This is a look at the finest young players this great league has to offer. I, like yourselves, cannot wait for football to come back. I truly hope and predict the lockout will be over within the next two weeks.
This is my list of the top 25 players ages 25 and under. It was a very tough list to narrow down; therefore, I have made a few slides of players who just missed and players who are rising quickly. I decided to not put any of the 2011 rookies into the list (even though guys like Patrick Peterson may very well be in there). Hopefully, you guys enjoy.
This is a look at the players who aren't quite in the top level conversation, but could very well end up on this list next year.
- Lesean McCoy, RB: Philadelphia Eagles
- Carlos Dunlap, DE: Cincinnati Bengals
- Joe Haden, CB: Cleveland Browns
- Dez Bryant, WR: Dallas Cowboys
- LaGarrette Blount, RB: Tampa Bay Bucs
- Brandon Tate, WR: New England Patriots
- Mohammed Massaquaoi, WR: Cleveland Browns
- Rolando McClain, MLB: Oakland Raiders
- Louis Delmas, S: Detriot Lions
- Bradley Fletcher, CB: St. Louis Rams
- Kenny Phillips, S: New York Giants
- Nate Allen, S: Philadelphia Eagles
- Devin McCourty, CB: New England Patriots
- Danny Amendola, WR: St. Louis Rams
- Malcolm Jenkins, S: New Orleans Saints
- Brandon LaFell, WR: Carolina Panthers
- Mike Williams, WR: Tampa Bay Bucs
- Rodger Saffold, LT: St. Louis Rams
- Percy Harvin, WR: Minneasota Vikings
- Geno Hayes, MLB: Tampa Bay Bucs
- Jonathan Stewart, RB: Carolina Panthers
- Ahmad Bradshaw, RB: New York Giants
- Aaron Curry, OLB: Seattle Seahawks
- Dominque Rodgers Cromartie, CB: Arizona Cardinals
- Michael Oher, LT: Baltimore Ravens
- Jahvid Best, RB: Detroit Lions
- Maurkice Pouncey, C: Pittsburgh Steelers
- Steve Johnson, WR: Buffalo Bills
- Tyvon Branch, S: Oakland Raiders
- Brandon Flowers, CB: Kansas City Chiefs
- Matthew Stafford, QB: Detriot Lions
- Jeremy Maclin, WR: Philadelphia Eagles
- Brian Cushing, OLB: Houston Texans
Talib snatched 6 interceptions in 13 games, before going down with hip injury.
Sorry, there were too many good players, and I got a little greedy and indecisive and couldn't eliminate a final two. I think you guys will be OK with that.
2010 Stats: six interceptions, 38 tackles, one int. for TD (in 11 Games)
In three seasons, Talib has found his share of trouble, but he also found the oppositions balls quite often, snatching 15 balls in that span. Hopefully, Aqib will straighten out his discipline issues so we can see how truly great he can become.
Hillis poses for EA Sports, as he is the latest to grace the cover.
2010 Stats: 1,177 Rushing Yards, 11 TDs, 4.4 Rush Avg., 477 Receiving Yards
Yes, Hillis will be the cover boy for the best selling, pop culture phenomena EA Madden. Whether that's a good thing or a bag thing, we shall see. The former full back made the switch to running back in stride, making a name for himself on ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 and in fantasy football circles around the country.
I'm very interested to see if Hillis is a one hit wonder or a Mike Alstott hybrid.
2010 Stats: 1,157 Rushing Yards, seven TDs, 5.2 Rush Avg., 507 Receiving Yards
Did Al Davis finally get a first rounder right? If last season was any sign of things to come, Run DMC will be a real terror for years to come in the AFC. Standing at 6"2, 210 lbs., McFadden is blessed with some of most natural ability and size in the league at his position. Barring injury and a season....I suspect McFadden will battle Jaamal Charles and Chris Johnson for top back in the AFC.
Only Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings and Calvin Johnson had more receiving touchdowns than Nicks in 2010.
