The NFL is a young man’s game.
So who are the best young superstars in the league?
Here we’ve ranked the 25 best NFL players under the age of 25, as of the start of the 2020 campaign on Sept. 10.
25. D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
Despite dropping in the 2019 NFL Draft, Metcalf landed in the perfect spot to amplify his immense physical gifts. Built like a linebacker with 4.3 speed, the 22-year-old receiver is a handful for much smaller defensive backs.
Metcalf also proved that he’s more than just a deep threat, as his route tree expanded with his increase in playing time.
24. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
If Chubb had a larger role — and didn’t have to share the backfield with Kareem Hunt — he’d rank higher on this list.
23. Adoree Jackson, Tennessee Titans
Another player who just makes the cut, Jackson has improved every year since joining the Titans.
The speedy USC product had the sixth-best coverage grade a year ago, according to to PFF. He’s established himself — along with Rashaan Evans — as a leader on an improving Titans defense.
22. Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
Fred Warner is one of the most underrated players on the 49ers — and in the league. That’s what happens when you’re on a star-studded defense that features Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman and Arik Armstead, to name a few. But don’t sleep on the Niners’ star inside linebacker.
The 23-year-old defender excels in coverage, thanks to playing a hybrid linebacker-safety role at BYU. Warner has also nearly perfected Charles Tillman’s famous “Peanut Punch,” which makes every tackle a potential turnover for the Niners’ ball-hawking defense.
21. Kenny Clark, Green Bay Packers
Speaking of underrated players, the Packers’ defensive lineman doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for Green Bay. The Pro Bowl interior defender was a menace for opposing offensive lines as he tallied a career-high six sacks on 52 hurries in 2020.
The 24 year old out of UCLA has recorded a pass-rush grade of 87 or higher in back-to-back seasons, per PFF.
20. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Saquon Barkley’s had plenty of highlight-reel plays in his young career, but it’s fair to say he hasn’t quite lived up to the immense hype… yet. Thanks to a high-ankle sprain that derailed his season a year ago, Barkley watched Christian McCaffrey turn into the league’s premier back.
Can Barkley make a similar leap in Year 3?
The 23-year-old Penn State product can surely skyrocket up this list next year if he stays healthy and realizes his potential as a game-changing running back and a fantasy football league-winner in the upcoming campaign.
19. D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
In just his second season, Moore burst onto the scene as one of the most exciting young receivers in the league. After a solid rookie season, Moore racked up nearly 1,200 yards receiving despite terrible quarterback play in 2019.
He won’t be the focal point of the Panthers’ offense, but he should still be the team’s leading receiver. If the 23 year old can score more touchdowns, then watch out.
18. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans
It’s rare for a receiver to break out in his first year in the league, but that’s exactly what the Titans second-round pick did in 2019.
On just 52 receptions, the former Ole Miss standout racked up over 1,000 yards receiving and eight touchdown catches. While it’s fair to expect Brown to regress in 2020, the 23-year-old receiver should see a big bump in targets which could help negate any drop in efficiency in Year 2.
Whether it’s Derrick Henry or Brown, good luck trying to tackle any Titans player in the open field.
17. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
The reigning Rookie of the Year will be just 23 when the season kicks off, and he already looks like one of the next great passers in the NFL.
And he’s on an offense that will utilize his unique skills.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Murray make the leap into the top three in next year’s ranking.
16. Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
When listing the best receivers in the league, Sutton’s name is suspiciously missing. The Pro Bowl wide out had a monster season a year ago with more than 1,100 receiving yards despite horrendous quarterback play.
Sutton’s targets might drop this season after the Broncos added Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the draft, but that should give Sutton a lot more room to operate in a suddenly loaded Denver passing game.
15. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
Just last year, Smith-Schuster looked like the next superstar wide receiver to dominate in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for the former USC standout, his season was marred by injuries and shoddy quarterback play.
But Smith-Schuster is still just 23, and he should bounce back nicely this year with Ben Roethlisberger presumably healthy. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the pass-catcher regain his form from 2018 when he racked up nearly 1,500 receiving yards.
14. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
The former Oklahoma product should continue to be Jackson’s security blanket over the middle of the field. If Andrews’ snap count increases — and it could with Hayden Hurst out of town — then the sky's the limit for Andrews in the Ravens’ high-scoring offense.
13. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With Tom Brady in town, Godwin could emerge as the GOAT’s favorite receiver. Perhaps Godwin turns into a younger version of Julian Edelman.
