Breakdowns

The 33rd Team’s Top 25 NFL Players 25 And Under

Sleeper Playoff Teams

One of the most challenging but most rewarding tasks in the NFL is to find the perfect balance of youth and talent on your club’s roster. The 33rd Team Consensus Tiers identify and group the most talented youngsters in the NFL today, except those players drafted in 2022.

Eleven of The 33rd Team’s analysts and writers chose from a pool of 75 players 25 and under to generate their list of the top 25 best players, considering positional value.

Below is a chart demonstrating the results of our thought experiment:

Tier 1: The Brightest Young Stars

Player
Justin Herbert
Joe Burrow
Lamar Jackson
Justin Jefferson
Nick Bosa
Ja’Marr Chase
Kyler Murray
Micah Parsons

The young trio of Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, and Lamar Jackson spearheaded the rankings. Since taking over for Tyrod Taylor and his punctured lung in Week 2 of the 2020 NFL Season, Herbert’s play has been nothing short of stellar; breaking the NFL records for most passing yards and touchdowns in the first two seasons of a player’s career with 9,350 and 69, respectively. Still, Herbert’s win % is below .500, regardless of his performance. That should change this season, especially how the Chargers revamped on defense.

 

Burrow broke through with an unheralded sophomore season after suffering a gruesome leg injury in 2021. Burrow, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, and fellow Top 25 Under 25 receiver Ja’Marr Chase formed one of the most potent offenses in the league en route to a Super Bowl berth and subsequent loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams. Nonetheless, the Bengals are one of two teams that have made the Super Bowl with preseason odds of at least 150-1, the other being, ironically, the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who enjoyed Kurt Warner’s breakout season. Despite their loss in February, there is plenty to be excited about in Cincinnati.

 

Jackson has been one of the league’s premier passers since his MVP campaign during the 2019 NFL Season. Jackson has already solidified himself as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in NFL history, surpassing Michael Vick for the most games with at least 75 rushing yards. Jackson is also the first quarterback in NFL history to record multiple games with three passing touchdowns and at least 100 rushing yards. The Ravens dealt with many season-ending injuries last season before Week 1. The Ravens are primed to make a 49ers-esque jump from missing the playoffs to vying for their conference, and Jackson, almost single-handedly, fuels their offense.

Jefferson, a college teammate of Chase and Burrow, is a star in his own right. No receiver has produced more yards than Jefferson since Week 1 of the 2020 NFL Season (3,016). Jefferson broke the league record for most receiving yards by a rookie since the merger in 1970 with 1,400 yards, broken just a year later by his former college teammate Chase. With two years in the NFL under his belt, Jefferson has two Pro Bowl and AP All-Pro Second Team selections. In a passing league, having a player like Jefferson, who likely has not reached his peak, is a blessing.

 

After the 49ers selected Nick Bosa with the second-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, he has proven to be one of the premier edge threats in the NFL. Although Bosa missed almost the entire 2020 NFL Season, Bosa has still racked up 24.5 sacks, 37 tackles for a loss, and six forced fumbles. It appears Bosa may be next in line for a massive extension.

As discussed briefly, Chase lit the NFL world on fire during his rookie season. Some questioned the Bengals choice to select Chase with the sixth-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft over highly touted offensive tackle prospect Penei Sewell. Rest assured, Chase silenced the doubters. Chase collected 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, an All-Pro Second Team selection, and Pro Bowl selection. Chase’s 18.0 yards per reception ranked second highest behind only Deebo Samuel last year. It would be surprising to see Chase take a step back next year, which is saying a lot.

Kyler Murray has been one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the NFL since entering the league in 2019. After finishing his rookie season with 3,722 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions with 544 yards on the ground, Murray brought home the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. In 2020, Murray improved to 3,971 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. This past season, Murray took an even larger step. In 2021, Murray posted the third highest PFF-passing grade with 88.1, behind only Tom Brady and Joe Burrow. Not to mention, Murry boasted the highest big-time-throw percentage, generating a big-time-throw on a league-high 8.1% of his passes. There might be some trouble going on off the field in Arizona, but when Murray steps onto the gridiron, he is one of the league’s best.

The last player in this tier, Micah Parsons, performed excellently in his rookie season for the Dallas Cowboys. Parsons played a hybrid role for Dan Quinn’s defense, playing both off-ball linebacker and edge rusher in both two-point and three-point stances. According to Pro Football Focus, Parsons lined up on the defensive line 374 times and in the box 498 times. Parson excelled in both roles, collecting 14 sacks, 67 pressures, 61 tackles, and three forced fumbles. In recognition of his efforts, Parsons is one of the most decorated defensive rookies ever. Parsons brought home the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, finished as Runner-Up for Defensive Player of the Year, and was selected for both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro First Team.

