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Published: March 4, 2015 at 10:46 a.m.
Updated: March 4, 2015 at 07:31 p.m.

All-Under-25 Team

It's time to pick the best and brightest of the NFL youth for my third annual All-Under-25 Team. Always a fun exercise, though it can be difficult deciding on 26 players. All nominees for this list must be younger than 25 come opening day of the 2015 season, which is Thursday, Sept. 10.

Like always, there were some tough omissions. None tougher than Falcons CB Desmond Trufant, who turns 25 on opening day. Sorry, dude, you're getting old. In all seriousness, I tried to look at who already has arrived, as opposed to primarily considering a player's potential.

There are a lot of interesting choices on my 2015 team. Hit me up with your take: @HarrisonNFL. Check out NFL NOW for more analysis on my offensive and defensive choices.

26 Photos Total

  • Bridgewater beats out Derek Carr on this list, mostly because he avoided the valleys that the Raiders quarterback experienced in his rookie campaign. While each player's stats weren't too far off -- Carr had seven more touchdown passes, while Bridgewater posted a completion percentage that was six points higher -- Teddy's game-by-game consistency is a harbinger of larger success to come. 26

    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings

    Bridgewater beats out Derek Carr on this list, mostly because he avoided the valleys that the Raiders quarterback experienced in his rookie campaign. While each player's stats weren't too far off -- Carr had seven more touchdown passes, while Bridgewater posted a completion percentage that was six points higher -- Teddy's game-by-game consistency is a harbinger of larger success to come.

  • The best all-around back in the NFL. Bell combines explosiveness with the patience required of all the greats. Pittsburgh's young star has only fumbled once in 662 career touches. Last year, he didn't lose a single fumble while rushing for an AFC-best 1,361 yards and catching 83 balls. 25

    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Running back: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

    The best all-around back in the NFL. Bell combines explosiveness with the patience required of all the greats. Pittsburgh's young star has only fumbled once in 662 career touches. Last year, he didn't lose a single fumble while rushing for an AFC-best 1,361 yards and catching 83 balls.

  • While the running back position <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000476354/article/demarco-murray-draft-class-hurt-by-running-back-devaluation">continues to be devalued</a> around the league, the Bengals managed to get a nice return on investment from their 2014 second-round draft pick. Hill rushed for 1,124 yards on just 222 carries -- that's 5.1 yards per rush. 24

    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Running back: Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

    While the running back position continues to be devalued around the league, the Bengals managed to get a nice return on investment from their 2014 second-round draft pick. Hill rushed for 1,124 yards on just 222 carries -- that's 5.1 yards per rush.

  • How do you describe Beckham's rookie season? Scintillating? Sensational? Stupefyingly sweet? No matter how you define it, the extremely productive campaign was something to behold. Beckham set a rookie record by averaging 108.8 yards per game. This is the most electrifying young wide receiver to enter pro football since Randy Moss in 1998. 23

    Evan Pinkus/Associated Press

    Wide receiver: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

    How do you describe Beckham's rookie season? Scintillating? Sensational? Stupefyingly sweet? No matter how you define it, the extremely productive campaign was something to behold. Beckham set a rookie record by averaging 108.8 yards per game. This is the most electrifying young wide receiver to enter pro football since Randy Moss in 1998.

  • This was difficult. Ultimately went with Hopkins over Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin. He was more consistent than the former and didn't drop as many balls as the latter; plus, with an extra year under his belt, Hopkins is further along than both of those two (as well as Sammy Watkins). The Texans wideout posted over 1,200 yards receiving with underwhelming quarterbacks. 22

    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Wide receiver: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

    This was difficult. Ultimately went with Hopkins over Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin. He was more consistent than the former and didn't drop as many balls as the latter; plus, with an extra year under his belt, Hopkins is further along than both of those two (as well as Sammy Watkins). The Texans wideout posted over 1,200 yards receiving with underwhelming quarterbacks.

  • In his second NFL campaign, the tight end was a major bright spot for the Eagles in 2014, posting 702 yards on 58 catches despite an inconsistent season from Philadelphia's quarterbacks. He caught 67.4 percent of his targets. 21

    John Cordes/Associated Press

    Tight end: Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

    In his second NFL campaign, the tight end was a major bright spot for the Eagles in 2014, posting 702 yards on 58 catches despite an inconsistent season from Philadelphia's quarterbacks. He caught 67.4 percent of his targets.

