NFL All-25-and-Under Offensive Team: Carson Wentz beats out Deshaun Watson for QB
The Eagles have the best young quarterback in football, but the Texans are not too far behind (and neither are the Rams)
Bar none, the most valuable asset in football, and maybe all of sports, is a franchise quarterback on a rookie deal. Multiple teams like the Rams and Eagles emerged as contenders with their top-shelf, highly-drafted signal callers on cheap contracts. But the reality of modern football means any young player who emerges as a frontline starter with a cheap rookie contract is a hugely valuable asset.
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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We're also more worried about them helping us right now than we are for the long haul. For instance, two months ago, Hunter Henry is my first-team tight end, but his injury created a void there. You can't reasonably say you would take Henry over Evan Engram for this spot heading into the 2018 season, even if you believe Henry might be the most valuable asset down the road. I might still take him for the rest of his career, but it's a combo of upside and what they can do in 2018 that fills out this group.
Let's get to the offense. Send all complaints, concerns or otherwise rude suggestions to me on Twitter @WillBrinson.
First Team Offense
QB: Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
There are some other tempting names to go with here, but Wentz is coming off a sophomore campaign that saw him compete head-to-head with Tom Brady for MVP votes right up until he tore his ACL. His ceiling is enormous and he showed how good he can be for the Eagles last year. Even if you're some "hater" who thinks the Eagles could , you have to recognize how good Wentz can be for Philly over the length of his career. He has two years of production under his belt and only that injury might keep him from another MVP caliber season.
RB: Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
Another really tight race, but ultimately I'll take TG3 over any running back under 25. People slept on him heading into his third year, but he exploded back on the scene for an eye-popping 2,093 scrimmage yards. He lead the league with 13 rushing touchdowns and nearly stole MVP from Brady too. The 64 passes he caught last season don't get enough attention. He's has gamebreaking ability, can churn out yardage down-to-down and is a massive threat in the passing game (12.3 yards per catch).
This might be the easiest pick on the entire team, even if the Giants haven't felt compelled enough to pay Beckham what he's worth. Although hypothetically if you sorted receivers from 2017 age 25 and under with more than 500 yards you could miss Beckham, we're not going to hold his lost season against him. If he bounces back healthy, Beckham is one of the three best receivers in football and he hasn't even approached his prime yet. Sure he appears to be kind of a weird dude and is a bit of a headache, but a lot of the great receivers fit that category. The things he can do from an on-field standpoint can't be replicated by many human beings.
The age specifications of this list (not my idea, but I'll take it!) conveniently slots in Thomas here. He turned 25 this offseason, which actually makes him a little bit older for a guy with only two NFL seasons under his belt, but who cares. He's been massively productive since the day he landed in the NFL, averaging 98 catches and 1,191 yards in each of his two seasons with the Saints. NFL receivers typically don't break out until their third season -- if Thomas "breaks out" he could be in for a monster year in 2018.
It wouldn't be appropriate for the modern NFL if we didn't include a slot receiver, so let's put one here. Hill's a burner who can line up all over the place and annihilate defenses with his field-stretching ability. Once he gets past a defense, you aren't catching him. Hill has caught more than 70 percent of his passes in his first two seasons, and 2017 featured a breakout year where he caught 75 balls for 1,158 yards and seven touchdowns. He was one of just nine players to catch more than 50 balls and average more than 15 yards per catch last season.
TE: Evan Engram, New York Giants
Conventional wisdom dictates tight ends aren't supposed to make an impact out of the gate for NFL teams, but Engram shoved that idea back in the box last season after Odell Beckham Jr. went down, becoming Eli Manning's primary target. The first-round pick was targeted 115 times, catching 64 passes for 722 yards and six touchdowns. It remains to be seen if he can duplicate that success in a new offense, with a new coaching staff and Beckham returning to (we assume) full health. Not to mention the addition of Saquon Barkley; Eli needs a bunch of spoons for the mouths in New York. But Engram proved too much of a seam stretcher to warrant not using frequently this season and Pat Shurmur's offense was plenty friendly to Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota.
OT: Ryan Ramcyzk, New Orleans Saints
Sometimes it's good to get lucky, and the Saints got lucky Patrick Mahomes and Reuben Foster were taken right before they planned to grab each. The result was landing Marshon Lattimore (expect to see him on a list Tuesday) and Ramcyzk, two first-round rookies who fueled the Saints' bounceback season in 2017. Ramcyzk's ability to step in and help shore up the protection for Drew Brees was massive -- he played every single offensive snap for the Saints last year and, per Pro Football Focus, didn't surrender a single sack from Week 12 through the Saints elimination in the Divisional Round. He only allowed one quarterback hit in that span as well.
Last year wasn't as good as Conklin's rookie season, but you could say that about every member of the Titans. With Matt LaFleur joining Mike Vrabel in Tennessee, it's safe to say the Titans offense should be more exciting, or at least more enjoyable to watch. What would make Conklin's status really worth noting is a potential long-term holdout by left tackle Taylor Lewan, which would likely shift Conklin to Marcus Mariota's blindside. Through two full seasons as a starter, Conklin has allowed just four total sacks.
Quite a run for Thuney so far in his NFL career, with the NC State guard, set to enter his third season in 2018, having appeared in two Super Bowls so far. Thuney allowed five sacks and 10 quarterback hurries last year, but improved in his second season, particularly in the run game. Thuney has now played in six playoff games in his young career and has allowed just a single sack and a single quarterback hurry over that span per PFF.
