News & Analysis

Just missed: NFL players outside the top 25 under 25

By Mark Chichester
May 15, 2019

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Aug 10, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) points as center Jonotthan Harrison (78) prepares to snap during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we published our top 25 players under 25 years of age — our way of highlighting both the NFL’s bright future and the individuals who will carry us into a new era of football. The list was based on the cumulative body of work of each player to date, factoring in grades, signature stats and team impact. In some situations, players with multiple seasons of “good” play were viewed favorably as opposed to players with a mixed bag or just one great season under their belt. This, unfortunately, left some notable players on the outside, looking in.

Here is a list of 10 players who just missed PFF’s list of the top 25 NFL players under 25 years of age.

QB Sam Darnold, New York Jets

Age at kickoff: 22 years, 3 months, 1 day

Darnold had his fair share of ups and downs last year, but his performances down the stretch should give the New York Jets’ fanbase hope for the future. From Week 14 on, Darnold produced eight big-time throws and just two turnover-worthy passes, and perhaps more impressively, he recorded a 118.5 passer rating from a clean pocket — the second-best mark among all quarterbacks in that span.

RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys 

Age at kickoff: 24 years, 1 month, 15 days

There’s no doubt that Ezekiel Elliott is one of the top players at his position, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that his production is, in large part, thanks to the offense that Dallas has built around him. Over the last three years, Elliott ranks first in rushing attempts (868), rushing yards (4048), rushing yards after contact (2567) and first down conversions (219). However, his three-year rushing grade of 80.2 ranks ninth among the 36 backs with at least 300 attempts in that span, while his 0.119 missed tackles forced per attempt ranks tied for 27th among the same group.

WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Age at kickoff: 23 years, 6 months, 10 days

The second-year pass-catcher has quietly made his mark as a part of a Tampa Bay receiving corps that has also included big-name players like Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. Godwin has made his looks in the passing count over the last two years; he’s earned a two-year overall grade of 84.5 that ranks 15th among the 186 qualifying players in that time, while his two-year contested-catch rate of 54.5% ranks ninth among those with at least 100 targets.

DI Da’Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions

Age at kickoff: 23 years, 9 months, 23 days

As a fourth-round rookie out of Alabama, interior defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand made an instant impact on Matt Patricia’s defense, and he figures to do so for years to come. He ended the 2018 regular season with an overall grade of 87.4 that ranked 16th among all qualifying interior defensive linemen, while his pass-rush win rate of 11.1% ranked second among all first-year players at the position.

Edge Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals

Age at kickoff: 24 years, 2 months, 8 days

A torn ACL in Week 8 of the 2018 season deprived us of what looked like another great season for the former Auburn edge defender, but we’ve already seen enough to know just how dominant Lawson can be when he’s healthy and on the field. Over the last two seasons, Lawson has produced 84 total pressures, and his pass-rush win rate 20.1% ranks fifth among all edge defenders with at least 100 pass-rush snaps in that two-year span.

Edge T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers

Age at kickoff: 24 years, 10 months, 26 days

Watt 3.0 started the 2018 season with a bang. He racked up 10 sacks, eight hits and 15 hurries from his 289 pass-rushing snaps, but as PFF’s Austin Gayle wrote in December, those numbers were largely thanks to the scheme in which he played as opposed to him repeatedly beating the man in front of him. However, from Week 13 on, it was a different story, and he displayed all the traits that make him a fascinating player to watch moving forward. His 85.8 pass-rush grade from Week 13 on tied for fifth among all edge defenders, while his pass-rush win rate of 26.6% over that span paced the league.

Edge Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

Age at kickoff: 23 years, 2 months, 13 days

From a box score standpoint, Bradley Chubb couldn’t have done much more for the Broncos in his first year in the league. He racked up 13 sacks, eight hits and 37 quarterback hurries across his 456 pass-rushing snaps on the year, and his 58 total pressures not only ranked first among rookie edge defenders, but they were the 19th-most among all players at the position.

LB Myles Jack, Jacksonville Jaguars

Age at kickoff: 24 years, 3 days

The former UCLA standout has put the pre-draft injury concerns far behind him over his last three years in the league. Jack has played 2,486 defensive snaps since 2016, and he’s earned both a run-defense grade and coverage grade above 70.0. His three-year coverage grade of 82.3 ranks tied for eighth among the 54 linebackers with at least 100 targets in that time.

CB Desmond King IILos Angeles Chargers

AGE AT KICKOFF: 24 YEARS, 8 MONTHS, 23 DAYS

King has developed into arguably the league’s best slot specialist over the last two years. He’s the only defensive player with at least 300 slot coverage snaps over the last two years who has earned an elite slot-coverage grade (91.3), and he leads all cornerbacks in slot-coverage stops over that span (41).

S Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons

Age at kickoff: 24 years, 1 month, 11 days

Along with the loss of linebacker Deion Jones, the injury to safety Keanu Neal was another major factor in the Falcons’ playoff-less season. Up until his injury, Neal had proved to be an impact player in every facet of the game. Since 2016, Neal earned a grade above 70.0 as a run defender (74.9), a coverage defender (78.1) and as a pass-rusher (73.2), making him one of only 15 safeties to achieve that feat over that span.

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