  • <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000138446/article/russell-wilson-jj-watt-headline-nflcoms-allunder25-team">For the third year</a> in <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000325704/article/allunder25-team-eddie-lacy-robert-quinn-among-rising-stars">a row</a>, Smith makes our All-Under-25 squad. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the giant left tackle allowed just two sacks and eight QB hits in 2014. Dallas was the only team in the league that racked up more than 1,000 yards rushing to the left side last year. 20

    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Offensive tackle: Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys

    For the third year in a row, Smith makes our All-Under-25 squad. According to ProFootballFocus.com, the giant left tackle allowed just two sacks and eight QB hits in 2014. Dallas was the only team in the league that racked up more than 1,000 yards rushing to the left side last year.

  • Let's be straightforward here: Not much went right for the Saints in 2014. But don't blame Armstead, who took a big step forward in his second pro season. According to STATS LLC, he allowed three sacks all year. 19

    Ric Tapia/NFL

    Offensive tackle: Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints

    Let's be straightforward here: Not much went right for the Saints in 2014. But don't blame Armstead, who took a big step forward in his second pro season. According to STATS LLC, he allowed three sacks all year.

  • When you're the first rookie guard to earn first-team All-Pro honors in more than 70 years, making the All-Under-25 Team is a piece of cake. This beefcake held his own and then some, paving the way for a dominant Dallas ground attack. 18

    Kevin Terrell/Associated Press

    Offensive guard: Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys

    When you're the first rookie guard to earn first-team All-Pro honors in more than 70 years, making the All-Under-25 Team is a piece of cake. This beefcake held his own and then some, paving the way for a dominant Dallas ground attack.

  • When the Browns made Bitonio their second-round pick (35th overall) in 2014, the move came with little fanfare. After all, who cared about a little-known lineman from Nevada when the team had already drafted Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel in the first round? Bitonio gave up all of 1.5 sacks and was called for holding just once. 17

    Tom DiPace/Associated Press

    Offensive guard: Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns

    When the Browns made Bitonio their second-round pick (35th overall) in 2014, the move came with little fanfare. After all, who cared about a little-known lineman from Nevada when the team had already drafted Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel in the first round? Bitonio gave up all of 1.5 sacks and was called for holding just once.

  • Yep, he's the third Cowboys offensive lineman to make this list. You know why? Because he's young, routinely moves DTs out of the way and doesn't show any signs of the feet of clay that were supposed to sabotage him in the NFL. He allowed a half-sack and was a big part of Dallas' second-ranked run game. 16

    Scott Boehm/Associated Press

    Center: Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

    Yep, he's the third Cowboys offensive lineman to make this list. You know why? Because he's young, routinely moves DTs out of the way and doesn't show any signs of the feet of clay that were supposed to sabotage him in the NFL. He allowed a half-sack and was a big part of Dallas' second-ranked run game.

  • Despite a rough 2014 for the Jets, Richardson had himself another nice season. The big guy was stout against the run, per usual, and posted eight sacks -- a rock-solid figure for a 3-4 DE. It will be interesting to see how this versatile force is deployed in Todd Bowles' system this year. 15

    Scott Boehm/Associated Press

    Defensive end: Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets

    Despite a rough 2014 for the Jets, Richardson had himself another nice season. The big guy was stout against the run, per usual, and posted eight sacks -- a rock-solid figure for a 3-4 DE. It will be interesting to see how this versatile force is deployed in Todd Bowles' system this year.

  • There were times last year when Cox was simply unblockable. <a href="http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2014112701/2014/REG13/eagles@cowboys">The Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas</a> comes to mind, as Cox gave the Cowboys all they could handle. He was easily the Eagles' best player vs. the run in 2014, and he racked up the second-most hurries (39) among 3-4 DEs, according to ProFootballFocus.com. 14

    Brian Garfinkel/Associated Press

    Defensive end: Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles

    There were times last year when Cox was simply unblockable. The Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas comes to mind, as Cox gave the Cowboys all they could handle. He was easily the Eagles' best player vs. the run in 2014, and he racked up the second-most hurries (39) among 3-4 DEs, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

  • <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000466462/article/aaron-donald-nets-defensive-rookie-of-the-year-honors">Donald earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors</a> on the strength of nine sacks, countless quarterback hurries and solid play against the run. The 23-year-old should be around a long time, teaming up with Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers to give the Rams the best defensive line in football. 13

    Kevin Terrell/Associated Press

    Defensive tackle: Aaron Donald, St. Louis Rams

    Donald earned Defensive Rookie of the Year honors on the strength of nine sacks, countless quarterback hurries and solid play against the run. The 23-year-old should be around a long time, teaming up with Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers to give the Rams the best defensive line in football.

