• Dallas Cowboys EDGE Micah Parsons takes the top spot: Parsons rushed the passer even more in 2022, and he produced similarly dominant results.
• New York Jets CB Sauce Gardner headlines five 2022 rookies on the list: He joins teammate Garrett Wilson in the top 25 after a stellar season.
• Three Falcons, three Cowboys land in the top 25: Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs make the cut for Dallas, and Drake London, A.J. Terrell and Kyle Pitts do so for Atlanta.
Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins
As we enter into the summer months, we turn the page from the NFL draft to preview pieces for the 2023 season and beyond. Part of that is continuing an annual tradition of ranking the top 25 players in the league under the age of 25 (when Week 1 begins).
1. EDGE Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
Parsons followed up a stellar rookie season with yet another great year as a pass rusher. His 92.0 pass-rush grade and 23.4% pass-rush win percentage in 2022 were just slightly behind his 93.0 pass-rush grade and 24.8% pass-rush win percentage from the previous season, but he maintained those high numbers while playing 281 more pass-rush snaps in 2022. He’s already one of the most impactful players in the league, young or old.
Three straight seasons of elite receiving grades for Jefferson — 90.4 in 2020, 90.1 in 2021 and 90.2 in 2022 — means he stands alone at the top of the young receiver list in terms of dominance and consistency. He’s unmatched, not just for his age, but among all NFL receivers.
Wirfs’ overall grade took somewhat of a step back in 2022, dropping from 84.3 the previous season to 83.1 last year, but his pass-blocking grade jumped to a near-elite 89.1. He allowed just six total pressures on 696 pass-blocking snaps. His consistently strong play bodes well for his transition from right tackle to left tackle this upcoming season.
4. WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
Chase’s receiving grades for the first two seasons of his career came out to 86.1 in 2021 and 85.2 in 2022. Over the past two years, he’s recorded 3,000 receiving yards and 25 receiving touchdowns. He’s also been one of the top big-play receivers in the league, recording 60 explosive plays of 20 yards or more.
5. CB Sauce Gardner, New York Jets
Some might call it an overreaction for Gardner to be so high on the list after just one year in the NFL. But that one year was so impressive that it’s hard to have him much lower. He recorded an elite 90.0 coverage grade with 20 forced incompletions and less than 400 receiving yards allowed on 613 total coverage snaps. As often is the case with rookies, he was targeted constantly (74 times), but he remained a shutdown player.
Humphrey has been as rock solid as a young offensive lineman can be. He’s recorded back-to-back elite grades of 91.8 in 2021 and 89.9 in 2022. On more than 1,400 true pass-blocking snaps played, he’s given up on one sack and just 28 total pressures across the past two years.
7. CB Patrick Surtain II, Denver Broncos
Surtain’s 66.3 coverage grade in 2021 was solid for a rookie (don’t let Sauce Gardner’s grade this past year skew your thoughts of an expected rookie year for young cornerbacks). But his 86.7 coverage grade in 2022 was exactly the kind of jump into elite play we were hoping for. He allowed just 417 passing yards in coverage with eight forced incompletions.
Had Slater been healthy for a full season in 2022, he likely would’ve been even higher on this list. He finished his rookie year with an 83.6 overall grade on more than 1,000 snaps played. And he earned an 84.0 overall grade in 2022 before rupturing his bicep in Week 3. A healthy Slater should be right back at the top of blocking grades in 2023.
9. WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
Lamb has been an immediate impact player for the Cowboys since they drafted him in 2020. He recorded just under 1,000 receiving yards in his rookie years and has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past two seasons. His receiving grade has increased rapidly, from 72.6 in 2020 to 84.8 in 2021 and 87.0 in 2022. The only player with more explosive plays of 20 yards or more in the past two years is Justin Jefferson.
10. OT Andrew Thomas, New York Giants
Thomas took a major leap in his sophomore season in 2022. He earned a 78.9 grade in 2021 and an elite 90.3 grade in 2022. His 89.9 pass-blocking grade in 2022 was one of the highest marks in the league, and he allowed just seven sacks or hits on 700 pass-blocking snaps.
11. WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
Waddle’s speed is one of the most elite traits in the game. He recorded an 82.6 grade in 2022 to pair with his second straight season of topping 1,000 receiving yards. His quarterbacks also generated an impressive 119.2 passer rating when targeting him in the passing game. As long as Waddle stays healthy, he’ll be one of the top receiving weapons in the league.
12. RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Taylor took a step back last season with a 71.5 rushing grade, a far cry from his 90.0 rushing grade in 2021. But much of his lack of production stemmed from things outside of his control. The Colts’ offensive line was poor last year, as was their offense overall. Taylor missed out on the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since his freshman season of high school, but even with the poor offensive line, he still rushed for 861 yards in 11 games — a pace that would have still hit 1,000 yards in a full season. When fully healthy, Taylor is still one of the best young players in the game.
