Who are the top young players in the NFL? We've put together an all-star team of football's best with one catch: Every player on this dream team is 25 years old or younger going into the 2009 regular season (September 10).
So without further ado, the NFL's 25 best players -- one at each starting spot -- age 25 and under...
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers,
Green Bay Packers (age 25)
Last season, Rodgers filled Brett Favre's shows and then some. He was fourth in the NFL in passing yards (4,038) and touchdowns (28). With his accuracy, smarts, and athleticism, things should only get better for Rodgers.
Running Back: Adrian Peterson,
Minnesota Vikings (age 24)
Peterson is the best pure runner in football and an MVP candidate, blending elite speed with incredible power. After just two NFL seasons, he already holds the NFL's single-game rushing mark (296) and won the NFL rushing crown last season (1,760)
Running Back: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars (age 24)
The miniature-sized Jones-Drew (just 5' 7") could be the best all-around running back in the NFL. He can do it all: Jones-Drew has the toughness to pick up yards inside, the speed to bounce it to the outside, great hands as a receiver out of the backfield, and the ability to bust the big play as a kick returner. Despite playing a part-time roll over his first three seasons, Jones-Drew still scored 40 touchdowns in that span.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson,
Detroit Lions (age 23)
As far as natural talent goes, Johnson might be the best there is among NFL receivers. He's huge (6' 5", 235 lbs.), fast, and catches anything thrown near him. Johnson had 1,331 yards and 12 TDs in his second season. He and new franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford could be an unstoppable duo a few years from now.
Wide Receiver: Brandon Marshall,
Denver Broncos (age 25)
There are a lot of question marks surrounding Marshall because of some attitude and off-the-field problems, but there's no denying his talent. Known as "Baby T.O." because of skills similar to Terrell Owens, Marshall has topped 100 receptions and 1,200 yards in each of his two seasons as a starter.
Tight End: Greg Olsen,
Chicago Bears (age 24)
With his rare speed for a tight end, Olsen is already one of the best pass-catching tight ends in football. He had 54 catches for 574 yards in 2008 despite being a part-time player. He'll be Chicago's starter in 2009 and, with a top QB in Jay Cutler throwing to him, is ready to become a dominant offensive force.
Offensive Tackle: Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns (age 24)
The third overall pick of the 2007 Draft, Thomas immediately became the anchor of Cleveland's offensive line. If not for Adrian Peterson, he might have been Rookie of the Year in '07, and he was selected second-team All-Pro in '08.
Offensive Tackle: Ryan Clady,
Denver Broncos (age 23)
In a rare feat, Clady stepped in as a rookie left tackle last season and established himself as an elite player right off the bat. He started all 16 games for the powerful Broncos offense and, amazingly, allowed just one-half sack all season. His athleticism is incredible for a player his size (6' 6", 325 pounds).
Guard: Davin Joseph,
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (age 25)
Joseph has been a rock on Tampa's offensive line over his three NFL seasons. A powerful and athletic blocker, he has started 40 games over his first three seasons and went to the Pro Bowl last season.
Guard: Justin Blalock,
Atlanta Falcons (age 25)
At 333 pounds, Blalock is a massive road grater. His strong run blocking helped pave the way for Michael Turner's outstanding 2008 season, making Atlanta's running game one of the best in the NFL.
Center: Nick Mangold, New York Jets (age 25)
Mangold has emerged as a leader on the Jets offensive line, starting all 48 games over his first four seasons. His toughness and smarts earned him a trip to the 2008 Pro Bowl.
Houston Texans (age 24)
Wow, did the Texans ever dodge a bullet in the 2006 Draft. With the Number 1 overall pick, the popular choice was Reggie Bush, who has been a disappointment as a part-time player for the Saints. The Texans rolled the dice and took the little-known Williams, and since then he has emerged as one of the league's most valuable players. Despite facing constant double teams, Williams has 26 sacks over the past two seasons, fourth-most in the NFL in that span. He was voted second-team All-Pro in 2007 and selected to play in last year's Pro Bowl.