Tier 2: Game-Changing Youngsters

Tristan Wirfs
Jaire Alexander
Fred Warner
Jonathan Taylor
Rashawn Slater
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Derwin James
A.J. Terrell

Tristan Wirfs, a former 2020 first-round pick, has been a stalwart for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since he stepped on the field as the starting left tackle for future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Wirfs ranked in the top 12 in PFF-season grade in his rookie year before leaping to the eighth-highest grade in 2021. Among offensive linemen drafted in 2020, Wirfs has allowed the fewest pressures. In 2021, Wirfs allowed 14 total pressures and two sacks. While it was not a spotless year for Wirfs, it nearly was. Wirfs’ best football is likely still ahead of him, and he has already proven to be one of the league’s best offensive tackles.

After allowing the ninth-most yards in coverage during the 2019 NFL Season, Jaire Alexander allowed just 337 yards in coverage in 2020 while earning the fourth highest PFF-coverage grade among players with at least 300 coverage snaps and the highest among corners. While the interception production is not there, Alexander broke up 13 passes in 2019 and 2020. Alexander also allowed the fourth-lowest NFL Passer Rating among corners with at least 450 coverage snaps behind only Xavien Howard, Darious Williams, and J.C. Jackson. While Alexander only played in four games this past season, Alexander remains one of the best cover corners in the NFL.

Fred Warner is the latest in a long line of 49ers linebackers to see success. After the 49ers selected Warner with the 70th-overall pick in 2018, Warner has consistently improved. However, in 2020, Warner broke out for San Francisco. Warner intercepted two passes, broke up six passes, and collected a total of 125 tackles. Warner garnered a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection and cemented himself as one of the best off-ball backers in the NFL.

Jonathan Taylor, the former second-round pick out of Wisconsin, flourished in 2021, leading the NFL in scrimmage yards and total touchdowns. While the breakout was not unforeseen, Taylor’s performance still caught the eye of national media. After all, it is not every year that a player eclipses 2,000 total yards and 20 total touchdowns. Taylor’s rookie year was not unsuccessful, though, as he rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Taylor’s combination of size, speed, and vision is almost unrivaled, and he has firmly entered his name into the “best running back” conversation.

Rashawn Slater, a former 2021 first-round pick, shined for the Los Angeles Chargers this past season as a rookie. It appears that the duo of Slater and Herbert is the best young tackle-quarterback combination in the league. Astoundingly, Slater posted a top 10 PFF-season grade among tackles with at least 700 snaps as a rookie for the Chargers. Slater allowed four sacks but only allowed 26 pressures. Slater’s pass-blocking efficiency (pressure allowed on a per-snap basis) tied for the fourth-highest mark in the league among tackles with at least 1,000 snaps.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, initially drafted by the Miami Dolphins with the eleventh overall pick in 2018, is one of the best safeties in the league. Fitzpatrick’s new contract reflects that. Since 2018, Fitzpatrick has intercepted 13 passes, broken up 20 passes, and allowed an average of only 272 yards in coverage. In 2020, Fitzpatrick posted the sixth highest PFF-season grade among safeties with at least 600 snaps. In 2021, Fitzpatrick logged the fourth highest PFF run-defense grade. Fitzpatrick is a playmaking machine that can roam in the secondary to choke deep passes or come up and make stops in run defense.

Derwin James has been one of football’s most versatile defensive backs since his drafting in 2018. As a rookie, James imposed himself on opposing offenses in all areas of the field. James intercepted three passes, broke up 13, collected 105 total tackles, and sacked the QB 3.5 times. James’s rookie season earned him an All-Pro First Team and Pro Bowl selection. While James missed most of the 2019 season and the entirety of 2020, he returned to a high level of play in 2021, garnering his second Pro Bowl selection.

A.J. Terrell, the former Clemson Tiger, broke out in 2021. With the Falcons bringing in Casey Hayward, the duo could be the best coverage tandem in the league. Terrell allowed the fourth-fewest yards in coverage this past season among all defensive backs with at least 1,000 snaps, and he was first among cornerbacks. Terrell added three interceptions and 13 pass breakups to the stat sheet on his way to a Second-Team All-Pro selection.