The problem for Godwin this season is he won’t get nearly the same opportunity as a year ago. The Buccaneers should play a more ball-control style offense that won’t need to throw as often with one of the best defenses in the league. Plus, they added Brady’s BFF Rob Gronkowski.
Godwin is still arguably the best pass catcher under 25, but don’t expect him to put up the same numbers as he did in 2019.
12. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens
The former first-round pick really came into his own in his third season with the Ravens. The former Alabama star earned First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as he recorded a career-high three interceptions.
While the Ravens offense rightfully gets praised, the defense deserves plenty of credit — especially Baltimore’s secondary, led by the 24 year old Humphrey.
11. Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
The best young corner in the game, the 24-year-old two-time Pro Bowler bounced back in 2019 after a sophomore slump in New Orleans.
To be fair, it’s hard for any player to duplicate the rookie season that the former Ohio State defensive back pulled off in 2017 when he intercepted five passes and won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
10. Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers
The run on safety starts here.
A steal in the 2018 NFL Draft, James made First-Team All-Pro as a rookie with the Los Angeles Chargers. That’s pretty damn impressive. The former Florida Star star can do it all, he’s a ball-hawking safety in the passing game who is also adept at rushing the passer.
The soon-to-be 24 year old would rank even higher on this list if his 2019 was ruined due to a foot injury. But that’s OK, he’s still one of the league’s best safeties.
9. Jamal Adams, Seattle Seahawks
In three seasons with the Jets, Adams established himself as one of the premier safeties in the NFL. The LSU product had his best year last season, earning First-Team All-Pro honors after notching a career-high 6.5 sacks.
Like James, Adams can impact all phases of the game thanks to his ability to rush the passer, stop the run and play well in coverage. He’s the exact player you want leading a franchise’s secondary, which is exactly why the Seahawks traded their future for him.
8. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
While James and Adams are two of the best young defenders in the league, it’s Minkah Fitzpatrick who wears the crown as the top young safety.
The former Alabama player earned an 84.4 grade for the 2019 campaign, per PFF.
With a full offseason in Pittsburgh, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Fitzpatrick get even better in 2020.
7. Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts
Most offensive linemen don’t get a lot of publicity unless it’s for the wrong reasons. But not Quenton Nelson.
Not only does the 24 year old bring an attitude to the Colts’ offense, but he’s also really, really good. He’s the highest-graded interior offensive lineman over the past two seasons, says PFF.
6. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
Nobody helped transform the Niners’ once lackluster defense into an immovable force more than No. 2 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Bosa, who is just 22, won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award after tallying nine sacks and helping lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Oh yeah, he had 12 hurries in that game as well.
The Niners’ pass rusher earned a 89.8 grade from PFF, which was good for third-best among edge players in 2019.
The future is bright for San Francisco’s sack artist.
5. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
The 24-year-old Stanford product is the best running back in the league, and it’s not even close.
The Panthers star notched more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2019.
He’s the greatest fantasy football player since LaDainian Tomlinson’s unrivaled run in San Diego. Unfortunately, his dominance doesn’t equate to more wins for Carolina.
4. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
If you’re building a potential All-Decade team for the 2020s, then Garrett has to be the first name on the list at edge rusher.
In fact, the former Texas A&M star was the highest-rated pass rusher in the league at the time of his season-long suspension, according to PFF.
The Browns seem to agree, signing him to a five-year, $125 million contract extension in the offseason.
3. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
The Texans passer turns 25 a few days after the start of the 2020 campaign, so he just makes the cut. After tearing his ACL in his rookie season, Watson has established himself as one of the top signal callers in the league, earning Pro Bowl honors the last two campaigns.
Watson’s life is a little tougher this season with DeAndre Hopkins getting shipped off to Arizona, but don’t feel bad for the former Clemson star. He’s in line for a monster contract extension whenever the Texans decide to pay him.
2. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
The reigning MVP had one of the best sophomore seasons in NFL history.
Jackson should only get better as he gets more experience, but he’ll need to improve in the playoffs if he wants to be No.1 on this list next year.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
What more is there to say about the best quarterback — and player — in the league? At just 24, the $500 million man hasn't even hit his prime yet. He’ll rip the heart out of opposing teams and laugh while he does it — as Texans, Titans and Niners supporters can attest.
Photo: Getty Images / Lines.com Illustration