Defensive End: Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions (age 23)
Avril was one of the few bright spots for the winless Lions last season. He's undersized for a defensive end, but often proved to be too fast for opposing offensive linemen, much like Colts superstar pass rusher Dwight Freeney. After playing sparingly early last season, Avril recorded four sacks and forced three fumbles over the final six games of the season. As a starter this year, he's set to emerge as a star.
Defensive Tackle: Haloti Ngata, Baltimore Ravens (age 25)
There are plenty of stars on Baltimore's dominating defense, and Ngata is just as valuable as any of them. He's 340 pounds, but moves around like a linebacker. Because teams must always double-team Ngata, it allows Ray Lewis to run around and make tackles.
Defensive Tackle: Brandon Mebane, Seattle Seahawks (age 24)
Mebane showed flashes of stardom his second season, recording an impressive 5.5 sacks for a run-stuffing tackle. Mebane lost about 30 pounds this offseason and will focus on penetrating into the backfield this season. With his talent, he could have 10 sacks this season.
Linebacker: Patrick Willis,
San Francisco 49ers (age 24)
Willis is the best linebacker in the NFL. A hard-hitter with top-notch speed, he has topped 140 tackles, been voted All-Pro, and made the Pro Bowl in each of his two NFL seasons.
Linebacker: Jon Beason,
Carolina Panthers (age 24)
Beason is the anchor of Carolina's defense. He has topped 130 tackles in each of his two NFL seasons and was voted first-team All-Pro last year.
Linebacker: Jerod Mayo,
New England Patriots (age 23)
Mayo is already one of the leaders of the Patriots defense. A smart, tough inside linebacker, he was voted Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording 126 tackles as last year.
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (age 24)
Entering his third season, Revis has become a true shutdown corner for the Jets. Opposing quarterbacks are throwing his way less and less, but Revis still managed five interceptions and a touchdown last year and was elected to the Pro Bowl.
Cornerback: Cortland Finnegan,
Tennessee Titans (age 25)
A seventh-round pick in 2006, Finnegan has made huge strides over his first three NFL seasons. Last year, he had five interceptions and a touchdown and was voted first-team All-Pro.
Safety: Donte Whitner, Buffalo Bills (age 24)
Whitner has been a bit banged up over his three NFL seasons, but he's one of the most talented and versatile safeties in the NFL. He has the ability to play deep against the pass, but can also step up and stop the run.
Safety: LaRon Landry,
Washington Redskins (age 24)
Landry is still wildly inconsistent, but few safeties can match his pure athleticism. Landry has the speed and agility to cover more ground in coverage than almost any safety in football, and he packs a wallop when he tackles.
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski,
New England Patriots (age 25)
Gostkowski was unknown when the Patriots drafted him in the fourth round in 2006, and he had the massive pressure replacing the legendary Adam Vinatieri. But he has more than lived up to expectations. He made 89.1 percent of his field goals over the past two seasons, seventh-best in the league. Last year, he led the NFL in scoring (148 points) and was selected first-team All-Pro.
Punter: Brett Kern,
Denver Broncos (age 23)
Truth be told, there aren't many good, young punters out there, and Kern could very well lose his job in the preseason. But he was solid as a rookie last year, averaging 46.7 yards per punt, fifth-best in the NFL.
Return Specialist: Clifton Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (age 24)
An undrafted rookie out of Fresno State, Smith is an explosive athlete who tore it up as a return specialist. He was second in the NFL in punt return average (14.1 yards), fifth in kickoff return average (27.6 yards), and was the only player in the NFL last year to return both a punt and a kickoff for a TD. Smith was selected All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist.
Are there any players age 25 and under who you thought should have made the cut? Leave a comment and let us know! And for more football analysis, CLICK HERE for the Blogs!