Football is a young man’s game. Sorry, Tom Brady.
Across the league, young players are becoming more important thanks to their athleticism, speed and team-friendly contracts.
Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Myles Garrett and Quenton Nelson are 26. Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Jaire Alexander and Minkah Fitzpatrick just turned 25 after making this list last year. But even though some of the best players are just past the 25-year-old threshold, there are still plenty of budding superstars below the quarter-century mark.
Here are the top 25 NFL players under 25 years old entering the 2022 season, organized by position:
Justin Herbert, Chargers QB, age 24
The 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year followed up his dazzling debut with an even better encore. Herbert became the first Chargers quarterback to surpass 5,000 passing yards in a season, as Los Angeles fell just one win short of the postseason. Even though 2022 will be his third full season starting, Herbert still doesn’t turn 25 until next March.
Mac Jones, Patriots QB, age 23
New England Patriots
Jones will turn 24 just before his sophomore season begins, but he’s earned his spot on this list. Despite being the fifth quarterback taken in the 2021 draft, Jones was the best of all rookie signal-callers last year. He finished with 22 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 passing yards while leading the Patriots back to the playoffs for the first time since Tom Brady’s departure.
Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars QB, age 22
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick was disappointing as a rookie, but it’s important to provide context. He was easily in the worst situation, from the Urban Meyer fiasco to a lackluster group of skill players. After coming into the NFL as one of the most hyped QB prospects ever, it’s only fair to give Lawrence one more year before jumping to conclusions. The Jaguars spent more money than any team in free agency and have a new, QB-friendly coach in Doug Pederson.
Najee Harris, Steelers RB, age 24
Behind a porous offensive line, Harris still delivered solid numbers as a rookie last season – 1,200 rushing yards, 467 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. With some improved blockers and better quarterback play, it’s possible that Harris could develop into one of the league’s best rushers.
Jonathan Taylor, Colts RB, age 23
Taylor is still extremely young, as he won’t turn 24 until January and he’s already played two NFL seasons. He was the best RB in football last year, totaling a league-best 1,811 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. The Colts rode Taylor for all 17 games, and he was rewarded by finishing second in AP Offensive Player of the Year voting behind Cooper Kupp.
Javonte Williams, Broncos RB, age 22
In a backfield committee with veteran Melvin Gordon last season, Williams still emerged as a stud rookie RB. He had 903 rushing yards on 4.4 yards per carry, and those numbers only figure to increase with the threat of Russell Wilson as his quarterback instead of Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock. Williams, a second-round pick, was a steal for the Broncos in 2021.
DK Metcalf, Seahawks WR, age 24
Metcalf will miss Russell Wilson this year, but he made the most of his first three seasons. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound wideout reached 900 receiving yards every season since he was drafted in the second round in 2019. In 2021, he had a career-high 12 touchdowns. It’s unclear if Metcalf will remain in Seattle long-term, but he’s in line for a monster payday when his current rookie deal expires.
Justin Jefferson, Vikings WR, age 23
In just two seasons, Jefferson has made a legitimate case for being the best receiver in football. He had 1,400 receiving yards as a rookie, then had 1,616 last season to go along with 10 touchdowns and 108 receptions last year. Jefferson has been named Second-Team All-Pro in both of his campaigns and he still won’t turn 24 until next June.
CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys WR, age 23
Lamb had one of the quietest 1,000-yard seasons in the league last year, which is surprising given the team he plays for. The second-year Cowboys wideout set career marks in receiving yards (1,102), receptions (79) and touchdowns (6). With Amari Cooper out of the picture, 2022 could be the year where Lamb gets recognized as a true No. 1 receiver.
Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins WR, age 23
In a struggling offense led by Tua Tagovailoa, Waddle was a consistent bright spot in his rookie season. He had 1,015 yards and 104 receptions, often serving as Tagovailoa’s security blanket. Now paired with speedy wideout Tyreek Hill and offensive-minded coach Mike McDaniel, Waddle could be even better this season as he gets less attention from defenses.
Ja’Marr Chase, Bengals WR, age 22
Chase’s rookie season looked like this: 1,455 yards, 13 touchdowns, Second-Team All-Pro and a Super Bowl appearance. And he did all that as a 21-year-old. The pairing with his college QB Joe Burrow has been perfect, as they look like the league’s next great QB-WR duo. It’s impossible to put a ceiling on Chase with his skillset at this age.
