If there’s one thing we know, it’s that football fans love talking about two things: young players who are good and numerical lists. Accordingly, one yearly offseason tradition we have here at PFF is showing some love to the top young players in the NFL in the form of a top 25 players under 25 years of age.
The cut-off for this list is that the players need to still be under 25 years old when the season begins. That means A.J. Brown and Kyler Murray, among others, are out. This list is not in order of who you’d take in a re-draft, and though positional value does factor into the ranking some due to role requirements, it’s not the main component. This is more of an overall talent recognition and accomplishment list.
So have it. These are the top 25 players under the age of 25 for the 2022 season.
1. EDGE NICK BOSA, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Bosa racked up 47 tackles, nine sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception in 16 games and 14 starts across his rookie season. The sky was the limit going into his sophomore campaign, but unfortunately, he tore his ACL in Week 2 and missed the remainder of the year. Then, in 2021, he recorded 15.5 sacks with an elite 90.0 pass-rush grade. When on the field, he’s been every bit of the player he was hyped to be coming out of Ohio State.
2. QB JUSTIN HERBERT, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Over the past two seasons, Herbert has ascended to become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. He threw for over 4,000 yards in his rookie season with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This past year, he threw for over 5,000 yards with 38 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. But even more important than the stats were the moments. From his insane 67-yard touchdown to Jalen Guyton in Week 14 to his heroic “every throw is do or die” performance down the stretch against the Las Vegas Raiders in the final week of the season, Herbert has only gotten better with time. He is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL, and not just for his age.
3. RB JONATHAN TAYLOR, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
After averaging more than 2,000 rushing yards per season in three years at Wisconsin, Taylor continued doing what he does best with 1,169 rushing yards as a rookie. He followed that up by becoming the youngest player in NFL history with at least 2,000 yards from scrimmage and tying the record for most consecutive 100-yard rushing games while tallying 1,811 rushing yards and 366 receiving yards in 2021. He led the NFL in scrimmage yards, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns (18) at just 22 years old. He’s also averaged an impressive 5.0 and 5.5 yards per attempt in each of the past two seasons. If Taylor stays healthy, he’ll be one of the best backs in the league for a long, long time.
4. OT TRISTAN WIRFS, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Wirfs hasn’t just been one of the best young offensive linemen over the past two seasons, he’s been one of the best regardless of age. Since being thrown into a starting spot right off the bat in his rookie campaign, Wrifs has established himself as one of the best right tackles in the game — and also has a Super Bowl ring on his finger already. At just 23 years old, this could be the start of a very special career.
5. WR JUSTIN JEFFERSON, MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Jefferson burst onto the scene as a rookie with 1,400 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns, earning an elite 90.4 grade. He followed that up with an even better 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns with another elite 90.1 grade. For him to step on the pro stage and look that dominant out of the gate, then to prove that it was no fluke the following year, solidifies him as one of the best young players in the game, regardless of position.
6. LB MICAH PARSONS, DALLAS COWBOYS
Parsons was simply sensational in his rookie season. After much debate about what position he would play — defensive end or off-ball linebacker — Parsons not only played both but thrived at each with an 87.6 overall defensive grade and a 93.0 pass-rush grade. When you remember that he opted out of his final season at Penn State and that 2021 was his first real football action in two years, it makes Parsons’ rookie campaign even more impressive.
7. WR JA’MARR CHASE, CINCINNATI BENGALS
It’s hard to believe that college football allowed Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase to be on the same team at LSU, given the fact they’re just one and two years into their NFL careers, respectively, and are already in the top seven of a top 25 list.
Chase’s rookie season was beyond worth the Bengals selecting him at No. 5 overall. Reunited with quarterback Joe Burrow, Chase ranked fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,455) and third in receiving touchdowns (13). Few receivers in the league could say they were more dominant in one-on-one situations than him. His presence was a major catalyst for Cincinnati winning the AFC Championship and making it to the Super Bowl.
8. DI JEFFERY SIMMONS, TENNESSEE TITANS
The former first-round pick made his third NFL season his best yet. Simmons racked up 8.5 sacks and ranked second on the Titans with 62 pressures in 2021. He has always had high ceiling potential, and this year he was able to show that more consistently than ever before. At his best, he’s a top-five interior defensive lineman in the NFL.