  • Floyd made significant progress in Year 2. Everyone was focused on Cordarrelle Patterson entering last season, but it was this Vikings sophomore who flourished. Despite missing two games, he was a stud against the run and recorded 4.5 sacks. 12

    Scott Boehm/Associated Press

    Defensive tackle: Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota Vikings

    Floyd made significant progress in Year 2. Everyone was focused on Cordarrelle Patterson entering last season, but it was this Vikings sophomore who flourished. Despite missing two games, he was a stud against the run and recorded 4.5 sacks.

  • Perhaps the most heralded rookie outside linebacker since Lawrence Taylor more than 30 years ago, Mack lived up to the hype of being the fifth overall pick in 2014. ProFootballFocus.com credited him with 40 QB hurries. His athletic play vs. the run was often unbelievable. 11

    Ric Tapia/NFL

    Outside linebacker: Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders

    Perhaps the most heralded rookie outside linebacker since Lawrence Taylor more than 30 years ago, Mack lived up to the hype of being the fifth overall pick in 2014. ProFootballFocus.com credited him with 40 QB hurries. His athletic play vs. the run was often unbelievable.

  • Give Barr a lot of credit. While Mack was (deservedly) racking up headlines, Barr had a pretty nice rookie campaign of his own. Despite missing four games, the 22-year-old had 70 tackles (six for loss) and forced two fumbles (<a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/0ap3000000417775/Wk-8-Can-t-Miss-Play-Raising-the-Barr">returning one for the game-winning score in Tampa Bay</a>). 10

    Scott Boehm/Associated Press

    Outside linebacker: Anthony Barr, Minnesota Vikings

    Give Barr a lot of credit. While Mack was (deservedly) racking up headlines, Barr had a pretty nice rookie campaign of his own. Despite missing four games, the 22-year-old had 70 tackles (six for loss) and forced two fumbles (returning one for the game-winning score in Tampa Bay).

  • Maybe the best defensive player in football this side of J.J. Watt. Of course, Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis might have something to say about that. As would Justin Houston. Yet, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year has an uncanny knack for quickly diagnosing run <i>and</i> pass plays. He's only 23, too. 9

    Kevin Terrell/Associated Press

    Inside linebacker: Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

    Maybe the best defensive player in football this side of J.J. Watt. Of course, Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis might have something to say about that. As would Justin Houston. Yet, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year has an uncanny knack for quickly diagnosing run and pass plays. He's only 23, too.

  • Seemed like every week last season, we were hearing about the play of this rookie third-round pick. Despite starting just eight games, he recorded 108 tackles (including 12 for loss) and two interceptions, and he <a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000425333/Brees-fumbles-49ers-recovers-in-OT">pounced on the ball</a> to set up the game-winning score in New Orleans. Dude was all over the field. 8

    Ric Tapia/NFL

    Inside linebacker: Chris Borland, San Francisco 49ers

    Seemed like every week last season, we were hearing about the play of this rookie third-round pick. Despite starting just eight games, he recorded 108 tackles (including 12 for loss) and two interceptions, and he pounced on the ball to set up the game-winning score in New Orleans. Dude was all over the field.

  • One of the real bright spots on an outstanding Lions defense, Slay played above expectations in 2014, allowing just 52 percent completions and three touchdowns in 100 attempts. He defensed 17 passes while taking a big step forward in his sophomore campaign. 7

    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Cornerback: Darius Slay, Detroit Lions

    One of the real bright spots on an outstanding Lions defense, Slay played above expectations in 2014, allowing just 52 percent completions and three touchdowns in 100 attempts. He defensed 17 passes while taking a big step forward in his sophomore campaign.