13. OT Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions
Sewell has played more than 2,000 snaps on Detroit’s offensive line over the past two seasons and looks like an All-Pro in the making. He earned overall grades of 77.0 and 80.6 in those two campaigns. He also allowed fewer sacks (five to two) and fewer total pressures (35 to 28) from 2021 to 2022.
14. WR Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
Higgins is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons while recording 908 receiving yards in his rookie campaign before that. It’s been a career of high-level consistency for Higgins, who would likely have even better stats with Ja’Marr Chase not acting as the team’s No. 1 receiver the past two years.
15. OT Christian Darrisaw, Minnesota Vikings
Darrisaw dealt with a groin injury in his rookie season that caused him to miss four games, and he finished the year with a 71.9 overall grade. But this past season, he played in 15 games, recording 910 snaps, and earned an elite 90.4 overall grade. That massive jump was extremely impressive, and something that should give him a baseline to be one of the top young offensive linemen in the game moving forward.
16. WR DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
Smith is on track to be one of the top young receivers in the game, if you don’t already believe he’s there. He recorded a 77.6 receiving grade in 2021 and took a nice jump to 81.1 in 2022 as part of the Eagles’ offensive surge that propelled them to the Super Bowl. His passer rating when targeted was 113.9 with a low drop percentage of 5.2%.
17. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
St. Brown had one hell of a year in 2022. He recorded an elite 90.4 receiving grade after earning a 79.4 receiving grade as a rookie. His 544 receiving yards after the catch was near the top of the league, as he became more of a well-rounded receiver. He played 430 snaps in the slot and 341 snaps out wide, serving as the focal point of the Lions’ high-scoring passing attack. With offensive coordinator Ben Johnson returning, it could be another huge year for St. Brown.
18. QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lawrence struggled during his rookie season, earning a 58.3 passing grade. But this past year (with an established NFL head coach), he jumped to a 74.1 passing grade. He finished with 26 big-time throws, 19 turnover-worth plays and a 77.7% adjusted completion percentage. It was a step in the right direction, one that allowed his arrow to continue pointing up with improvement still possible in all areas.
19. WR Garrett Wilson, New York Jets
Wilson led all rookie receivers last year with 26 explosive plays of 20 yards or more — and that was with sub-par quarterback play (to put it lightly). His recording more than 1,100 receiving yards is an accomplishment in and of itself, but when you take into account who was throwing him the ball, it’s even more impressive. With Aaron Rodgers under center for 2023, and potentially beyond, expect another great year from the former Buckeye.
20. WR Drake London, Atlanta Falcons
As a rookie, London became the focal point of the Falcons' passing attack. He finished 2022 with an 85.3 receiving grade, which ranked second only to Garrett Wilson among rookies. London had 14 contested catches with an impressive 53.8% contested catch percentage. He also posted a 27.2% wide receive usage rate in the offense, which shows the team placed a lot of trust in the rookie. That should continue moving forward.
21. TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
The narrative around Pitts makes it difficult to appropriately rank him among the other young players in the league. The expectations around Pitts were that he was going to be one of the greatest tight ends we’ve ever seen the week he was drafted. He finished his rookie season with an 82.3 receiving grade and more than 1,000 receiving yards. This past year, he earned just a 76.6 receiving grade, albeit in an injury-shortened season. He dealt with hamstring injuries early in the year and tore his MCL in Week 11. A healthy Pitts still has one of the highest ceilings of any tight end.
22. CB A.J. Terrell, Atlanta Falcons
Terrell’s 2021 season was spectacular. He recorded an 85.6 coverage grade with just 29 catches and 200 receiving yards allowed. He also recorded 15 forced incompletions and three interceptions. This past season was much more of a struggle, however, as Terrell earned a 61.8 coverage grade. The Falcons' defense as a whole was not up to par, especially in the front seven, which makes coverage a tough job. With more talent around him this year, we’ll get a better feel for what to expect of Terrell moving forward.
23. WR Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints
Olave finished his 2022 rookie campaign with an 82.9 receiving grade. He recorded 24 explosive plays of 20 yards or more, which was a top-10 mark among players under 25. His 14.9-yard average depth of target was one of the higher marks in the league, which showcases his deep-threat ability.
24. CB Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks
Woolen’s lone season thus far was one to remember. He earned an impressive 74.2 coverage grade with six interceptions and 12 forced incompletions. He also had frequent difficult assignments while playing more than 300 coverage snaps in press coverage.
25. CB Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys
Diggs remains one of the most polarizing players on these types of lists, but he deserves to make the tail end of it. His 11 interceptions in 2021 led the league by a large margin, but, of course, it’s well documented that he allowed more than 1,000 yards in coverage. His coverage grade that season finished at 65.0. This past year, though, he allowed fewer yards against and his coverage grade moved slightly to 67.0. He’s a feast-or-famine type of player, but his talent and ball skills allow him to make major plays.