9. CB A.J. TERRELL, ATLANTA FALCONS
Terrell earned the highest coverage grade of any cornerback in the NFL last season (90.1). He allowed just 29 catches for 200 yards all year and surrendered a league-low 47.5 passer rating into his coverage. His massive leap in production in just his second NFL season at such a difficult position moves him into the top 10 of this list.
10. WR D.K. METCALF, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Metcalf doesn’t have the overall stats of some other receivers on this list, but him being in the top 10 is based on his pure dominance when targeted. After recording a 67.9 grade as a rookie, he has rung in at over 80.0 in each of the past two years. His 29 touchdowns over the past three seasons are fifth-most in the league, as are his 22 touchdowns over the past two years. That part of his game is only getting stronger, and even with a downgrade at quarterback in Seattle this year, Metcalf is a threat to convert and score on any play.
11. EDGE RASHAN GARY, GREEN BAY PACKERS
Gary hit multiple career-highs in 2021. With Za’Darius Smith out for most of the season, he recorded 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, 28 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss and 47 combined tackles. His 81 total pressures ranked third in the league among edge rushers. Smith is now departed from Green Bay, which means that role is now Gary’s and his alone. His 21% pass-rush win percentage is the best rate of any edge rusher from the 2019 class, including Nick Bosa.
He was drafted to be a star on that defensive line, and it appears he has fully arrived.
12. EDGE MAXX CROSBY, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
The Raiders’ third-year pass-rusher took a leap into elite status this past season. In 2021, his 91.7 pass-rush grade ranked second only to Myles Garrett. Crosby also leads the league in total pressures (200) over the past three seasons, playoffs included, for players under the age of 25. Crosby recorded 67.3 and 58.2 pass-rush grades in his previous two seasons, so the jump to an elite mark in 2021 was quite the statement. Now, he’ll have Chandler Jones lining up with him along the Raiders' defensive line. With that, expect more one-on-one opportunities for Crosby to continue his top pass-rush play.
13. EDGE CHASE YOUNG, WASHINGTON COMMANDERS
In his first game as a pro, Young recorded 1.5 sacks, four tackles and a forced fumble. In the games that followed, he earned Defensive Rookie of the Year with 44 tackles, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. All of that led to a very impressive 87.1 overall PFF grade. Unfortunately, the season that followed was not as productive. Young recorded just 1.5 sacks in nine games before tearing his ACL in Week 10.
Young said the plan is to be ready for Week 1 coming off his injury. A Bosa-like bounce-back third year for him is within the realm of possibility. In that case, he would rapidly climb this list.
14. OT RASHAWN SLATER, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
In 2021, Slater did what very few players have been able to do throughout the course of NFL history: play left tackle as a rookie and not just survive the season, but thrive in doing so. Slater played 1,116 snaps, which was third among all rookie offensive linemen, and finished the season with an 83.6 overall grade, which was second among the same group. Slater’s 3.7% pressure rate allowed tied Jedrick Wills’ 2020 mark for the lowest rate surrendered by a rookie left tackle (min. 250 pass-blocking snaps) since 2010.
15. EDGE BRIAN BURNS, CAROLINA PANTHERS
Burns remains one of the most talented young defensive ends in the NFL. In his first three seasons, he’s recorded 7.5, nine and nine sacks. Burns’ 137 total pressures over that span rank fourth-most in the NFL for players under the age of 25. The Panthers’ defense runs through the kind of difference-maker he is on the edge, and it should continue to do so, even as the team acquires more talent at all three levels.
16. C CREED HUMPHREY, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Humphrey’s rookie campaign was sensational. He played the most snaps of any rookie offensive lineman (1,184) and notched the best grade, too (91.4). In fact, his elite overall grade was fourth-highest for all offensive linemen and first among all centers. He and fellow rookie Trey Smith were a big reason the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive line was as improved as it was in 2021.
It was an incredible start to Humphrey's career, especially considering he opted out of the 2020 college football season.
17. WR CEEDEE LAMB, DALLAS COWBOYS
After two solid seasons for Lamb in 2020 and 2021, he has the chance to really break out as a superstar this upcoming year. Lamb recorded 935 and 1,105 receiving yards in each of his past two seasons, which shouldn’t be viewed as a disappointment in any way. But now, with Amari Cooper gone, Lamb will be viewed as the unquestioned WR1 in a potent Dallas passing offense. He is one of the most talented young receivers in the game, and we’re expecting a career year in 2022.
