As we enter the 2023 NFL season, the league is loaded with elite young talent at every position. In this article, I highlight a full starting lineup on offense &defense for the NFL’s best players under 25 years old. Rookies were not considered for this article and all players must be under 25 years old at the start of the season. Let’s get to work.
Best NFL Players Under 25: Offense
Let’s take a look at the best NFL player under the age of 25 for each core offensive position. These positions include QB, RB, WR1, WR2, WR3, TE, LT, LG, C, RG, & RT
Quarterback – Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
After a horrible rookie season, Trevor Lawrence ascended under Doug Pederson with over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. He ranked sixth in QB DVOA in the process. His playoff debut started poorly with four first-half interceptions, but his poise was impressive in leading his team to a 27-point comeback with four second-half touchdowns.
On the heels of a second-place finish in MVP voting, Jalen Hurts likely would have been the pick here, but he turns 25 years old prior to the start of the upcoming season, making him ineligible.
Running Back – Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
In 2022, his age 22 sophomore season, Jonathan Taylor led the NFL with 1,811 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. However, he struggled last season with just 861 rushing yards in 11 games as his YPC dropped from 5.5 to 4.5. In Taylor’s defense, offensive line injuries significantly hampered his efficiency, and a bounceback should be expected.
Wide Receiver – Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
Justin Jefferson was the easiest inclusion on this list. He just turned 24 years old in June, and he’s arguably already the best wide receiver in the NFL. Last season, Jefferson became the youngest wide receiver to lead the league in receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809). Jefferson is the reigning Offensive Player of the Year in the NFL and is coming off his first ever First Team All Pro selection.
Wide Receiver – Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
While Jefferson earns top honors on this list, his former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase isn’t far behind. Chase only played in 12 games last season, but he still registered over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns on the year. His chemistry with fellow LSU product Joe Burrow has helped him become one of the most productive receivers in football at 23 years old.
Wide Receiver – CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
CeeDee Lamb is coming off a career year with 107 catches (4th) for 1,359 yards (6th) and 9 touchdowns (T-4th). The advanced analytics were very favorable for Lamb as he was 5th in DYAR and 10th in yards per route run. He’s also an elite route runner as he ranked fifth in the NFL last year in open rate per ESPN Analytics.
Jaylen Waddle, Garrett Wilson, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and DeVonta Smith were all difficult omissions. The future of the wide receiver position looks very bright.
Tight End – Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
The tight end position is one that’s very difficult for young players to acclimate to in the NFL, but Pat Freiermuth has made it look easy. He was sixth among tight ends last year with 63 catches and 732 yards. Freiermuth is a traditional tight end as 58.2% of his snaps were in line per PFF, and he brings a well rounded blocking and receiving profile to the table.
Left Tackle – Andrew Thomas, New York Giants
Andrew Thomas has quickly become one of the best blindside protectors in the NFL, and he led the position in PFF WAR last season. I had Thomas ranked as the top tackle prospect in the 2020 class, and that take looked brutal after his rough rookie season, but he allowed just 21 pressures last year, the third-fewest of all left tackles with 800+ snaps per PFF.
Left Guard – Landon Dickerson, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles’ offensive line continuity was a huge factor in their run to the Super Bowl last season, and Landon Dickerson was an iron man with 1,094 snaps played over 17 games. Dickerson led all guards in run block win rate per ESPN and was second in pass block win rate. He should continue his ascension as one of the best young offensive linemen in the league.
Center – Creed Humphrey, Kansas City Chiefs
It didn’t take long for Creed Humphrey to make his mark on the NFL. In both his rookie and sophomore seasons, he’s been the highest-graded center in football by PFF. Humphrey led all centers in pass block win rate last year and ranked second in run block win rate. The Chiefs have a franchise building block for the long haul in 24-year-old Humphrey.
Right Guard – Trey Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Trey Smith joined the Chiefs along with Humphrey in the 2021 draft, and he has far outperformed his sixth-round selection. Smith was fourth in pass-block win rate among guards last year per ESPN as he played 1,194 snaps, the second-most among all guards. Prior concerns about his blood clot disorder have been firmly put to rest.
Right Tackle – Tristan Wirfs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers landed the first round draft pick of Tristan Wirfs in 2020, and he’s turned into one of the best right tackles in the league. He has ranked second in PFF grade at the position in each of the past two seasons and allowed just five total pressures on over 600 pass-blocking snaps last year.
Best NFL Players Under 25: Defense
Now, let’s take a look at the best NFL player under the age of 25 at each core defensive position. These positions include 2 edge rushers, 2 interior defensive linemen, 2 linebackers, 3 cornerbacks, and 2 safeties.