  • Benwikere narrowly makes this list over guys like Kyle Fuller, K'Waun Williams, Jason Verrett and E.J. Gaines. The rookie out of San Jose State did not allow a touchdown reception last season despite playing nearly 500 snaps. His presence here is also a larger nod to the youth-oriented Panthers, who started seven rookies last year. Benwikere brings solid size to the table, which helps his game. 6

    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Cornerback: Bene' Benwikere, Carolina Panthers

    Benwikere narrowly makes this list over guys like Kyle Fuller, K'Waun Williams, Jason Verrett and E.J. Gaines. The rookie out of San Jose State did not allow a touchdown reception last season despite playing nearly 500 snaps. His presence here is also a larger nod to the youth-oriented Panthers, who started seven rookies last year. Benwikere brings solid size to the table, which helps his game.

  • Unfortunately, we have yet to see a full, healthy season from the "Honey Badger." But we certainly have seen the immense talent, particularly when it comes to his innate ability to just make plays. He can tackle, rush the passer and cover the slot. And here's the thing: He's still just 22 years old. As the pro game continues to slow down for him from a mental perspective, he'll become even more of a beast. 5

    Ric Tapia/NFL

    Safety: Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals

    Unfortunately, we have yet to see a full, healthy season from the "Honey Badger." But we certainly have seen the immense talent, particularly when it comes to his innate ability to just make plays. He can tackle, rush the passer and cover the slot. And here's the thing: He's still just 22 years old. As the pro game continues to slow down for him from a mental perspective, he'll become even more of a beast.

  • He has a ways to go, but through two seasons, Reid has shown a tremendous amount of upside. He is still a better player vs. the run, but is certainly not a liability in coverage and has picked off seven passes in two seasons. With Reid still just 23 -- and hopefully surrounded by a healthier cast in 2015 -- look for him to develop further this fall. 4

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Safety: Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers

    He has a ways to go, but through two seasons, Reid has shown a tremendous amount of upside. He is still a better player vs. the run, but is certainly not a liability in coverage and has picked off seven passes in two seasons. With Reid still just 23 -- and hopefully surrounded by a healthier cast in 2015 -- look for him to develop further this fall.

  • This might have been the toughest selection on the list, with Cody Parkey just about even-steven with Catanzaro. Parkey's field goal percentage was one point higher (88.9 to 87.9), yet the Cardinals kicker was slightly better on kickoffs. Yep, we're splitting hairs. 3

    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Kicker: Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona Cardinals

    This might have been the toughest selection on the list, with Cody Parkey just about even-steven with Catanzaro. Parkey's field goal percentage was one point higher (88.9 to 87.9), yet the Cardinals kicker was slightly better on kickoffs. Yep, we're splitting hairs.

  • Truth be told, this blurb was initially filed in the font known as "Wingdings." Unfortunately, my editor did not find it as apropos as I did. While not absolutely <i>fantastic</i>, Wing was viable, knocking 20 punts inside the 20 and posting a respectable 38.8 net average. Let's see if the Australian takes flight in his second NFL season. 2

    Scott Boehm/Associated Press

    Punter: Brad Wing, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Truth be told, this blurb was initially filed in the font known as "Wingdings." Unfortunately, my editor did not find it as apropos as I did. While not absolutely fantastic, Wing was viable, knocking 20 punts inside the 20 and posting a respectable 38.8 net average. Let's see if the Australian takes flight in his second NFL season.

  • As much as we wanted to sneak Jarvis Landry on the All-Under-25 Team, there was just no ignoring Thomas's production in the return game, where he averaged over <i>30</i> yards per kick return and 11.9 yards per punt return. Those are both excellent figures. <a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000443133/De-Anthony-Thomas-returns-punt-for-80-yard-TD">Thomas also took a punt back to the house.</a> Oh, and he just turned 22 in January. Look out. 1

    Paul Spinelli/Associated Press

    Returner: De'Anthony Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs

    As much as we wanted to sneak Jarvis Landry on the All-Under-25 Team, there was just no ignoring Thomas's production in the return game, where he averaged over 30 yards per kick return and 11.9 yards per punt return. Those are both excellent figures. Thomas also took a punt back to the house. Oh, and he just turned 22 in January. Look out.

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