Senior NFL Columnist

The NFL's best players under the age of 23: Start with CB Peterson

Patrick Peterson's return skills are just a bonus; his cover talent will make him elite. (Getty Images)
Patrick Peterson's return skills are just a bonus; his cover talent will make him elite. (Getty Images)

There are a lot of damn good 23-year-old players in the NFL, guys like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

But what about those good players under the age 23? That's tough. Yet in trying to find the best 10 players under 23, I came up with 10 that I think have a chance to be really good players, and some will be stars.

All are 22 years old, and all should play big parts in how well their teams play in 2013.

1. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals -- He is a special player and one of the best cover players in the league already. He can return kicks among the best in the NFL, but it's his cover skills on the corner that make him truly special. He will be a perennial Pro Bowl player in the coming years.

2. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Carolina Panthers -- He led the NFL in tackles as a rookie. That's impressive. He was all over the field and did so without the help of good down tackles in front of him.

3. Tyron Smith, T, Dallas Cowboys -- He has been a two-year starter, moving from right tackle to the left side in 2012. He didn't play as well as he did as a rookie, but the talent is certainly there to be a special player.

4. Bobby Wagner, MLB, Seattle Seahawks -- He finished seventh in the NFL in tackles playing in the middle on one of the best defenses in the league. He is a rangy linebacker who can also play the pass. He had three interceptions as a rookie.

5. Michael Brockers, DT, St. Louis Rams -- He had an impressive rookie season for a good defensive front. He is a tough, quick, active inside player. He has six sacks as a rookie and improved as the season went along. Don't be shocked to see him getting Pro Bowl consideration in 2013.

6. Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles -- He had nine starts and had 5 1/2 sacks as a rookie in 2012, with 4 1/2 of those coming in the second half of the season. He is a quick inside player who showed signs of being dominant in future years.

7. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo Bills -- He started 16 games as a rookie and showed some nice coverage skills, even if he had some moments where he struggled. Gilmore is a big corner who has good speed. He lined up on the other team's top receivers a lot, and did a nice job.

8. Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns -- Injuries slowed him some as a rookie, but when he was healthy and on the field he did some good things. He is tough, fast and runs with power for a man his size.

9. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns -- He was a supplemental pick last summer, costing Cleveland a second-round pick, but he proved to be a wise decision. Gordon is big and can run. Once he learns to do the little things better, watch out.

10. Vick Ballard, RB, Indianapolis Colts -- As a rookie fifth-round pick in 2012, he ran for 814 yards and showed a powerful running style. He will get even more carries in 2013 as he takes over as the starter.

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