are deserving of the last spot, but New York might have the brightest future. With Quinnen Williams joining the squad and Marcus Maye just missing the cut, the Jets’ defense could become a top unit next season. Hopefully, the offense can measure up to the same standards.

9. Carolina Panthers

(Notable players: RB Christian McCaffery, WR DJ Moore, OT Taylor Moton, LB Shaq Thompson, CB Donte Jackson

Sleep on the Carolina Panthers all you want; they’re still a contender this season. While a majority of the focus will be on Cam Newton, the young offensive core could compliment anyone who plays quarterback this upcoming season.

Christian McCaffery is looking to become the most versatile back in the NFL. Last season, the former top 10 pick collected nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards, rushing for his first 1,000-yard season. DJ Moore will need to become a factor in the red zone, but he finished his rookie campaign with 55 catches for 788 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Taylor Moton is a solid right tackle, grading out with a 76.2 grade by PFF last season.

The Panthers secondary could be the focal point of the defense thanks to their two cornerbacks. Donte Jackson shined in coverage in his first season out of LSU with nine pass breakups and four interceptions. With the loss of Thomas Davis, all eyes turn to Shaq Thompson, who hasn’t exceed expectations early in his career. Still, Thompson had a solid 2018 season with 80 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Carolina is more than just a team surrounding Newton. If Brian Burns is a hit, they’ll be on the rise. For now, they’re certainly a team with a fun young core to build around in the future.

8. Houston Texans

(Notable players: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Will Fuller, WR Keke Coutee, LB Zach Cunningham, FS Justin Reid)

The Houston Texans have a nice core in place. Their biggest concern is health moving forward.

Deshaun Watson is perhaps the league’s top young quarterback even behind the dreaded offensive line. In two seasons, the Clemson product collected 45 touchdowns and 5,864 yards despite missing half of the 2017 season. The same thing could go for Will Fuller and Keke Coutee, both of whom are blazers but have seen a slew of injuries early in their careers.

Zach Cunningham and Justin Reid are two cornerstone pieces to build off the defense. Cunningham in his second season collected 107 total tackles while Reid was a mid-round steal with 88 tackles and three interceptions.

If Houston can remain healthy with their young core, they could be a contender. With veterans such as Benardrick McKinney, J.J. Watt, and DeAndre Hopkins, it’ll be hard to count Houston out. Pray, though, for Watson behind perhaps the worst offensive line in football.

7. Atlanta Falcons

(Notable players: WR Calvin Ridley, TE Austin Hooper, DE Takk McKinley, LB Deion Jones, SS Keanu Neal

The Atlanta Falcons are my pick to surprise the NFL this season and make a deep run come January. While the veteran talent has impressed, it’s the young core that will make this team a contender week one.

Calvin Ridley was a surprise pick for Atlanta with receiver room looking fine. He also surprised the NFL with 64 catches, 821 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, the most for a rookie receiver. Austin Hooper is turning into a sound tight end with a solid season in 2018. Last year, the Stanford alum finished with a career-high 71 catches for 660 yards and four touchdowns.

Takk McKinley will need a big season after underwhelming last year. Still, the UCLA product collected seven sacks, one more than in his rookie season. Deion Jones and Keanu Neal missed all last season with injuries. Still, these two have been vital to the Falcons’ run game while Neal is also sound in coverage with 14 pass breakups.

If Neal, Jones and the rest of the Falcons defense can remain healthy, Atlanta is a team to make a run. While their veteran core is set, it’s their young core that could decide on if they’ll be representing the conference in Miami come February.

6. Indianapolis Colts 

(Notable players: RB Marlon Mack, OG Quenton Nelson, OT Braden Smith, LB Darius Leonard, FS Malik Hooker

Everyone wrote off the Indianapolis Colts last season due to their weak offensive line. Thanks to two young additions, this is the team with the most potential in the AFC heading into 2019.

Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith were selected with top 40 picks last April. Nelson is already an elite guard one season in while Smith helped the Colts allow a league-low 18 sacks. Marlon Mack might not look the part of a feature back, but his stats don’t lie. In his second season, the later rounder collected over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns.

Darius Leonard was the biggest surprise of last year’s draft. The South Carolina State product took home Rookie of the Year honors with his 163 total tackle, two-interception and four forced fumble campaign. Malik Hooker might not be mentioned as much, but he’s collected five interceptions in two seasons. His only concern will be his health.

Never write off Indianapolis again. With an improved offensive line, a young core and Andrew Luck leading the way, the AFC South might continue to go through Lucas Oil.

5. Chicago Bears 

(Notable players: QB Mitch Trubisky, RB Tarik Cohen, WR Anthony Miller, LB Roquan Smith, DL Eddie Goldman)

Allen Robinson will be 26 when the 2019 season begins. Although he still would work with this exercise, the Bears still have another promising offensive weapon to make their young unit a top five heading into camp.

Mitchell Trubisky flourished heading into year two for the Chicago Bears. Some would say it’s his adjustment to the NFL while others will argue his arsenal. No matter what, the Pro Bowl quarterback threw for 3,223 yards and 22 touchdowns on his way to a 12-4 season. Seven of the touchdowns were caught by Anthony Miller, one of the league’s more underrated rookies last season in a crowded receiver room.

Tarik Cohen does it all. Last year, the “pinball runner” averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 10.2 yards per catch on his way to 1,000 all-purpose yards. Roquan Smith is a rising linebacker after collecting 121 total tackles during his rookie season. Eddie Goldman has become a solid 3-4 nose tackle, helping stuff the run and collect 11.5 sacks in four years.

