NFL Top 10: the 10 best players in the NFL under the age of 24
All I want in the NFL Draft this year for my team is a player who instantly jumps onto this list.
Honorable Mention: LaVonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Bucs (23) The Bucs went from the bottom of the league in run defense in 2011 to the top of the league in the same category in 2012, and David was one of the main additions that allowed them to make that move. He could have easily been rookie of the year this year with just one or two more big plays, which are pretty random things. I ended going up with some more experienced guys between 5-10 on this list, so David barely missed the cut.
Interestingly enough (to me, anyway), no team has multiple players in the top ten. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that much, because it is my list, but I was half-expecting to find one team ahead of all the others in collecting young talent. But the draft does a pretty good job of distributing it.
10. Corey Liuget, DE, San Diego Chargers (23) Liuget broke out in 2012 as the Chargers best defensive lineman after a weak rookie season. He’s now the cornerstone player on a Chargers defense that will have to be rebuilt.
9. Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati Bengals (23) A really good pickup by the Bengals looked even better when Steelers first round guard David DeCastro got hurt in the preseason, but when Zeiter was arguably the Bengals best offensive lineman as a rookie, the pick looked even better.
8. Marcel Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills (23) Dareus has had a quiet start to his career after being the third overall pick in 2011, one of the curses of playing in Buffalo. But he also plays on a defensive line that, while having underachieved a year ago, features another awesome interior player in Kyle Williams, and an edge rusher in Mario Williams who…probably isn’t completely done as a player. Dareus has either turned into a really good player in Buffalo, or already was a really good player coming into the league, depending on your perspective. Linemen who can play 800 high efficiency defensive snaps are rare.
7. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns (22) While the Browns’ management has publicly voiced complaints about Josh Gordon’s maturity, I think maybe the Browns don’t quite realize what they have here: receivers typically don’t have seasons at age 21 like Gordon just did. It’s a short list, and one that’s got all sorts of talent on it. The worst player in NFL history to do what Gordon did at age 21 is probably Jeremy Maclin, which is a pretty nice floor. Also: Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, and Hakeem Nicks are on this list.
6. Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks (23) The tackling machine probably got overshadowed in defensive rookie of the year voting, but Wagner is an excellent example of the modern linebacker: he’s got all the skills. Wagner can get after the passer, he’s got awareness in coverage, and hes a good player against the run. And he’s doing it all while people his age are still putting up with college classes.
5. Tyron Smith, LT, Dallas Cowboys (23) The crown jewel of the last two Cowboys draft, Smith is an elite offensive tackle in development who projects better down the road than his college teammate Matt Kalil does at the same position in the NFL. The Cowboys paid a stiff price to get him in the 2011 draft, taking him with the 9th overall pick, but Smith has already proven to be worth that price tag.
4. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers (23) In Cobb’s first ever pro game against the New Orleans Saints, he used his incredible balance to break a tackle and return a kick for a touchdown. That play put him on the map, but quietly, he has become the number one receiver in the NFL’s most explosive offense, and the most dangerous weapon on the field nearly any time he lines up.
Also: after Cobb and Rueben Randle were drafted with the last pick in the second round in consecutive drafts, it’s left me wondering why teams who have the first 62 picks can’t figure out how to get these guys.
3. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers (22) The player that actually did win the NFL defensive player of the year last year (and perhaps more prestigious honor, was my top rated defensive player in last year’s draft), everything about Kuechly screams he’s a rare breed. Kuechly may have the body of a linebacker, but he looks a lot older than a player who was one of the very youngest talents in the draft a year ago, and he has kind of an unassuming, non-jock demeanor to him. He’s also probably the next Brian Urlacher in the NFL, and there will not be a better inside linebacker prospect for a decade. The Panthers are going to win a heck of a lot of games with Kuechly and Cam Newton, whenever they want to get themselves out of cap hell and start building towards the future with two cornerstone players will be fine by Panther fans.
2. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals (23) The NFL’s modern day PrimeTime is not marketing gimmick Leon Sandcastle: it’s Patrick Peterson. A true threat to both prevent points by the opposing offense while providing most of Arizona’s point scoring, he’s the desert’s answer to the recent success of San Francisco and Seattle. Can and has played on the offensive side of the ball. A shutdown corner heading into his third year, and an absolute steal at fifth overall in the 2011 draft.
1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins (23) Robert Griffin led the national football league in yards per carry last year. Eat your heart out, Adrian Peterson.
Hey remember when Michael Vick had that MVP level 2010 season and got an $100 million dollar contract? Turns out, Robert Griffin just had that same season at age 22. In fact, the only stronger “dual-threat” season in the history of the NFL stronger than Griffin’s rookie year was Steve Young’s 1992, when he was in the lineup in relief of Joe Montana. Young’s offensive coordinator that season was…Mike Shanahan. Honorable mention here to Cam Newton’s 2011, where his 14 rushing TDs by a QB will not be touched for a very long time. And yes, that is a challenge, Johnny Manziel.