Kyle Pitts, Falcons TE, age 21
Last season, Pitts became the second rookie tight end to surpass 1,000 yards in a season (Mike Ditka, 1961). Even though he had just one touchdown, Pitts is clearly a future star at this position. The Falcons traded Matt Ryan this offseason, putting Pitts in a tough position with either Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder at quarterback. He should be good enough in spite of lesser quarterback play, though.
Triston Wirfs, Buccaneers OT, age 23
Wirfs started every game as a rookie for the Bucs on their Super Bowl run in 2020. He followed that up by starting every game and being named First-Team All-Pro while protecting Tom Brady in 2021. The Iowa product appears to be at the beginning of a long, storied career.
Rashawn Slater, Chargers OT, age 23
The Chargers’ line was desperately in need of some help for Justin Herbert. Slater, a first-round pick who started 16 games at left tackle, did the trick and then some. He was Second-Team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler, solidifying Los Angeles’ line and giving Herbert some much-needed time to work.
Creed Humphrey, Chiefs C, age 23
After Patrick Mahomes was annihilated in Super Bowl LV, Kansas City completely reshaped its offensive line last offseason. Humphrey, a second-round pick, was the anchor of those changes. He started all 17 games at center and finished with a stellar 91.4 Pro Football Focus grade.
Nick Bosa, 49ers DE, age 24
Bosa returned from a torn ACL in 2021 and didn’t miss a beat, racking up 15.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. It’s no coincidence that the 49ers made the Super Bowl in Bosa’s rookie season, missed the playoffs in the year he was injured and returned to the NFC Championship Game last season. The soon-to-be 25-year-old is the key to their defensive success.
Brian Burns, Panthers DE, age 24
An underrated EDGE rusher, Burns has been solid since Carolina drafted him 16th overall in 2019. He made his first Pro Bowl last season after totaling nine sacks and 50 combined tackles. As the Panthers remain stuck in a stagnant rebuild, it’s easy to overlook Burns.
Chase Young, Commanders DE, age 23
Young set the league on fire as a rookie before coming back down to earth in 2021. His season ended early due to a torn ACL, but the production wasn’t the same even before the injury. Young had just 1.5 sacks in nine games as Washington’s defense took a step back. As Bosa showed, pass-rushers can return from a torn ACL and not miss a step. That’s what I’m expecting from Young whenever he can get back on the field.
Rashan Gary, Packers LB, age 24
Displaying steady improvement over his first three seasons, Gary has become an integral part of Green Bay’s defense. He had 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2021 as the Packers secured the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Gary could step into a more prominent role as he enters year four and seeks a contract extension.
Devin White, Buccaneers LB, age 24
White was at his best during the Bucs’ 2020 Super Bowl season, but he was still a Pro Bowler in 2021. His sack and tackle numbers went down from 2020 to 2021, which isn’t much of a concern. He’s one of the anchors of a defense looking to get back to the Super Bowl in 2022.
Micah Parsons, Cowboys LB, age 23
One of the most impressive rookies from last season, Parsons lined up at linebacker and EDGE rusher and excelled in both areas. He finished the season with 13 sacks and 84 total tackles, giving him First-Team All-Pro honors and AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. Parsons isn’t a star-in-the-making, he’s already a legitimate star – a star who doesn’t turn 24 until next May.
Trevon Diggs, Cowboys CB, age 24
Diggs became the NFL’s best ball-hawk cornerback last season, leading the league in interceptions (11), interception return yards (142) and interceptions returned for a TD (2). While he can sometimes get burned while chasing the big play, there’s no denying how talented Diggs is. Pairing him with Parsons could be the birth of the league’s next great defense.
A.J. Terrell, Falcons CB, age 23
I didn’t even consider Terrell for this list last year after his so-so rookie season. But in year two, he clearly developed into a bonafide No. 1 corner. Opposing quarterbacks were wise to avoid Terrell, as he allowed just 29 catches on 66 targets in 16 games. The Falcons now have pillars on both sides of the ball with Terrell and Pitts.
Patrick Surtain II, Broncos CB, age 22
The No. 9 overall pick in 2021, Surtain quickly showed his skills with Denver. He had four interceptions and 58 total tackles. On 530 pass snaps, he allowed just a 56% completion percentage when he was targeted. Expect that number to go down as opponents recognize that he is not the right guy to attack.
Jevon Holland, Dolphins S, age 22
Another rookie from last season, Holland unexpectedly took command of the Dolphins’ defense as a second-round pick. He showed his versatility from the jump, totaling two interceptions, 2.5 sacks, 10 passes defended and 69 total tackles. In a conference with star quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, Holland will be invaluable for Miami.