Tier 3: Best of the Rest

A.J. Brown
Denzel Ward
D.K. Metcalf
Patrick Surtain II
CeeDee Lamb
Maxx Crosby
Roquan Smith
Devin White
Jaylen Waddle

Arthur Juan “A.J.” Brown, one of the newest members of the Philadelphia Eagles, has had injury trouble so far in his career. Yet, Brown is usually racking up yards when he is on the field. In his rookie season, Brown played in all 16 games, catching 52 passes for 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns; however, 2020 was a season to remember for him. Brown caught 70 receptions for 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns in only 14 games, earning his sole Pro Bowl selection. It will be interesting to see what Brown brings to a passing game that has seen better days.

Denzel Ward, a recent recipient of a market-resetting contract, has the tape to back up his paycheck. The former fourth-overall pick has defended 50 passes and intercepted ten since being drafted. Ward has the chops to consistently beat the receiver across from him, a defensive luxury in the modern NFL. Ward allowed the sixth-fewest yards in coverage this past season among corners with at least 800 snaps.

D.K. Metcalf, the epitome of a height, weight, and speed prospect, has produced at the level his physical profile would suggest. In 2019, Metcalf dismissed concerns arising from his lackluster cone drills at the combine, snatching 58 receptions for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. Metcalf put the world on notice in 2020, catching 83 passes for 1,303 yards and ten touchdowns. Regarded as one of the best deep threats in the NFL, Metcalf can make opposing defenses pay for the slightest of mishaps.

Patrick Surtain II, son of former NFL player Pat Surtain Sr., immediately returned on the Broncos’ top ten investment in him. While Surtain allowed over 500 yards in coverage last year, it is clear that he is a talented corner with lockdown ability. In his lone season, Surtain reeled in four interceptions and broke up eight passes, both among the top two in his class.

Former Oklahoma Sooner CeeDee Lamb is one of the best wide receivers in the game. Lamb’s 84.6 PFF-receiving grade ranked sixth among receivers with at least 70 targets. When the Cowboys selected Lamb in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, many wondered why, considering wide receiver was a strength at the time. Lamb produced in his rookie season, hauling in 74 receptions for 935 yards and five touchdowns. Lamb followed up his successful rookie with a further impressive sophomore campaign. In 2021, Lamb caught 79 of 116 targets for 1,102 yards and six touchdowns on the way to his first Pro Bowl selection. With Amari Cooper out of Dallas and Michael Gallup set to miss the beginning of the season, Lamb is primed for an even stronger third year.

Maxx Crosby burst onto the NFL scene in 2021, logging the fourth highest PFF pass-rush grade and causing the most pressures by a wide margin (101 total pressures; the next closest was 86 [Aaron Donald]). Crosby’s improvement did not come out of the blue, though. In 2019, he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up. In his career, Crosby has notched 25 sacks and 43 tackles for a loss, both higher marks than Nick Bosa (although without missing any games). Crosby and newly acquired Chandler Jones could make up the best pass-rush duo in the NFL. They should handle things on the other side of the ball when Derek Carr and Davante Adams are not moving the chains.

Former Georgia Bulldog and first-round pick Roquan Smith has been a valuable asset to a Bears team lacking star power, especially with Khalil Mack’s departure. Smith’s 84.0 PFF-coverage grade in 2020 was the best among off-ball linebackers with at least 1,000 snaps. Additionally, Smith’s five sacks tied for fourth among all linebackers. The do-it-all linebacker has garnered two back-to-back Second-Team All-Pro selections in 2021 & 2020. In 2022, Smith will look to break into the first team as the Bears retooled their defense and brought it head coach Matt Eberflus. Eberflus relies heavily on the WILL linebacker, and Smith figures to fill that role.

Devin White, the former LSU Tiger, has played a vital role in Tampa Bay’s defensive success since 2019. In 2021, White earned his first Pro Bowl nod after tying for the fifth-most sacks among linebackers and racking up 90 tackles. White can make plays all over the field and is an invaluable piece to the Bucs’ vaunted run defense.

Lastly, Jaylen Waddle. Waddle reconnected with his college quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, in Miami last year after being selected sixth overall. Waddle caught 104 passes (a rookie record) for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie last year. With Tyreek Hill coming in, the two seem to be the most explosive receiver duo in the league. Only time will tell what Waddle will accomplish, but he is off to a great start. Waddle’s lightning-in-a-bottle play style gels perfectly with the direction the league appears to be moving in.