2010 Stats: 1,052 Receiving Yards, 11 Rec. TD's, 79 Receptions, 13.3 Rec. Avg.
Hakeem Nicks was one of the most improved players in the league last year, putting up Pro Bowl-esque numbers in just 12 games. Had he stayed healthy, there's no doubt he would've represented the NFC in the Pro Bowl. Nicks will be one of the best red zone targets in the NFL for years to come.
Can Foster can continue to put his shocking 2010 debut numbers?
2010 Stats: 1,616 Rushing Yards, 16 Rushing Touchdowns, 4.9 Rush Avg., 604 Receiving Yards
A little low for Foster?
Arian Foster is one of the more intresting guys on this list. Undrafted out of Tennessee, Foster replaced fan favorite Steve Slaton and did not dissapoint, rushing for 231 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener at Indianapolis. I'm not doubting Foster, because he's obviously thrown that in our faces once, but I'd like to see him do it in consecutive years or at least more than once before I rank him over some of the backs higher on this list, who have proven they can do it year in and year out.
2010 Stats: 1,237 Rushing Yards, 13 Rushing TD's, 3.9 Rush Avg., 167 Receiving Yards
Mendenhall is a workhorse back who just keeps getting better. Already with one championship, Mendenhall and his Steelers were outplayed by a hungrier Green Bay team in the Super Bowl. In that game, against the very tough Packers defense, Rashard ran for 64 yards and a touchdown. I suspect this will be Mendenhall's best year yet.
2010 Stats: 92 tackles, two sacks, one int., three forced fumbles
A starter since his rookie year, Lofton has 255 tackles in three seasons. The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the better stories in the league the past few years, and if Matt Ryans been the reason on offense, Curtis Lofton is his counterpart on defense. The 2008 second round pick out of Oklahoma is a tackling machine who has played in every game for the Falcons since he burst onto the scene.
2010 Stats: 1,069 Rushing Yards, six rushing TD's, 4.5 Rush Avg., 547 Receiving Yards,
Forte has been the picture of consistency for the Bears. Like Curtis Lofton, he has never missed a game in his three year career. Forte is one of Jay Cutler's safety nets on offense, catching several screens and other Marshall Faulk designed routes from Mike Martz manic offense. Averaging 1,078 rushing yards in his first three seasons, the future looks bright for Forte, but I think it would be wise for the Bears to acquire a change of pace back to lessen his workload and make him more valuable five years from now.
The former Buckeye has made been nothing short of great for the Rams in his first two seasons.
2010 Stats: 114 Tackles, three sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery
Big Game James has been one of the better second round picks of the last decade. A driving force (along with 26-year-old Chris Long) in the Rams' resurgent defense last season, it was only a matter of time until these young super talented football gym rats would mesh with Spagnuolos attack defense and form a scary young unit. Laurinaitis will be the captain of this unit for the next decade.
2010 Stats: 3,291 Passing Yards, 17 TD's, 13 interceptions, 54.8 completion percentage, 75.3 Rating
Mark Sanchez is certainly a puzzling quarterback. During the regular season he looks rather average. Then he reaches the playoffs and suddenly looks like the fifth overall pick, with a 94.1 QB rating in six career playoff games. In his third season, Sanchez is blessed with great weapons and a top three offensive line. 2011 will be the season where Sanchez becomes a top tier QB or plateaus as a QB and is carried by his running game and defense.
2010 Stats: 114 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, three recovered fumbles
With already a Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl nod under his belt, most suspect Mayo to frequently wear the Red and White for AFC for the near future. Jerod Mayo flat out has a nose for the ball and is involved on every single down. Mayo has been huge in the transistion from the Bruschi-Vrabel-Seymour Pats into the Mayo-Meriweather-Spikes Era, revamping the defense with young quick playmakers.