OG: Andrus Peat, New Orleans Saints
There's a very good reason why the Saints were able to get back to their Super Bowl roots and run the ball effectively last season and it involves the offensive line all gelling together. For the long-term prospects of the franchise, it certainly doesn't hurt to have multiple players on this list -- losing Zach Strief is a problem, but they have plenty of able bodies to step up and fill the void. That includes Peat, the 2015 first-round pick, who gave up four sacks and six hurries last year. His athleticism is a big part of why the Saints can be creative in the running game and short passing game with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
The Vikings have battled offensive line woes for a while now, but saw a drastic improvement last season. Minnesota moved from 17th in Adjusted Sack Rate and 30th in Adjusted Line Yards at Football Outsiders up to sixth and 19th, respectively. Elflein deserves a ton of credit for the offensive line improving, as well as navigating the tricky waters of playing with multiple quarterbacks as a rookie center.
Coin flip between Watson and Goff, but give me the upside of what we saw from Watson during his magnificent rookie stretch. People will point to it being a small sample size, but he was pretty awesome in college. Even if Watson recovers quickly from the ACL injury he suffered last year (and that's the expectation), he could see a touchdown drop. His production might not have been sustainable. But even 75 percent of his work last year would be a borderline Pro Bowl season.
So many options -- Kamara, Kareem Hunt, etc. -- for this spot, but Elliott was closer to displacing Gurley on the first team than he was to being replaced here. People are forgetting about his rookie season after his struggles last year, but Elliott can be just about a perfect running back when he's operating at maximum efficiency. He's a thumper between the tackles, an excellent receiver out of the backfield and a fantastic blocker. With his legal troubles behind him and the Cowboys committed to improving the offensive line, he could easily lead the league in rushing again in 2018.
People really sleep on Evans in these situations. He'll turn 25 in August, as he heads into his fifth NFL season, havingto lock him in long-term. Evans had a down year last season but he still caught 70 passes and topped 1,000 yards (by a single yard). He's been in the NFL four years and has produced four different 1,000-yard seasons. His touchdowns dipped, fantasy owners got mad and the Bucs weren't very good. His catch percentage probably won't ever be extremely high (he's always in the 50's) but he's an animal in the red zone and his combo of size and speed make him a destroyer of worlds downfield.
WR: Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams
Cooks gets forgotten a little bit because he's already on his third team just five years into his NFL career. He flies under the radar from that 2014 NFL Draft class too, thanks to Beckham and Evans and Sammy Watkins. But all he does is produce: after a slow rookie season in New Orleans, Cooks has averaged 76 catches, 1,131 yards and eight touchdowns over the last three years. He's on his third team in three years now, but the Rams shouldn't be bad for his output. And you can follow the money; when a team after , they plan on using him early and often.
It's bananas that the Steelers rookie wideout could be on this list for another FOUR YEARS. Smith-Schuster will turn 22 in the middle of this season, but he played much older than that last year, when he stepped in and helped to fuel the Steelers offense, providing another weapon in the passing game to free up Antonio Brown. The result of Smith-Schuster's emergence along with the drafting of James Washington this year effectively made Martavis Bryant irrelevant, which is why he was shipped to Oakland. Expectations are high after a 917-yard season, as JuJu is the 50th player off the board in fantasy leagues right now. He might actually deliver.
Again, a healthy Hunter Henry and this probably isn't the case, but that's not the situation. Njoku's a fascinating case in terms of what tons of upside can do in a situation like Cleveland. If the Browns truly improved the quarterback situation, and are right about Tyrod Taylor and/or Baker Mayfield, their pass catchers are going to win big. And Njoku could be primed for a breakout, after showing flashes early last season.
Last season could be considered a step back for Stanley, but he was still a strong protector of Joe Flacco's blind side, giving up just three sacks on the season per PFF. All of those came pretty early too, with Stanley not giving up a sack from Week 10 on. The former top-10 pick turned 24 this offseason and is going to be a cornerstone for either Joe Flacco's final hurrah or Lamar Jackson's dynamic debut.
The lion's share of the credit for Jacksonville morphing into a championship contender goes, rightfully, to the defense. And Leonard Fournette gets the credit for running the ball effectively. But let's not sleep on the importance of adding Robinson, who helped to elevate the Jaguars offensive line to the point where Jacksonville could get a lead, lock down an opponent's offense and just pound the ball down their throats into submission. That's tough to do as a rookie. But as Pete Prisco pointed out on a recent Pick Six Podcast, the addition of Andrew Norwell should make Robinson even better in 2018.
He didn't come with the hype of the early draft picks, but the 2017 third-round pick was a much bigger contributor for L.A. last season than Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp. His versatility is a huge plus for a Chargers team constantly battling injury issues on the offensive line. But his production could help make this the best unit Philip Rivers has worked behind in nearly a decade.
Last season was probably considered a down year for Turner, especially with Norwell emerging as the more recognized guard on the Panthers offensive line. You can definitely question whether or not Turner has managed to live up to his contract status (), but he's still a young piece on the offensive line with multiple years of quality play. And he's only 25 years old.
Injuries derailed his second season after a promising rookie campaign, Andrew Luck. The return of the starting quarterback and a beefed up group of offensive linemen -- Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith were early picks this year -- should give Kelly an opportunity to improve in 2018.. The former first-round pick had to try and slide back into the lineup with a team already beaten down by a lack of wins and a lack of
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