The PFF 50 runs each year to list and celebrate the best 50 players in the NFL as we head towards the new season. Each year there are young players that make the list for the first time, including the occasional rookie standout, but the lack of a proven track record over time often leaves young players on the outside looking in while more established veterans make up the list with a bigger sample size of elite play.
Here are some young players that are on track to make the list in future years.
The biggest issue Slater had during his rookie season was facing Myles Garrett — one of the league's best edge defenders — and reportedly, his biggest problem that day was getting help from chip blocks, which he asked to cease so that he could block Garrett one-on-one. Slater posted the seventh-best pass-blocking efficiency score among left tackles last season, allowing 26 pressures across 756 pass-blocking snaps. He already looks exceptionally polished as a technician, and with a little improvement in Year 2, he will be hard to keep off the PFF50 in a year’s time.
The safety position is so wildly volatile in terms of year-to-year performance that you could expect the safeties that show up on the PFF50 to differ each season, but there’s little doubt that Winfield is on an upward trajectory. He hit the ground running for the Bucs, winning a Super Bowl in his first year in the league. While the Buccaneers couldn’t repeat the trick, Winfield was notably better in his sophomore campaign. He’s incredibly versatile and has excellent read and react skills. With another year of high-end play, he should make the list.
Players that get hurt often fade from memory quickly, but Ragnow is one of a few players with a case to be seen as the best center in the league. Ragnow’s PFF grade has improved each season he has been in the NFL, and he hasn’t allowed a sack since 2019. Ragnow’s run blocking has been exceptional, and if he can come back fully healthy in 2022, he should have the kind of season that would propel him onto the PFF50 in a year’s time.
Only a lack of sample size keeps Humphrey off the list after his rookie season, and there’s an entirely fair case to say that he belongs on it this year, regardless. Humphrey finished the season with the best overall PFF grade (91.8) among centers, but the PFF50 is a look-ahead list, and there is no guarantee that he will be able to sustain that play going forward. If he backs up his phenomenal rookie year, he will appear not just on the list next year but probably pretty high on it.
We didn’t see the kind of jump from Lamb in Year 2 that was expected, but part of that can certainly be explained by a decline in Dak Prescott’s play after he got injured. Lamb caught over 1,100 yards worth of passes and did improve from his rookie season, but he generated 2.06 yards per route run, more than a yard below the league leader. With Amari Cooper traded away, the feeling is that Lamb can step into the role of a true No. 1 within the Cowboys offense and showcase his complete skill set. If that happens, Lamb has shown he can be up there with the very best receivers in the league in terms of talent.
One of the standout rookies of 2021, Holland was a force for Miami as a rookie. Primarily deployed as a free safety (72% of his snaps), Holland also showed the impact he can have in other roles during specific games over the season. Against the Baltimore Ravens, he spent less than half of his snaps as a free safety and rushed the passer 22 times as a blitzer, registering six pressures and causing the Ravens all kinds of problems. Holland has a playmaking knack and a versatile skill set, which is a recipe for success at safety in today’s NFL.
Onwenu has overall 83.4 and 87.0 PFF grades in his two seasons in the league, but for some reason, he was the odd-man-out when the Patriots got everybody healthy along the offensive line. With their moves this offseason, he should have the opportunity to be a guaranteed starter at just one position, and if he continues to play the way he has shown so far, Onwenu will be a star. His run blocking has been elite, and he has allowed 25 pressures across more than 800 pass-blocking snaps while lined up in multiple spots along the line.
Young hasn’t been able to dominate after his early NFL success, but he still possesses all the tools needed to do so and a resume that suggests there is more to come. Young had the best pass-rushing resume of any edge prospect PFF has analyzed in college and still has above-average PFF grades in all facets as a professional. Young’s inside counter move has been particularly effective for Washington, but he needs to trust his outside speed and burst off the line a little more to maximize his pass-rushing potential. If he can do that in Year 3, a place on the PFF50 awaits.
Last year’s crop of rookie cornerbacks saw some impressive performances, and there’s a case that either (or both) Newsome or Eric Stokes takes a big jump in their second season to propel themselves into the elite at their position. Both players showed a lot of sticky coverage throughout the season, and even if they occasionally lost out at the catch point, the fundamentals are in a good place. Newsome only allowed 11.2 yards per catch and recorded eight pass breakups, even if he failed to pick off a pass.
With the Packers completely bereft of proven receiving talent, they may need to lean on the backfield a little more, and Dillon has the monstrous frame to take that additional burden and continue to thrive. Dillon earned the same 90.0 PFF rushing grade as Jonathan Taylor, but with significantly fewer opportunities, averaging 3.2 yards per carry after contact and breaking 31 tackles from 187 attempts. Dillon’s success will likely come down to how much work he gets in the Packers offense, but if that breaks his way, he has the talent to produce big numbers.