Top 25 NFL players under 25 years old heading into 2021

The NFL is full of players at the top of their game before they turn 25. It’s amazing how developed some of the quarterbacks in the league are coming out of college now. Our list is comprised of 18 players who rank in PFN’s NFL Top 100 players. The other seven could very well find themselves on that list heading into 2022.

Top NFL players under 25 | 16-25

These players are some of the best in the NFL, and they all hopefully have long and healthy careers ahead of them.

25) Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears

Smith heads into his fourth season in the NFL, so he’s already a grizzled veteran despite his youthfulness. What a perfect combination heading into his second contract.

Smith is a twitchy, “undersized” linebacker with sideline-to-sideline range. His career started a bit slower than one would expect from the eighth overall pick, but his third season was an example of why he went so high. He needs to learn to take on blocks while having the length disadvantage more consistently. However, given his range, there is a bit of give and take that makes the inconsistencies worthwhile.

24) CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Lamb is already one of the top NFL players under 25, and he’s still only 22. He was on quite the pace while quarterback Dak Prescott was healthy. He still had an excellent rookie season while playing with a host of different quarterbacks. He’s put on mass in his first offseason as a professional, which should help him become even more dominant against press coverage.

Lamb feasted in the slot for the Cowboys. He’s a silky route runner with flexibility that allows him to carry speed in and out of breaks to create separation. Drops weren’t an issue for Lamb in college, but he dropped 8 passes on the season.

23) Dexter Lawrence, DT, New York Giants

Lawrence is already one of the best defensive tackles in the game, and he’s only 23 years old. He’ll jump up this list for next year after he once again dominates the interior in 2021.

Lawrence has rare athleticism for his size, but his technical leaps are what have made him so tough to block as a nose tackle. His block recognition and positional leveraging have improved early in his career. He also uses his length much better than he did coming out of Clemson. Lawrence brings value as a pass rusher, tallying 4 sacks in 2020.

22) Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers

Burns could very easily find himself within the top-50 players in the entire league after the 2021 season. Burns is one of the top players under 25 in the NFL, and he’ll still be on the under-25 list next season as well.

There isn’t a pass-rush move Burns doesn’t possess. His ghost move is absurd, but he’s got all of them in his tool bag. His feet are quick and efficient. Those feet allow him to set blockers up with a head-up hesitation before bending either inside or outside. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him drop 15 sacks in 2021.

21) Jeffery Simmons, DT, Tennessee Titans

Simmons came out hot as a rookie and improved in his second season with the Titans. He ranked as the No. 12 defensive tackle in the league, and he still has three more seasons left on his rookie deal.

Simmons is listed at just a hair over 300 pounds, but his pure strength and explosiveness allow him to play all over the defensive line. He’s scheme-diverse because of his versatility and has enough pass-rush chops to be an option on third downs. Simmons needs to continue developing his repertoire, but his stout anchor and awareness allow him to be a good run defender.

20) Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns

Ward’s agility is part of makes him one of the top NFL players under age 25. Ward ranked in the top 10 cornerbacks positional rankings at PFN. Ward fits what is quickly becoming the new mold of cornerback that is under or just at 200 pounds and stands under 6 feet.

He is seriously quick. In a league where receivers seem to be getting a tad smaller, a lot quicker, and more efficient as route runners, cornerbacks must have outstanding reactive athleticism to stay in their hip pockets. That is what Ward does so well.

Unlike the “business decision” cornerbacks out there, Ward makes no qualms coming downhill to make a play on a ball carrier. He’s an all-around talent.

19) D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers

Moore might be one of the most undervalued players in the league. Despite playing with replacement-level quarterback play, he’s put together two straight 1,000-yard seasons. Additionally, he’s become more of a downfield threat in each of his three seasons. He’s improved by at least 2 yards before the catch per reception in each offseason. His rookie season aDOT was 9, and in 2020, it was 13.2.

Moore was one of the first receivers drafted early that resembled a running back more than a receiver. The three-year veteran is one of the top NFL players under 25 because he’s a versatile weapon. He’s a threat after the catch, even at his deeper target marks. Moore possesses great balance and power as a runner, along with good vision and short-area agility.

18) Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

Jacobs’s production fell off slightly in 2020, and the Raiders decided to bring Kenyan Drake into the fold for 2021. Hopefully, this means we get to see Jacobs at his most efficient. It’ll also be interesting to see how 2021 goes with what appears to be a depleted offensive line.

Jacobs seems to be a great fit for a Jon Gruden-coached team. Gruden’s head-smashing attitude is perfect for Jacobs and his physical running style. However, the offense hasn’t featured him as a pass-catching back, even though he was already developed there coming out of Alabama.

17) Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

Herbert had quite the rookie season and is a dark horse candidate for MVP in 2021. He threw for 4,336 yards, 31 touchdowns, and only 10 interceptions. He added 5 touchdowns on the ground as well during his Offensive Rookie of the Year performance. It’s easy to see why Herbert’s on the top 25 NFL players list under 25.

Herbert had all the physical tools of a No. 1 overall draft pick. He was a Ferrari in a Fiero offense while at Oregon, and it had to affect his draft stock negatively. Herbert has a massive arm, and his natural accuracy in the deep and intermediate middle of the field is outstanding. He’s also a well-built young man with outstanding athleticism.

16) Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Murray moves like a stabbed rat. He possesses the reactive agility of a cornerback at the quarterback position and has the potential to rush for 1,000 yards if he gets the carries to do it. Furthermore, Murray does the best job of any quarterback I’ve seen avoiding contact.

He’s far from just a runner, though. He improved his accuracy from his rookie season to Year 2. He also has one of the quickest releases of any quarterback. Moreover, the Cardinals continue to add wide receivers left and right.

Murray may not have the team around him to push for an MVP in 2021, but he could put up crazy numbers if he continues to progress.


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