2010 Stats: 92 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks
Eric Berry is a once in a generation safety, a real ball hawk who has a knack for the big play. Berry can rush the quarterback, come up to stop the run, defend short routes and break up the big play deep. He is everything you could ask for in a safety, and next year, if I were to do this list, I would imagine he will be in the top 5-7 on this list. Pro Bowler in 2011.
2010 Stats: 1,257 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns, 60 receptions, 21.0 Rec. Avg.
Many wondered how the Steelers would fare after the trade of fan favorite and Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes. Mike Wallace followed up a successful rookie year and blew away all expectations, leading the NFL with seven 100-yard receiving games. Wallace just missed becoming the second player ever to lead the league in yards per reception in his first two seasons (the first being later on this very prestigious list). Wallace reminds me of a faster Torry Holt. That's high praise, considering Torry Holt holds some pretty nice records, but Wallace is a top tier talent who will only continue to get better.
At the age of 22, Freeman's sophmore campaign looked like a seasoned veterans.
2010 Stats: 3,451 passing yards, 25 TD's, six interceptions, 61.4 completion percentage, 95.9 QB Rating
Nobody expected Freeman to be this good this soon. Most folks thought he'd probably take over some time in his second or third year, as he was a one of the youngest players taken in the 2009 draft. Freeman's stats last year are actually quite mind boggling, but even more impressive was the 10-6 record he led the Bucs to in the very tough NFC South. What does Josh Freeman have in store in his third season?
2010 Stats: 1,467 rushing yards, five TD's, 6.4 rush avg., 468 receiving yards
Charles has taken the bulk of the Chiefs carries since midway through the 2009 season and hasn't looked back. Jamaal Charles is simply put one of the fastest and most exciting players in the league. He was named the Fed-Ex Ground Player of the year, finishing second in the league in rushing. One of the things Charles can improve on his getting into the end zone more in the red zone; five touchdowns is/should be a Pro Bowl back's numbers after a quarter of the season.
The Packers are set in the middle for years to come with Raji.
2010 Stats: 39 tackles, 6.5 sacks, one Super Bowl Ring
After a disappointing rookie campaign where he started a mere one game, Raji came into camp with a vengeance, leading the upstart Pack into the playoffs, and the rest is history.No player from the 2009 draft class improved like Raji did. With a core of Raji and Matthews (still to come) to go along with the famed Rodgers led offense, the Packers should threaten for the crown for the better part of this decade.
2010 Stats: 3,512 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 60 percent completion percentage, 76.5 QB Rating
Simply put, the future is not brighter for any young QB than it is for Bradford. Everyone doubted the former Sooner after a major shoulder injury in college, Bradford turned around the woeful Rams, and believe it or not, had them within one game of an NFC West Crown (which is like winning being the sixth through eighth seeds in the NBA Eastern Conference).
Bradford's interception numbers aren't what you'd like, but he did that with the worst receivng corps in the league (Amendola is the most underrated slot guy, and Brandon Gibson has shown signs of a nice future), and as a rookie, was third in the league in pass attempts.
If the Rams ever get a true No. 1 pass catcher, Bradford will put even better numbers, but for now, the sky is still the limit.
2010 Stats: Who cares? He's a lineman.
Flat out the top young tackle in the league, in three seasons, he's started every single game and has made one Pro Bowl. Joe Thomas and Jake Long were a little too old to make the list, so Clady is the highest ranked lineman on this list (thank god).
Timmons along with LaMarr Woodley give the Steelers yet another long reign of defensive dominance.
2010 Stats: 134 total tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles
It's tough to have a guy as talented as Lawrence Timmons ranked ninth on this list, but this league has a lot of very good young talent. Coming off a seven sack season in 09, Timmons turned it up a notch and became more well rounded linebacker, falling just short of his second Super Bowl championship. Something tells me he'll have more than that one ring.
Is there any surprise that 2010 top picks Bradford & Suh(pictured above) are so high on this list?
