If you are a regular consumer of the NFL, you've already felt the undeniable youth movement. Tune into any game or any programming dedicated to the league and there's no shortage of young, upstart players being featured. Whether it is Patrick Mahomes' pursuit of the touchdown record or the latest Saquon Barkley jaunt through an opposing defense, the league is experiencing a series of young stars emerging before our very eyes. Welcome to 25 Under 25.
With so many young talents popping up across the league, who would you qualify to be in the top 25 best players under the age of 25? The process of putting together a list was pretty daunting, although it was admittedly made easier by making the cut off *UNDER* 25, so guys like New Orleans WR Mike Thomas, Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz and others were ineligible.
Here are the first five names to make my personal list.
25. Green Bay Packers DL Kenny Clark
2018 stats: 13 games played, 55 total tackles, 6.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 passes broken up, 8 tackles for loss
Clark has landed on injured reserve to end this season but that shouldn't sour what has been a terrific start to his Packers career. Clark tied his career high in tackles, and set career highs in sacks, tackles for loss and QB hits this season.
Stats are going to be a hollow measure for any nose tackle, but Clark deserves a tip of the cap for filling up the stat sheet from his role as the plug in the middle of the Packers' team. Clark entered the league at the ripe age of 20, so he'll have the opportunity to be a part of this list again next year when he's healthy and wrecking blocking schemes from the inside yet again.
24. Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey
2018 stats: 13 games played, 1627 yards from scrimmage, 13 total touchdowns
McCaffrey has experienced growth as a rusher this year compared to his 2017 rookie campaign. After struggling to 3.7 yards per carry as a rookie, McCaffrey's average yardage per carry has swelled by a full yard and a half, he's on the cusp of 1,000 yards rushing...a milestone he should pass this weekend.
Oh, and he's got 86 receptions on 99 targets and set career highs in receptions (86), receiving yards (701) and receiving touchdowns (7) already with 3 games to spare.
The Panthers caught some flak for drafting McCaffrey as early as they did, but he's showing he can be more than just a check down option this season with improved rushing production.
23. Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott
2018 stats: 13 games played, 1764 yards from scrimmage, 9 total touchdowns
Fun fact about Ezekiel Elliott: he's led the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of his three seasons in the NFL.
- 108.7 ypg in 2016 (16 games)
- 98.3 ypg in 2017 (10 games)
- 97.1 ypg in 2018 (13 games and counting)
So that's good. Also good? Zeke has doubled his previous career high in receptions (65 in 13 games this season vs. 32 as a rookie in 2016). Making an impact in the pass game has allowed Elliott to become a two way force in a way he hasn't been regarded previously.
Elliott's power, open field ability to create added yardage and his vision at the line of scrimmage have allowed him to flourish with the Cowboys and be one of the most productive players in the NFL relative to his peers.
22. Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch
2018 stats: 13 games played, 109 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 7 passes defensed
Well, well, well. The Cowboys have themselves a nice little one-two punch on each side of the football, don't they? Vander Esch's production this season is even more impressive when you consider he didn't start 5 of his 13 games played this season.
Vander Esch's signature game came a few weeks ago in primetime, as he effectively put the clamps on a high powered Saints offense in an upset 13-10 win at home. Vander Esch is really coming on in space and pass coverage as well, he's logged 2 interceptions and 6 passes defensed in the Cowboys' last 6 games.
Considering his athletic profile and size, Vander Esch is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Dallas has done a wonderful job in unlocking the monster inside Vander Esch...he didn't play to this level at Boise State but had flashes of dominance.
21. San Francisco 49ers DL DeForest Buckner
2018 stats: 13 games played, 49 total tackles, 9.0 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 16 QB hits
DeFo continues to be one of the hidden treasures in the NFL, considering he plays on a west coast team that has struggled yet again to find wins this season. Coach Kyle Shanahan has the team in a good place, however. The hope is with the return of Jimmy Garoppolo next season, the team will be ready to push into contention.
But in the meantime, east coast bias isn't setting their schedule for a team that has gone 11-34 since Buckner was drafted in 2016.
But this year has been the year for Buckner, who is turning his flashes into finishes and playing at a different level. Buckner has doubled his career sack total this season (9 this year) and is primed to double his career high in tackles for loss (he needs 2 more to reach 14) before the season closes out.
More importantly, Buckner's length and explosiveness have fully clicked, which allow this production to manifest on the field.
Make sure you swing back next week as I continue to count down my personal list of 25 Under 25! In the meantime, please feel free to send me your personal lists on social media! You can find me on Twitter at: @GrindingTheTape.