18. S ANTOINE WINFIELD JR., TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Like Tristan Wirfs, Winfield was thrust right into a starting position in Tampa Bay during his rookie season. The results have been favorable: a Pro Bowl, a Super Bowl ring and the highest PFF grade of any safety with at least 1,000 snaps under the age of 25. Winfield was praised in the pre-draft process for his high football IQ. That has manifested itself early in his career as a player who has proven reliable in both safety spots, as well as one who can be successful blitzing. Even as a second-round pick, he looks to be a steal of his draft class.
19. WR TEE HIGGINS, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Higgins recorded 908 receiving yards as a rookie, then followed it up this past year with 1,091 yards despite the arrival of Ja’Marr Chase. His PFF grade took a nice jump from 75.9 as a rookie to 84.5 this past season. He also finished strong with a ton of momentum going into 2022, as he recorded 100 receiving yards in four of his final six regular-season games and had back-to-back 100-yard games in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl. As the Bengals continue to emphasize their passing attack through quarterback Joe Burrow, expect Higgins to remain a strong WR2 opposite Chase. He’d likely be a WR1 on many other teams.
20. CB PATRICK SURTAIN II, DENVER BRONCOS
Surtain stepped into the NFL game and looked like a veteran, which is insanely difficult to do at any position, let alone cornerback. While most young starters are trying to figure out the speed of the game in their first year or two, Surtain acted like he’d been playing at that level for years coming from Alabama. He allowed just a 56% completion percentage into his coverage on 530 pass snaps.
21. QB TREVOR LAWRENCE, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Lawrence’s rookie season wasn’t the triumphant year many were hoping for from the No. 1 overall pick, with him tallying 3,600 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. But let’s be real, there’s no chance it was going to be under Urban Meyer and the circus that was the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021. Among all the chaos, Lawrence still showed flashes of that special quarterback ability while navigating the typical NFL learning curve. With Doug Pederson now as his head coach, we’re expecting a huge leap from Lawrence in Year 2.
22. DI QUINNEN WILLIAMS, NEW YORK JETS
Williams hasn’t burst onto the NFL scene like we thought he might after looking completely unblockable in his final season at Alabama, but he still needs to be on this list. Williams recorded just 2.5 sacks in his first season, but over the past two years, he has recorded seven sacks and six sacks, respectively. On paper, he’ll have Carl Lawson and Jermaine Johnson on the defensive line with him in 2022, which should open the door for more one-on-ones on the inside and more flashes of that elite pass-rush potential.
23. LB DEVIN WHITE, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
White remains one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. Some people would tell you he’s a top-five linebacker in the league because of his speed and his splash plays in the backfield, evidenced by a 72.5 pass-rush grade since 2019. Others will tell you he’s overrated because of his lack of coverage ability, with him carrying a 42.4 coverage grade since 2019. As always, the trust is somewhere in between.
White is a hyper-athletic linebacker who benefits from playing next to one of the smartest and most instinctive linebackers this past decade in Lavonte David. David is the one who assumes the tougher coverage assignments, which frees up White to do what he does best: be fast. For a middle linebacker in Todd Bowles’ scheme, that itself comes with a lot of value, as White showed during Tampa’s Super Bowl run. He might not be a top-10 player on this list, but he is still one of the best young players in the league, and he should be respected as such.
24. TE KYLE PITTS, ATLANTA FALCONS
It felt like Pitts’ rookie season wasn’t talked about nearly enough. He recorded 1,026 receiving yards on 68 catches from 110 targets, and it’s as if no one was impressed. His lack of touchdowns (just one on the year) probably played a part, but he was one of only two rookie tight ends in NFL history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards. No more Matt Ryan in Atlanta might get in the way of some inevitable monster stats from Pitts early on in his NFL career, but this is still one of the best young players at any position.
25. CB TREVON DIGGS, DALLAS COWBOYS
In 2021, no cornerback in the NFL recorded more interceptions than Diggs, who had 11. The next closest snagged eight. On the flip side, no cornerback in the NFL gave up more receiving yards than Diggs, who yielded 1,016. The next closest surrendered 862.
Diggs is a boom-or-bust player by nature in how he plays. He flirts with fire on a snap-by-snap basis, baiting quarterbacks and playing in ways that sometimes make him a hero and other times make him a villain. He makes this list because those ball skills bring a ton of value, and if he can be more controlled in his coverage game while still knowing when to get aggressive and take the right chances for turnovers, he has the talent to shoot up this list.
Honorable mentions who just missed out: Jevon Holland, Trey Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Michael Onwenu, Jeremy Chinn, Penei Sewell, Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, Darnell Mooney