2010 Stats: 65 tackles, 10 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery
The Rams were some what criticized for taking signal caller Sam Bradford over once in a generation tackle Suh, but I think both franchises were happy in the end. They were right about Suh being a once in a generation defensive tackle, though. He immediately changed the culture of the Lions D, and with his rare combination of size, power and speed, Suh is the best Lions draft pick since Barry Sanders. The addition of Nick Fairley will only make Suh that much better.
This type of picture, is not rare after Eagles games.
2010 Stats: 1,056 receiving yards, eight total touchdowns, 22.5 Rec. Avg
Desean Jackson is the most explosive and game breaking player since Deion Sanders. Dante Hall and Devin Hester were pretty fast, but D-Jack is a way better all around player than both of those guys were/are mainly returners. Jackson can break any play for a touchdown, and that cannot be said for too many players in the league. Two words: game changer.
2010 Stats: 56 tackles, 8.5 sacks, one forced fumble
Orakpo burst onto the scene in 09 with 11.5 sacks and has been one of the few very bright spots for the Redskins in recent years. Standing at 6"3, 255 lbs., Orakpo is one of the hybrid OLB/DE's that truly can cause havoc from both positions. He has made up for some of the disappointment that Albert Haynesworth has brought to the nation's capital. Orakapo has not missed a Pro Bowl in his career, and I wouldn't bet against him for the near future.
The former Rutgers standout is arguably the best all around running back in football
2010 Stats: 1,220 rushing yards, six total TD's, 556 Receiving Yards, 4.0 Rush Avg.
I don't think its far and away to say that Ray Rice is the best pass catching running back in the league (others in the conversation: Steven Jackson, Lesean McCoy and Matt Forte). Standing at just 5'8", he reminds some of Priest Holmes and others of Marshall Faulk, which is probably too high of praise. However, when you put up an average of 1,910 yards from scrimmage the past two seasons, you deserve the praise.
I'm a big fan of what the Ravens have done with their team. If they can get some young receivers, they will continue to dominate the AFC.
23.5 sacks in 2 seasons.....you fill in the blank.
2010 Stats: 59 tackles, 13.5 Sacks, one interception, one forced fumble
Remember back on the B.J. Raji slide when I said the Packers should make a run at the title for years to come?
Yeah...Clay Matthews has little to do with that.
Adding to his 13.5 sacks during the season, in his four playoff games this year, he had 3.5 sacks and was the face of the defense that terrorized the NFL playoffs. Matthews had his doubters, but the second generation NFL'er has one of the brightest futures of any linebacker in recent memory.
2010 Stats: 1,120 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns, 77 receptions, 14.5 Rec. Avg.
You don't get the nickname Megatron without being the closet thing your sport has to a machine. Arguably and probably the most physically gifted wide receiver ever, standing at 6"5, 235 lbs., Johnson has great hands, elite speed, top tier route running ability and jumping ability that is up there with Roddy White and Andre Johnson. If Matthew Stafford could ever stay on the field, I imagine they would make the best deep ball combo in the league. Fingers crossed.
2010 Stats: 1,364 rushing yards, 11 rushing TD's, 4.3 Rush Avg.
In three seasons, Chris Johnson has averaged just under 1,600 rushing yards a season. CJ's 2010 campaign didn't quite live up to his record setting 2,509 yards from scrimmaged season in 09, but he was still fourth in the league in rushing. The former ECU Pirate proved everyone wrong and showed that his size wouldn't keep him down.
In my estimation, Johnson is the fastest running back in the league, with Jamaal Charles and C.J. Spiller trailing him. Can Chris Johnson keep up his 1,600 yards a season pace?
2010 Stats: zero INT's, 32 tackles, two fumble recoveries
Yes, Darrelle Revis had zero picks last year, but how often does he actually get thrown to? The three seasons prior to his 13 game 2010 season, Revis was easily the best corner in the league (sorry, Nnamdi) This season, Revis will return to full form and remind you that he is not only the top corner in the NFL, but also a top five player in the NFL. Revis Island reopens to the general public hopefully next month.