The Bears were smart by bringing in veteran talent. Thanks to the older generation, the young core was able to thrive early and bring home an NFC North title. Chicago certainly is a team on the rise.

4. New Orleans Saints 
(Notable players: RB Alvin Kamara, OT Ryan Ramczyk, DE Marcus Davenport, CB Marshon Lattimore, S Marcus Williams)  

If Michael Thomas had not just turned 26, the New Orleans Saints would undoubtedly be in the conversation for the top slot. While the All-Pro wideout might not make the cut, the Saints have still one of the youngest and brightest cores heading into the 2019 season.

Alvin Kamara will finally get a chance to become the feature back in New Orleans’ backfield. He’s made the most of his first two seasons though, collecting 3,146 all-purpose yards and 31 touchdowns. Ryan Ramczyk is turning into one of the league’s top right tackles heading into his third season. The Wisconsin product graded with an 81.3 rating from Pro Football Focus and has become a top run blocker in his short career.

Marcus Williams is best remembered for missing the tackle in the “Minneapolis Miracle.” He should instead be recognized for his excellent cover skills as the team’s free safety. In two seasons, Williams has collected six interceptions along with 10 pass breakups. Marshon Lattimore is turning into one of the league’s bright young corners after another strong season in man coverage. The verdict is still out on Marcus Davenport, but he did collect 4.5 sacks in just 13 games as a rotational player, according to Pro Football Reference.

The 2017 class for New Orleans was historic. Add in the veteran talent such as Drew Brees, Thomas, Cameron Jordan, and Terron Armstead, and it’s easy to pencil in New Orleans as a top unit in the NFC. Their young talent perfectly compliments the veteran members in the locker room.

3. Los Angeles Chargers 

(Notable players: WR Mike Williams, TE Hunter Henry, DE Joey Bosa, CB Desmond King, SS Derwin James)

The Los Angeles Chargers are starting to gain traction as one of the top contenders for the Super Bowl this season. There’s a good reason for that; an established veteran core and a promising young one. The best part about Los Angeles’ experienced core is they’re also not that old.

Mike Williams looked to be a potential bust after his rookie season. In year two, the Clemson receiver proved his worth by becoming an excellent No.2 option behind Keenan Allen. Williams finished with 43 catches, averaging 15.4 yards per catch and 10 touchdowns. The Chargers might have been in the Super Bowl last season if not for an injury to tight end Hunter Henry. Entering his fourth season, Henry has posted back to back 35+ receptions seasons and scored 12 touchdowns.

Joey Bosa is already considered one of the league’s top pass rushers after yet another promising season. Last year, the Buckeye product collected just 5.5 sacks, but only played in seven games. Imagine him with 16 starts after back to back double-digit sack seasons. Derwin James showed the world he was severely under drafted after collecting 76 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and three interceptions. Desmond King is a promising slot corner who also is deadly in the return game.

Allen is just 27-years-old while Melvin Gordon is 26. Los Angeles is a young roster with experienced veterans who can teach the young guns a lesson. This should be a roster to watch for years to come down the line.

2. Cleveland Browns 

(Notable players: QB Baker Mayfield, RB Nick Chubb, TE David Njoku, DE Myles Garrett, CB Denzel Ward

The Cleveland Browns are one of the hottest teams in the NFL for a reason. Not only did GM John Dorsey crush his first draft but also added in veteran talent to take the team to the next level.

On paper, it seemed crazy that Cleveland elected to go for Baker Mayfield over “more NFL type quarterbacks” Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. All Mayfield did was set a rookie record with 27 touchdowns along with a 63.8 completion rating. Oh, he also did that without the help of newly acquired Odell Beckham Jr. in his arsenal. Nick Chubb would have been a first-round selection if not for a slew of injuries at Georgia. Last season, he rushed for 996 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Tight end David Njoku continued his progression in year two working with Mayfield. The Miami product finished with 56 catches, 639 yards, and four touchdowns, also becoming a better blocker. Myles Garrett is set to become an MVP candidate after his 13.5 sack season while Denzel Ward showed patience in coverage and collected three interceptions as a rookie.

The Browns are going to compete in 2019 thanks to the progression of their young core. It’s not going to be shocking when we talk about Cleveland in January, this time, however, potentially in the postseason.

1. Dallas Cowboys

(Notable players: QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Amari Cooper, LB Jaylon Smith, LB Leighton Vander Esch)

Jerimiah believed the Dallas Cowboys were the team with the best young core in place. While that window might be open just for the 2019 season, he couldn’t be more correct. Other organizations might have up, and coming players but Dallas has a great young core to match their talented veteran roster.

Dak Prescott is about to get paid after another successful season. Argue the price all you want, but the former fourth-rounder has shown he has the skills and mechanics to be a franchise quarterback. In 48 games, the Mississippi State product has a career 66.1% completion rating, 67 touchdowns and has thrown for over 10,000 yards. Ezekiel Elliott is a potential problem off the field but his two 1,000+ seasons on the ground makes him an elite running back in today’s NFL.

Amari Cooper might be the first Cowboy to walk, but he bounced back last season in the Lone Star State. After being traded by the Raiders, Cooper finished with 1000 total receiving and seven touchdowns (six with Dallas). Jaylon Smith was worth the wait after missing the 2016 season due to a torn ACL while Leighton Vander Esch is the league’s top newcomer. The pair are excellent in Dallas’ defensive scheme and are possibly the best young linebacking corps in the nation.

The key will be keeping these five together as three are up for new deals after the season. IF Jerry Jones can find a way to make it happen, Dallas shouldn’t be waiting much longer to hoist another Lombardi Trophy.

Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson

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