Few things in the NFL are as valuable as a young stud player on a cheap contract -- being able to lock in a star player at a position of need without having to pay him a ton of money gives teams a major edge.
As such, it's worth noting which key players at each position look like the best assets moving forward. That was our goal in putting together the All-25 Or Under Team..
The only rule, as you might ascertain from the title of the team, is that the player must be 25 years or younger -- not younger than 25 mind you, but 25 years or younger -- by the time the season starts.
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For defensive purposes we're going to approach things a little differently in terms of roster construction. We're not as interested in necessarily crafting a traditional setup of a defense (DE-DT-DT-DE) as we are getting a modern NFL defense on the field and getting the best players. Credit colleague Pete Prisco for coming up with the defensive alignment here -- we broke it all down on the most recent edition of the Pick Six Podcast, agreeing it's better to have a versatile defense that fits against the sort of offenses you see in 2018. You can listen to that episode here.
First Team All Defense
Remember when people thought Bosa might have hit his ceiling as a 20-year-old coming into the NFL? That was one of the all-time ridiculous draft takes ( ) and in his two years in the NFL, Bosa has already justified his draft position while also showing he has NO ceiling. The 23-year-old has 22.5 sacks through two seasons, and he only played 12 games as a rookie because of contractual issues. The Chargers added Derwin James this offseason and have a stout backend to their defense; Bosa and Melvin Ingram should run wild up front for Gus Bradley. Bosa should be a viable DPOY candidate for the next half decade.
There are some other candidates who could slot in with Bosa, but did you hear what Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson told Prisco? , they think he's going to be the Von Miller of the Jaguars defense. Maybe they're propping up their teammate, but the numbers and performance by Ngakoue say otherwise. Ngakoue has 20 sacks in two seasons, since being drafted as a third-round pick out of Maryland, including 12 sacks last season in an early and unexpected Pro Bowl season. With Dante Fowler struggling to earn a new contract, Ngakoue has emerged as Jacksonville's premiere pass rusher and might turn into a flat-out star.
It's unreal that Jarrett fell to the fifth round when he came out of Clemson. It was like the whole world saw what happened with Geno Atkins (undersized, explosive DT) and decided to ignore it. Jarrett started to really break out in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, before producing his best season to date (four sacks, 55 tackles) last year. With the loss of Dontari Poe to the Panthers, the onus is going to be on Jarrett to step up in a big way this coming year and make the Falcons defensive line a dangerous unit. He's more than capable.
Buckner could be on the verge of a major breakout on a decent Niners defense after an impressive all-around season last year. His sack total dropped from six to three, but he piled up five passes defensed, added a forced fumble and totaled 61 tackles. He's a stud against the run and he's got some help on the defensive line with fellow Oregon product Arik Armstead and last year's first-round pick Solomon Thomas. If the 49ers are a playoff contender, it will be their defense rivaling the offense's production and it will be because Buckner breaks out in his third season.
LB: Myles Jack, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars playoff run was highlighted by Jack emerging as a potential superstar, which shouldn't be surprising, considering how he good he looked in college. An injury made him slip to the second round and the Jags are reaping the benefits now, with Jack taking over for Paul Posluszny in the middle of the NFL's top defense. Last year he finished with 90 tackles and a pair of sacks in the regular season, but in the playoffs he managed a sack, 16 tackles and an interception over the course of three games. If Jack isn't in the DPOY conversation this year, Jacksonville people will be as disappointed as when Myles Jack Wasn't Down.
LB: Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Like Jarrett, Jones really burst onto the national scene as a rookie when he flew all over the place against the Patriots. He followed it up with another studly season, earning his first Pro Bowl with three picks, one sack and 138 tackles. He flies all over the place, he's a perfect modern linebacker/safety hybrid, he just makes plays and he lays wood.
CB: Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars
The only tough choice with Ramsey is whether he'd be the first player on this entire team you take (I would go Bosa but it's close). Ramsey was a top five choice in the 2016 NFL Draft and has immediately blossomed into maybe the best cornerback in the entire NFL. He's a perfect bridge to an older generation, as he brings a brash attitude and shuts down just about anyone that comes his way. He won't turn 24 until October and already has an All-Pro nod under his belt.
What a draft for the Saints in 2017, with New Orleans landing Lattimore and Ryan Ramcyzk, who appeared on the offensive version of this list. Lattimore was nothing short of a revelation for New Orleans in 2017, helping to transform a perennially porous defense into one of the league's most impressive units. Lattimore finished with five picks, 18 passes defensed, a pick six, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He piled up stats and locked down opposing receivers all year long, finishing third in passer rating against (45.3) according to Pro Football Focus. As a freaking rookie. He's special.
It's kind of hard to explain why the Redskins would trade Fuller to Kansas City, given how well he's played at a young age. Fuller led all cornerbacks with a 55 passer rating against in slot coverage last year, all while playing 430 snaps out of the slot, which also led the NFL, per PFF. Fuller also finished with four picks on the season. The Redskins got a quarterback out of the trade, but if Fuller goes to the Chiefs and has a monster year while the Redskins secondary struggles, we're going to look back and question that trade a bit.