Edge – Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
While he entered the NFL as a linebacker, Micah Parsons has became almost a full time defensive end as 738 of his 917 total snaps came on the defensive line last year per PFF. He was tied for the league lead with 90 total pressures and has been a First Team All Pro player in each of his first two seasons. This might be the year he breaks through with his first Defensive Player of the Year award.
Interior Defensive Line – Alim McNeill, Detroit Lions
Still only 23 years old, Alim McNeill has had a strong start to his career as a 2021 third round selection. He might be set for the best season of his career as he has cut 13% body fat in order to improve as a pass rusher in anticipation of playing more three technique this season. I’d bet on this being his first Pro Bowl season.
Interior Defensive Line – Christian Barmore, New England Patriots
Christian Barmore didn’t have quite the second-year breakout many expected as he missed seven games, but he ranked sixth among interior defensive linemen in pass rush win rate per PFF. Look no further than his final two games to see his massive potential – he had 11 combined pressures against the Dolphins and Bills in Weeks 17 and 18. He’ll be a force in 2023 if he can stay healthy.
Edge – Jaelan Phillips – Miami Dolphins
I’m betting on a massive third year breakout into a full blown star for Jaelan Phillips in the new look Vic Fangio Dolphins defense. His 70 pressures were tied for the sixth-most among edge defenders per PFF and his 16.9% pass rush win rate ranked ninth. Miami’s improved back end play will give him the opportunity to turn more of those pressures into sacks this season.
Linebacker – Nick Bolton, Kansas City Chiefs
Nick Bolton has become an integral part of Steve Spagnuolo’s defense early in his career. He had 180 tackles last season, the second-most in the NFL and he was one of the heroes of Super Bowl LVII with an 87.4 PFF grade, the second-best on the team outside of Patrick Mahomes.
Linebacker – Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravens
A first-round pick in 2020, Patrick Queen had a troublesome start to his career. However, he’s coming off a career best 70.0 PFF grade and has improved tremendously in coverage. Baltimore’s acquisition of Roquan Smith helped him play his best football to close last season, but Smith’s contract extension likely means Queen will be on the move after this season.
Cornerback – Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos
Part of a historically loaded 2021 NFL Draft, Patrick Surtain II emerged as one of the league’s best cornerbacks in his second season as he earned a First Team All Pro nod. Surtain had 12 games last year where he allowed less than 25 yards in coverage. His consistency on the boundary was crucial for the Broncos’ pass defense that was seventh by DVOA.
Cornerback – Sauce Gardner, New York Jets
Rookie cornerbacks typically need time to acclimate to the NFL, especially those from Group of Five schools that don’t face top end competition every week. Sauce Gardner wasn’t a typical rookie corner. His 87.9 PFF grade led all cornerbacks while his 14 pass breakups paced the position. It all contributed to a First Team All Pro nod in his rookie season.
Cornerback – Tyson Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars
I deliberated between several cornerbacks for this final slot, but I went with the under appreciated Tyson Campbell whose 82.1 PFF grade was the fifth-best among cornerbacks last year. Campbell played the second-most snaps of any corner last season but allowed more than 50 yards in coverage just once. He also ranked fourth with just 0.69 receiving yards per coverage snap allowed.
Safety – Jevon Holland, Miami Dolphins
Jevon Holland’s elite rookie season was quickly forgotten after a sophomore slump, but a bounce back should be in order with the additions of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Holland’s role will mirror that of Eddie Jackson, a former First Team All Pro safety under Fangio. Expect similar results for Holland this season.
Safety – Talanoa Hufanga, San Francisco 49ers
Talanoa Hufanga was a wrecking ball in the 49ers’ defense last season – he was one of five NFL safeties with at least 95 tackles and four interceptions. He displayed tremendous instincts with six pass breakups, tied for the most at the position. It’s obvious how his work with Troy Polamalu has impacted his play style and high-level impact for one of the league’s best defenses.
Antoine Winfield Jr. turns 25 years old before this upcoming season, otherwise he would have been my selection here.
- QB – Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Kenny Pickett
- RB – Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker III, Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams
- WR – Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Tee Higgins, Garrett Wilson, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Chris Olave
- TE – Kyle Pitts, Chigoziem Okonkwo
- OT – Christian Darrisaw, Rashawn Slater, Penei Sewell
- OG – Alijah Vera-Tucker, Quinn Meinerz, Tyler Smith, Jamaree Salyer
- C – Drew Dalman
- ED – Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Uche, Greg Rousseau
- IDL – Jordan Davis
- LB – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Malcolm Rodriguez
- CB – A.J. Terrell, Jaycee Horn, Tariq Woolen, Trent McDuffie
- S – Kamren Curl, Kyle Hamilton, Jalen Pitre