Young talent is incredibly important when it comes to finding success in the NFL. Some claim that the salary cap is a myth, but it does indeed still exist -- even though teams have gotten creative when it comes to signing free agents and restructuring current contracts. Having a star quarterback or wide receiver on a rookie contract magnifies your Super Bowl window even more, because one day you're going to have to break the bank to retain them.
This week at CBSSports.com, we will be examining some of the best young players in the NFL by creating our All Under 25 Offensive and Defensive teams. We have already discussed the top 25 NFL players under 25-years-old, but here, we will get to dive into individual players a bit more. For the All Under 25 Offensive First and Second Teams, we will take into consideration how these players performed during their first few seasons in the league, Sports Reference's Approximate Value (AV) tool and then their outlook moving forward. There are some pretty big names on this list, so let's go ahead and jump in.
QB: Lamar Jackson (Ravens)
In his first full season as the Ravens' starter in 2019, Jackson was named First Team All-Pro, made the Pro Bowl, led the NFL in passing touchdowns and of course won MVP. He was an unstoppable dual-threat weapon who rushed for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns to go along with his 3,127 passing yards and 36 scores through the air. Jackson didn't "regress" much in 2020, as the Ravens still finished 11-5, made the playoffs, and got their postseason revenge against the Titans by defeating them in Super Wild-Card Weekend. While Jackson is an incredible athlete, some may still question his ability to be consistently effective downfield. According to ESPN, Jackson ranked 19th in attempted throws 20 yards or longer downfield (45) and 24th in completion rate on those passes (37.8%) last season. That could change in 2021, however, as the Ravens went out and signed Sammy Watkins in free agency and drafted Rashod Bateman. Jackson is a quarterback any NFL team would be happy to have, and his best football could be ahead of him. He's due to cash in on an extension in the near future.
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RB Saquon Barkley (Giants)
Barkley unfortunately tore his ACL in the second game of the season last year, but we have reason to expect he'll be able to bounce back. When the Giants drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, he quickly proved that he was indeed the dynamic dual-threat weapon we all loved to watch on Saturdays at Penn State. He recorded 2,028 yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdowns and won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. An ankle injury forced him to miss three games in 2019, so questions about his health are fair. But at the same time, "Saquads" is a physical specimen and is one of the best running backs in the league when healthy.
WR Justin Jefferson (Vikings)
As a rookie, Jefferson finished fourth among all players with 1,400 receiving yards (which was an all-time rookie record) and ninth in yards per reception with 15.9. He didn't even start the first two games of the season, but exploded for a career-high 175 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Titans in his first start back in Week 3. Towards the end of the season, Jefferson claimed he started to see defenses "disguise" their game plans around him, but that didn't stop him. In fact, it only gave him confidence. Jefferson recorded over 100 receiving yards in two of the final three games of the season. A star in the making.
WR D.K. Metcalf (Seahawks)
I was pretty shocked to see Metcalf fall to the No. 64 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Sure, he had some injury concerns coming out of Ole Miss, but he was dominant whenever he was on the field and also tore up the combine. Metcalf caught 58 passes for 900 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie season, and seven passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in Seattle's 17-9 wild-card victory over the Eagles -- which was the Seahawks' franchise record for receiving yards in a playoff game, as well as the NFL playoff record for any rookie. Metcalf built on his rookie season by catching 83 passes for 1,303 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020. His 81.4 receiving yards per game ranked seventh among all receivers and tight ends, and he earned his first Pro Bowl bid and Second Team All-Pro nod as well. He's a big target who is fast and can beat you downfield, and is just 23 years old.
WR A.J. Brown (Titans)
It's pretty astounding that Metcalf and Brown shared the same field at Ole Miss. In his rookie season, Brown became the only player in the Super Bowl era to record over 1,000 receiving yards while averaging over 20 yards per reception, according to NFL Research. Even after missing two of the first three games of this season, Brown still rebounded to put up career-high numbers across the board and came in at fifth among all receivers with 11 touchdowns. He's dynamic downfield, and the definition of a home-run hitter.
With the addition of Julio Jones, Brown could be even better in 2021.
TE T.J. Hockenson (Lions)
I ranked Hockenson as the No. 5 tight end in the league entering 2021. In his first full season, the former Iowa Hawkeye caught 67 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns. He ranked fourth among all tight ends in receptions, third in yards and tied for ninth in touchdowns. Hockenson was dangerous working the middle of the field and effective in the red zone. Additionally, he proved to be a solid run blocker. The Lions are not an incredibly fun team to watch, but Hockenson should be a household name soon enough.
LT Jedrick Wills Jr. (Browns)
We had a couple of options for our First Team left tackle, but Wills' 8 on Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value (AV) scale warranted his selection. He missed just one game during his rookie season and served as the blindside blocker for Baker Mayfield, as the former No. 1 overall pick had his best NFL season yet. Wills also helped pave the way for the talented duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and appears to be Cleveland's franchise left tackle for years to come.
LG Connor Williams (Cowboys)
Williams certainly has not been considered one of the best linemen on the Cowboys' loaded unit, but he stood tall when the rest of the offensive front fell apart in 2020. He started in all 16 games for the first time in his career and recorded a career-high AV of 8. With the rest of the line back healthy and Williams entering a contract year, we expect him to show he's one of the best offensive linemen under age 25 in 2021.
C Erik McCoy (Saints)
McCoy was drafted by the Saints in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M, and has started every game at center in his first two seasons. He posted an AV of 8 in 2019, and an AV of 9 this past season -- which was tied for sixth among all centers. The Saints have a great offensive line, and McCoy is definitely a big part of that. They will help whoever takes over for Drew Brees this season.
RG Nate Davis (Titans)
Davis was pushed into the starting lineup immediately as a third-round pick out of Charlotte in 2019, and he was a clear weak spot along the offensive line with a 30.1 PFF grade in Weeks 1-14. However, he really turned it up at the end of the year, and posted a 71.5 grade in Weeks 15 through the Titans' magical postseason run to the AFC championship game. Davis has maintained that kind of level of consistency and posted an impressive AV of 10 in 2020, which was tied for fourth among all offensive guards. Davis has helped running back Derrick Henry lead the league in rushing for two straight years now, and also helped him become just the eighth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season.
RT Tristan Wirfs (Buccaneers)
The Buccaneers made several big additions that helped them win Super Bowl LV, and Wirfs was one of them. The No. 13 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft played and started in all 16 games, and allowed just one sack in 799 pass-blocking snaps, according to PFF. Sure, Tom Brady is the best quarterback of all time, but he's not the most nimble signal-caller in the NFL. He usually just went down if a defender broke through the line last year, but Wirfs and this offensive front as a whole did a great job keeping him upright.
QB: Kyler Murray (Cardinals)
RB: Josh Jacobs (Raiders)
WR: D.J. Moore (Panthers), CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys), Chase Claypool (Steelers)
TE: Noah Fant (Broncos)
LT: Mekhi Becton (Jets)
LG: Michael Onwenu (Patriots)
C: Lloyd Cushenberry III (Broncos)
RG: Damien Lewis (Seahawks)
RT: Chukwuma Okorafor (Steelers)