Most of today’s top college football players enter the NFL with a higher level of training in pro-style offenses and defenses and the nuances of their positions. This is reflected in their early success on the field.
There are nine wide receivers on my list, which confirms the dominance of the passing game with so many elite receivers in today’s NFL. There are only two quarterbacks, which speaks to the time it takes for quarterbacks to develop, even those drafted early.
Here are my top 25 NFL players under the age of 25.
Top 25 Players Under 25
25. Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys
He’s no longer just Stefon Diggs’ younger brother. Trevon Diggs is a two-time Pro Bowler who was First-Team All-Pro in 2021 when he led the NFL in interceptions with 11, including two pick-sixes. Trevon Diggs was a second-round pick in 2020. He still can be more consistent in his coverage, but he has talent and big-play ability.
24. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints
A first-round pick in 2022, Chris Olave was an All-Rookie receiver, recording 72 receptions for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games. He had three games last season with more than 100 yards receiving and 24 plays of more than 20 yards. He’s an excellent route-runner whose numbers should rise with Derek Carr quarterbacking the New Orleans Saints.
23. Tariq Woolen, CB, Seattle Seahawks
I love when later-round draft choices make it big, especially in their first season. This proves the NFL draft is an inexact science, and great players can come out of any round or even from undrafted status. Tariq Woolen is a prime example as a fifth-round pick last year, who emerged as the NFL interceptions co-leader with six. He also had 16 passes defended. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and named to the All-Rookie team. Woolen runs exceptionally well, as shown by his 4.26 40 at the 2022 Combine.
>> READ: Woolen to Have Knee Surgery
22. Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
After a stellar rookie season (68 catches, 1,026 yards, one TD) in which he made the Pro Bowl, hamstring and knee injuries limited Kyle Pitts to 10 games with only 28 receptions for 356 yards last season. He was selected fourth overall in 2021 (the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history) and has the talent to be one of the league’s best tight ends if he stays healthy. He’s 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, and runs a 4.40 40, making him a matchup nightmare for defenses.
21. Talanoa Hufanga, S, San Francisco 49ers
Talanoa Hufanga was a fifth-round pick in 2021 who became a starter for the San Francisco 49ers’ top-ranked defense last season and produced 97 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. He was selected First-Team All-Pro and named to the Pro Bowl.
20. Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets
Garrett Wilson was last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after having 83 receptions for 1,103 yards (both franchise rookie records) and four TDs while working with the New York Jets’ shaky quarterback situation. He had 26 plays of more than 20 yards last season. Wilson was the 10th overall pick in the 2022 draft, and he can build on a great first year as he works with a massive upgrade at quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.
19. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
After a difficult rookie season as the No. 1 overall pick in 2021, Trevor Lawrence took a big step forward under new coach Doug Pederson. Lawrence led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the AFC South title and a wild-card win in an epic comeback against the Los Angeles Chargers. After a poor first half, he threw for 211 yards and three TDs in the second half. He improved his passer rating by 23.3 points last season (95.2 with 25 TD passes vs. eight interceptions) and was a Pro Bowl pick.
18. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions
A fourth-round pick in 2021, Amon-Ra St. Brown quickly showed he was under drafted by making 90 catches for 912 yards and five TDs in his rookie season. He improved to 106 receptions, 1,161 yards and six TDs while making the Pro Bowl last season. He is effective in the slot or outside and was a crucial player in the Detroit Lions’ emergence as a playoff contender in 2022 with the league’s No. 8 passing attack.
17. DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown are among the league’s top duos at wide receiver and were a big part of the Philadelphia Eagles’ third-ranked offense. Smith was the No. 10 overall pick in 2021 and increased his production last season to 95 catches for 1,196 yards and seven TDs. He’s got great hands and is a former Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama.
16. Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Speaking of top wide receiver duos, Tee Higgins teamed with Ja’Marr Chase to give QB Joe Burrow a dynamic pair of pass catchers in the Cincinnati Bengals’ fifth-ranked offense. Higgins was a second-round pick in 2020 and has been highly consistent during his three NFL seasons. He had 74 receptions for 1,029 yards and seven TDs in 2022. He’s a big target at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds, and will be among the top players to hit free agency next year if he’s not extended or franchised before then.
15. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Minnesota Vikings
After battling a groin injury in his rookie season, Christian Darrisaw emerged as one of the league’s best young left tackles in 2022. He was a first-round pick in 2021 and is a proficient run blocker with his physicality at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds. He also excels as the blindside pass protector for Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins.
14. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Jonathan Taylor was the NFL rushing leader in 2021 with 1,811 yards and 18 TDs, as he was a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl back. His 5.5 yards per carry that season was impressive and followed a rookie season in which he rushed for 1,169 yards and 11 TDs as an All-Rookie second-round pick.
He also is a good receiving back with 104 career catches. His numbers dropped last season to 861 rushing yards and four TDs. He missed six games because of an ankle injury, and the Indianapolis Colts’ shaky offensive line didn’t help. He is an elite back when healthy and with more help from the offensive line and the Colts’ passing game.
13. Penei Sewell, OT, Detroit Lions
Penei Sewell was the seventh overall pick in 2021 and was All-Rookie that season before having a Pro Bowl year in 2022. He helped the Lions’ fourth-ranked offense quite a bit. He’s an imposing figure at 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, and he is athletic for a big man. Sewell showed it with a key tackle-eligible reception for a first down in last December’s win against the Vikings. He allowed only two sacks last season.
12. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
Jaylen Waddle pairs with Tyreek Hill to give the Miami Dolphins a dangerous duo at wide receiver. Waddle is among the league’s fastest receivers (4.35 range in the 40). He was All-Rookie after being the sixth overall pick in 2021. He caught 104 passes for 1,015 yards with six TDs before nearly doubling his yards per catch to 18.1 last season when he had 75 receptions, 1,356 yards and eight TDs.
11. Andrew Thomas, OT, New York Giants
Andrew Thomas stepped up his game in 2022 when he earned Second-Team All-Pro honors as a fine pass protector at left tackle for Daniel Jones. Thomas allowed only one quarterback hit through the first 10 games last season and only three sacks all season. His run blocking also is at a high level. Thomas was the fourth overall pick in 2020 out of Georgia.
10. Rashawn Slater, OT, Los Angeles Chargers
Rashawn Slater had a terrific rookie season as a 2021 first-round pick. He was selected Second-Team All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl at left tackle that year. It was a significant loss for QB Justin Herbert and the Chargers when Slater ruptured his biceps in Week 3 last season. He’s athletic and almost made it back for the playoffs last season, so he’s on track for a successful return in 2023.
9. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys
CeeDee Lamb’s numbers have improved each season since he was a first-round pick in 2020. He was selected to the Pro Bowl the past two seasons and was a Second-Team All-Pro last season when he had 107 catches for 1,359 yards and nine TDs. Lamb is a complete wide receiver who runs good routes, has fine hands and makes contested catches.
8. Creed Humphrey, C, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs struck gold when they drafted Creed Humphrey late in the 2021 second round, and after being All-Rookie that season, he earned Pro Bowl and Second-Team All-Pro honors last season. He’s allowed only one sack of Patrick Mahomes during the past two seasons. Humphrey anchored the offensive line that allowed no sacks to the Eagles’ dominant pass rush in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVII victory. He has a wrestling background, and his strength is his greatest asset.
7. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Denver Broncos
Patrick Surtain II was All-Rookie as the ninth overall pick in 2021 and then was a Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro selection last season. Surtain made 60 tackles, two interceptions and had 10 passes defensed in 2022 after picking off four passes and breaking up 14 passes in 2021. His coverage skills are elite and improved in his second season. He’s a vital member of a solid Denver Broncos defense that ranked No. 7 last season.
6. Sauce Gardner, CB, New York Jets
Highly touted entering the NFL as the fourth overall pick in 2022, Sauce Gardner backed it up with a Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro season, along with winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. His 20 passes defended led the league, and he had two interceptions and 75 tackles. He’s a big corner at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, with size, speed and athletic ability. Gardner has the confidence to be a dominant player for years to come.
5. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
It’s no wonder LSU was unstoppable in its undefeated national title season in 2019, with Burrow throwing to Chase and Justin Jefferson. Chase was the fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft and delivered a Pro Bowl and Second-Team All-Pro season, as he was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
He was dynamic in the Bengals’ run to the Super Bowl in 2021 and set an NFL record with 368 receiving yards in a postseason. Chase had 81 catches — an NFL rookie record — 1,455 yards and 13 TDs in 2021. He followed it up with 87 receptions for 1,046 yards and nine TDs last season, making his second straight Pro Bowl, despite missing five games due to a hip injury. Chase is fast and strong with elite run-after-catch ability.
4. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tristan Wirfs was a 2020 first-round pick, and his career is off to a great start with Pro Bowl and All-Pro seasons the past two years after being All-Rookie in 2020 when he gave up only one sack. He allowed only six pressures last season at right tackle, and his elite play has prompted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to move him to left tackle in 2023.
3. Micah Parsons, OLB, Dallas Cowboys
Micah Parsons is one of the NFL’s most impactful defenders as a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in his first two seasons. He was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021 after being picked in the first round. He’s been basically unblockable in his first two seasons.
His outstanding rookie season included 13 sacks, 30 QB hits, 84 tackles and 20 tackles for loss. He followed that up with 13.5 sacks, 26 QB hits, 65 tackles and 13 tackles for loss in 2022. He has great speed (4.36 in the 40) and the size and strength at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds to be dominant against the run and pass.
2. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
It’s still amazing Jefferson was the fifth wide receiver taken in the 2020 first round and has undoubtedly outperformed the others. The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year has been a Pro Bowl player in all three of his NFL seasons and made three All-Pro teams. He led the league with 128 receptions for 1,809 yards last season (along with eight TD catches) for Minnesota’s sixth-ranked passing attack.
Jefferson has the most receiving yards (4,825) by a player in his first three seasons. He made one of the greatest catches of all time with a one-handed grab on fourth-and-18 with two minutes remaining to save the Vikings’ Week 10 upset win in Buffalo last season. He has good size, speed and. outstanding route-running ability. Jefferson is terrific at making contested catches like his big play against the Bills.
1. Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
An outstanding 24-year-old quarterback trumps all others on this list. Jalen Hurts has been a tremendous second-round pick (in 2020) for the Eagles. Hurts became the starter in his second season when he led the Eagles to the playoffs. Then, he had an outstanding 2022 season as he went 14-1 in his regular season starts with a 101.5 passer rating and 22 TD passes against only six interceptions.
He also rushed for 760 yards and 13 TDs. Hurts led Philadelphia to the Super Bowl, where he threw for 304 yards and a TD and rushed for 70 yards and three TDs (both Super Bowl records for a quarterback).
Hurts finished second in MVP voting last season and was selected Second-Team All-Pro and named to the Pro Bowl. He recently signed a $51 million per year extension with $180 million guaranteed on his five-year, $255 million deal, so he should be leading the Eagles for many years.
Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.