It didn't take long for the Jets first-round pick in 2017 to justify his draft selection, with Adams piling up 72 tackles, six passes defensed, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a pair of sacks. Adams was part of the reason why the Jets jumped up to the 11th overall defense against the run according to Football Outsiders.
It's pretty remarkable how deep the safety position has become with these young guys. Collins took a step back last season, but the entire Giants defense, and, really, the entire Giants team, took a step back. He still earned a Pro Bowl nod while piling up 99 tackles with one interception, six passes defensed, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. The Giants defense has plenty of talent and should bounce back under the new regime. It wouldn't be surprising if Collins had a huge year in 2018.
Second Team All Defense
Hunter took a below-market deal from the Vikings in order to lock up cash now, but the move also makes sense because he's so young he will hit free agency again in the middle of his prime. He finished the season with "just" seven sacks, but also added 49 quarterback hurries and four quarterbacks hits. After three impressive years, Hunter could break out in a big way as he starts to refine his game.
The former No. 1 overall pick only played in 10 games last year, but it was still clear why the Browns made him the top choice in the 2017 NFL Draft. Garrett registered seven sacks in his short time playing last year, adding 11 quarterback hits and 19 quarterbacks hurries as well. Garrett paired with Bradley Chubb would have been more exciting, but it's going to be fun watching him and Emmanuel Ogbah teaming up to terrorize quarterbacks next year.
DL: Leonard Williams, New York Jets
Adams doesn't get all the credit for helping the Jets stop the run, as Williams deserves a big nod as well. Williams is heading into his fourth season, but he's still just 24 years old; that's how young he was coming out of USC. Williams has one Pro Bowl on his resume, but he's got three steady seasons and is still trending in the right direction for his career.
DL: Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans Saints
Rankins might be under the radar a little bit here, because of a lost rookie season in 2016. But he was very good in 2017, and he's got the kind of quick-step disruption that can really mess with an offensive line. He's capable enough against the run and even managed an interception last year! This is a former first-round pick people are sleeping on -- if he takes another big step forward the Saints are going to be filthy on defense.
LB: Reuben Foster, San Francisco 49ers
The first-round pick's season was cut short because of injury and he will have a shortened season this year because of suspension for off-field issues, which encompasses the concerns with Foster pretty well. It's why he fell in the draft. But when he's on the field and healthy? He already looks like he could be one of the best linebackers in football, with an ability to diagnosis plays on the fly, swarm to the ball and put people down on the ground with authority.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the reliable Davis, who played 14 games as a rookie but never really got any consideration for DROY honors (such is life in a league with Lattimore). Davis piled up 99 total tackles, had two sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He's stout against the run and should only develop into a better all-around linebacker with Matt Patricia coaching him.
This dude has 19 interceptions (and 480 return yards on those picks) in three years. That is patently absurd. He gives up some big plays and combining him with Aqib Talib feels like mixing gas and kerosene for the Rams defense, but the fun thing about mixing explosive liquids is sometimes cool stuff happens. Wade Phillips has developed some aggressive corners in his day and Peters in Son of Bum's scheme could elevate his game even further.
The forgotten rookie corner, a guy who was picked later in the first round and blossomed quickly for the Bills, in maybe the toughest defensive situation of any rookie. Sean McDermott is a great coach, but the Bills were not brimming with incredible talent and White landed in a place where one eighth of his games as a rookie are against Tom Brady by default. White finished the year with a top-20 passer rating against.
(Nickel) CB: Desmond King, Los Angeles Chargers
A fifth-round pick by the Chargers in 2017, King developed into an excellent slot weapon for a stacked defense (see: Bosa above), registering the seventh most snaps out of the slot (380), per PFF. On those snaps, King had an 86.5 passer rating against, while recording one pick (returned for a touchdown), five passes defensed, four sacks (!) and 71 tackles. If Jason Verrett is healthy, King and Casey Hayward give the Chargers a filthy group of defensive backs.
S: Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons
Hmm. A third player from the Falcons defense on this list. Hmm. There's a reason why Atlanta has gone deep in the playoffs the last three years, and it involves their defense coming together at certain points over the course of the season, usually late. Neal, a thumping missile of a defender who has forced eight fumbles in two years, is capable of working with Jones (above) to punish anyone who wants to run or come across the middle.
Underrated performance by Baker last year in a tough spot. The Cardinals weren't great (even if the defense was a lot better than people remember) and there was plenty of drama and attention surrounding Tyrann Mathieu (who is now with the Texans because of his contract and Baker's presence). The former Washington standout can do it all on defense, registering 58 tackles, a sack, seven passes defensed, a fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. Presumably Steve Wilks believes Baker can be one of the centerpieces on his defense. Don't sleep on his All-Pro nod for special teams last year.