Analysis  

 

All-Under-25 Team: Eddie Lacy, Robert Quinn among rising stars

Who are the top young studs in the NFL?

Well, I guess that depends on what you consider young. For example, your friendly writer figures anyone under 45 qualifies. In the interest of building the ultimate football team with upside galore, though, we went with under 25.

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Now, "under 25" translates this way: Any player who'll still meet the requirement in Week 1 of the 2014 campaign is eligible (i.e., if a current 24-year-old has a birthday coming this offseason, he's out of luck.) Consequently, this team is made up of players who just completed their first or second seasons, with a few exceptions.

Speaking of exceptions, we made one for the 4-3/3-4 defensive divergence in that we included a nose tackle. There are also four linebackers on the roster, though it's worth noting that no true 3-4 OLBs made the list, as all of the 'backers we included were too good to omit.

So take a look at the most promising newish stocks the NFL has to offer today. As always, feel free to share your take: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

(Click on player name to see complete 2013 statistics.)

OFFENSE
Quarterback
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Luck will turn 25 come Week 2. Pretty amazing that he already has won 23 games as an NFL starter. If there is one criticism about this true franchise QB, it's turnovers: nine in three playoff games.

Running Back
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
The Offensive ROY finished eighth in the NFL with 1,178 rushing yards, while his 61 rushing first downs were fifth. (He also paced all rooks in both categories.) He's a modern-day John Riggins.

Running Back
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
One of the most explosive backs to hit the NFL in recent memory, Bernard has the potential to be a guy who rushes for 1,200 yards and catches 80 balls. His 56 grabs in 2013 led all rookie RBs.

Wide Receiver
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Gordon created almost as much disarray among DBs as there has been in Cleveland's front office lately. How does a guy rack up 117.6 receiving yards per game with those Browns QBs?

Wide Receiver
Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
Allen was a strong candidate for Offensive ROY. He lost there, but beats out Alshon Jeffery and T.Y. Hilton here. Allen caught nearly 70 percent of the passes thrown his way in Year 1.

Tight End
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Admittedly, there weren't many bright spots on the Redskins in 2013. Prior to last season, you'd think RGIII would be destined for this list; instead, it's Reed, who caught 45 balls in just nine games.

Tackle
Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Smith is becoming one of the NFL's premier LTs. Once Smith gets his hands on you, you're cooked. (Just like Jonathan Ogden in the early days.) Still 23, he yielded 1.5 sacks and three QB hits in 2013.

Guard
Larry Warford, Detroit Lions
Talk about an under-the-radar stud. If you watched the 2013 Lions (hopefully you didn't), you might've noticed they could run the football. (See: Warford.) And he pitched a shutout: no sacks.

Center
Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys' offensive line showed immense improvement in 2013, and Frederick deserves much of the credit. Is he perfect? No. But he proved he was not a stupid first-round pick.

Guard
David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers
DeCastro, who beat out Cincy's Kevin Zeitler for this spot, allowed a grand total of 1.25 sacks in 15 starts and was flagged just twice. Pittsburgh ran the ball to his side more effectively, too.

Tackle
Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills
Glenn is not at Tyron Smith's level yet, but he's rising fast. A huge man at 345 pounds, his game has improved while his sacks and hurries allowed have dwindled.

Kicker
Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
Tucker missed just three field goals in 2013 despite playing nearly all of his games outdoors. Tucker hit from 61 yards out to beat Detroit, scored 140 points and went 6-for-7 from 50-plus.

Returner
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota's special teams unit has received quite the boost from rookies recently. Blair Walsh was outstanding in 2012, and Patterson averaged 32.4 yards per kick return in 2013, tops in the NFL.

DEFENSE
Defensive End
Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams
If you're surprised Quinn made this list, you should probably hop over to the Food Network's website. Quinn led the NFL with 75 combined sacks/knockdowns/hurries -- SEVENTY-FIVE!!

Defensive End
Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
When you think of young studs, this guy does not immediately come to mind. He should. How is this for a second season in the league: 11.5 sacks, 79 tackles and 34 combined knockdowns/hurries?

Defensive Tackle
Jurrell Casey, Tennessee Titans
Casey is much more than just a plugger in the middle for the Titans. Ken Whisenhunt will find that he has himself quite a defensive player up front. Casey recorded an outstanding 10.5 sacks at DT.

Nose Tackle
Dontari Poe, Kansas City Chiefs
Poe played a huge role in the Chiefs' nine-win improvement in 2013. Manning the middle of K.C.'s 3-4, he had 4.5 sacks, seven QB hits and five tackles for a loss, and he eclipsed 1,000 snaps.

Linebacker
Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Similar to Luck and Quinn, Kuechly is an absolute slam dunk on this team. It's hard to forget his 24-tackle performance vs. the Saints or his 320 tackles and six picks over the past two years.

Linebacker
Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
David certainly deserved Defensive POY consideration; he piled up 145 tackles, seven sacks, five picks, 10 pass deflections, 20 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

Linebacker
Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals
Everyone raves about Burfict's playmaking ability. He's shocked a lot of scouts who didn't think he had an NFL work ethic. A year after going undrafted, he logged an NFL-high 171 tackles.

Linebacker
Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
It sure looks like the Bills made a genius second-round pick here. Just watch Alonso play: He's all over the place, as evidenced by his 159 tackles (nine for a loss) and five turnovers forced.

Cornerback
Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
To be clear, he's not the NFL's top cover corner, but he is an excellent player who is more dangerous than any of his peers with the ball in his hands. How is he still just 23?

Cornerback
Desmond Trufant, Atlanta Falcons
For all the talk about other young corners, Trufant was the best among rookies in 2013 and has tremendous upside. Trufant was thrown at 87 times and allowed just 42 completions. Pretty solid.

Safety
Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers' draft-day trade with the Cowboys bore fruit. Besides becoming an immediate starter for a premier D, he recorded 77 tackles, picked off four balls and recovered two fumbles.

Safety
Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
It'll be interesting to see how Arizona uses Mathieu when he returns from injury. He's an impact guy who is also versatile, reflected by his nine tackles for loss, two picks and one sack.

Punter
Johnny Hekker, St. Louis Rams
Hekker just turned 24, yet is already one of the best punters in the business. In fact, he led the league in net average at 44.2 yards. That's a field-position-flipping number.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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