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Top 10 most athletic NFL players of the 21st century

Top 10 most athletic NFL players of the 21st century
Photo Credit: USA TODAY

The NFL is a league obsessed with ranking, with comparing, with determining who is the best. Whether that be the Top 100 players of 2020, players of the decade, or the much-debated “Greatest Of All Time,” such rankings provide hours of heated debate. However, as the ultimate team sport, one individual’s achievements are almost always dependant upon their supporting cast.

Athleticism, however, is the attribute of the individual. There can be no debate or argument with a player’s athletic ability, especially with the advancements in timing and measurements at events such as the NFL Combine. In the spirit of ranking, PFN used Relative Athletic Score to put together the top 10 most athletic NFL players of the 21st century.

There were some caveats. To be eligible for the ranking, a player must have played a minimum of three years in the NFL (unless drafted in 2018 or 2019) and made at least one start per year they were in the league. The results may surprise you.

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Top 10 most athletic NFL players of the 21st century

10. Manny Lawson, Linebacker

Like many of the players on this list of the most athletic NFL players of the 21st century, Manny Lawson had a track and field background that helped him excel on the football field. In high school, Lawson qualified for multiple state championship events, including both long and triple jump and multiple distance sprint events.

After a productive college career at North Carolina State, Lawson’s track and field background was particularly evident at the 2006 NFL Combine. His vertical and broad jumps earned him an elite explosion grade, while a 10-yard split of 1.53 contributed to an elite speed grade and an overall RAS of 9.98.

Lawson’s athletic ability allowed him to become a versatile and valuable piece in the NFL. The 22nd overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers would play both outside linebacker and defensive end. Lawson had an ability to get after the quarterback but also be proficient in pass coverage. He played for the 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals before finishing his career with a three-year spell with the Buffalo Bills.

9. Lorenzo Carter, Linebacker

After a dominant career on the field at Georgia, Lorenzo Carter dominated the linebacker field in the athletic testing at the 2018 NFL Combine. His RAS of 9.99 saw him ranked first of 1784 linebackers scored between 1987 and 2018.

Although Carter didn’t run a 3-cone or shuttle and therefore didn’t receive an agility grade, he posted elite grades for speed, size, and explosion. His 10’10 broad jump led all linebackers, while his 4.46 40-yard dash was second amongst the position.

Carter was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. In his first season in New York, he started two games, contributing four sacks and seven tackles for loss. In 2019, he logged his first career forced fumble, adding another four sacks and 13 quarterback hits in 12 starts.

8. Matt Jones, Wide Receiver

The Jacksonville Jaguars stunned the football world when they drafted former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones as a wide receiver in the 2005 NFL Draft. Although Jones led the SEC in passing yards per attempt in 2003, he’d flashed his athletic ability on the ground, twice leading the SEC in rushing yards per attempt and setting the SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback.

Jones earned his place as one of the most athletic NFL players of the 21st century at the 2005 NFL Combine.

He received a RAS of 10, with elite size, speed, and explosion after running a 4.4 40-yard dash and posting impressive broad and vertical jumps, hardly surprising for a former basketball player.

The 21st overall pick played four seasons for the Jaguars, with 2153 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns before multiple arrests and a failed attempt to make the Bengals team ended his career.

7. Evan Mathis, Guard

A multi-sport athlete in high school, Evan Mathis showed off his athletic ability as a wrestler, track and field standout and in the shot put before becoming a regular fixture on the offensive line at the University of Alabama.

Although Mathis gained weight at Alabama, his 304lbs measurement at the 2005 NFL Combine contributed to him only receiving a good size grade. However, with elite speed, explosion, and agility at the guard position, he received a RAS of 10.

Mathis was selected by the Carolina Panthers in the third round but will be best remembered for his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was an All-Pro in 2013 and rated as the best guard in the NFL between 2011 and 2013.

Mathis won the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos before retiring as an Arizona Cardinal in 2017.

6. Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle

Taylor Lewan had received some attention for his athletic prowess before he became a highly decorated left tackle at Michigan. Coming out of high school, Lewan was ranked by Rivals as one of the most athletic and agile offensive tackles in the 2009 recruiting class.

Lewan’s performance at the 2014 NFL Combine provided further evidence of his athletic ability. With elite explosion and agility grades, and a frankly insane 4.87 40-yard dash at 309 pounds, Lewan earned an elite speed grade and an overall RAS of 10, making him one of the most athletic NFL players of the 21st century.

Lewan has put his athleticism to good use on the field, earning a spot on the NFL All-Rookie Team in 2014 and is, without a doubt, one of the best offensive tackles in the league right now. He flashed his combine speed on a 10-yard scamper into the endzone for a receiving touchdown in the 2016 Week 7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Continue for the top five most athletic players of the 21st century. 

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