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The top 25 players under 25 on defense in the NFL.

Last week, I wrote about the top 25 offensive players in the NFL under 25. And since everyone likes a good rankings list when getting ready for the NFL season, here’s the list of the top 25 under 25 for defensive players.

As a reminder, here were the criteria:

•    Players had to be UNDER the age of 25 at the start of the upcoming 2022 season. There are no 25-year-old players on this list, though some may turn 25 through the season.
•    The list is a mix of player projection and past performance. Some of these players are already superstars, some I’m projecting to get there, or close.
•    No rookies. I didn’t include any players who haven’t yet been on the field for an NFL snap.
•    Position matters, but only a little. 

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1. Nick Bosa, Edge, San Francisco 49ers

Simply one of the best edge rushers in the league, Nick Bosa has been nothing short of dominant in his two healthy seasons. Last year, Bosa was fourth in the league in sacks (15.5), tied for first in tackles for loss (21) and third in QB hits (32). Bosa is a solid bet at +1200 in NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds.

2. Micah Parsons, LB, Dallas Cowboys

After sitting out his entire final year at Penn State, Parsons was dominant from Day 1 in the big leagues. He finished sixth in sacks (13), second in tackles for loss (20) and tied for fourth in QB hits (30) on route to a first-team All-Pro selection, Pro Bowl and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Parsons also finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Oh, and he also played two positions as the Cowboys asked him to play off the ball quite a bit. I expect he will top this list next year. Parsons is +900 in NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds.

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3. A.J. Terrell, CB, Atlanta Falcons

Far from a household name on the rebuilding Falcons, Terrell was quietly one of the best cornerbacks in the league last season. He earned the highest grade in coverage of any player at his position last season at Pro Football Focus (PFF) and allowed just 200 yards receiving all year. 

4. Chase Young, Edge, Washington Commanders

This one is a little bit more of a projection, but I believe in the talent that is Chase Young. The former second overall pick in 2020 was the Defensive Rookie of the Year two years ago, but his season was cut short after just nine games last year with an ACL tear. I’m expecting big things this season. Young is a pretty good bet in NFL Comeback Player of the Year odds.

5. Rashaan Gary, Edge, Green Bay Packers

According to Pro Football Reference, Gary’s 47 QB pressures was tied for fourth in the league, behind only Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett and Nick Bosa. 

Gary took a big third-year step last season stats wise after a mediocre first two years in the league, and the arrow is still pointing up for the talented former first-round pick.

6. Maxx Crosby, Edge, Las Vegas Raiders

We wouldn’t fault anyone for having Crosby over Gary over even Young on this list after his 2021 season earned him a Pro-Bowl nod. Crosby tied Parsons with 30 QB hits last season to go along with eight sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 42 total pressures – tied for eighth in the league. 

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7. Patrick Surtain Jr., CB, Denver Broncos

Surtain had a fantastic rookie season and has already become one of the better corners in the league. According to Pro Football Reference, Surtain allowed a 51 percent completion rate in his coverage last season – good for 12th in the league among all DBs.

8. Brian Burns, Edge, Carolina Panthers

With nine sacks, 18 QB hits, 13 tackles for loss and a Pro Bowl selection last season, Burns has become one of the league’s premier edge rushers. We just see him as being a shade below the other edge guys above.

9. Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another son of a former star defensive back, Winfield won the Super Bowl in his rookie season, and took another step in year two with a Pro Bowl selection. According to PFF, Winfield had highest grade of any safety with at least 1,000 snaps under the age of 25 last season.

10. Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys

After leading the league with 11 interceptions last season, scoring a couple touchdowns and getting a first-team All-Pro nomination, we could see why some may disagree with this ranking.

But Diggs allowed over 900 yards in coverage last season according to Pro Football Refence, which was the most in the league. He’s a boom or bust player with a ton of talent, but he wasn’t as good at actually defending as some of the other corners on this list.

Considering how close he came this year, Diggs is an interesting bet at +4000 in NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds.

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11. Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brimming with talent and explosive traits, White is a joy to watch play football. He’s also one of the better blitzers in the league and had the most QB pressures of any inside linebacker in the league last season with 31, which tied pass-rush-only players like Burns. White’s play in coverage could be better and he missed a few too many tackles, but he’s still ascending as a player.

12. Jeremy Chinn, S, Carolina Panthers

Chinn has become a weapon on defense for the Panthers as a safety/linebacker hybrid. A true sideline-to-sideline player, Chinn can do it all from rush the passer to cover and has turned into one of the better young defensive players in the game. 

13. Jevon Holland, S, Miami Dolphins

It is very difficult to step into the NFL and play well at safety as a rookie. Jevon Holland did just that for the Dolphins and put up a respectable 60.6 completion rating against, according to Pro Football Reference as a 21 year old. Holland showed he can also rush the passer with eight pressures, four QB knockdowns and 2.5 sacks. 

14. Quinnen Williams, DL, New York Jets

He hasn’t been the dominant force many people though he would be coming out of college, but Williams has established himself as a high-end defensive lineman for the Jets through three seasons. 16 pressures and six sacks last year was good production from an inside rusher.

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15. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Buffalo Bills

Still only 24 and entering his fifth NFL season, Edmunds has established himself as a very good inside linebacker in the league. He earned Pro Bowl nods in 2019 and 2020 but didn’t put up quite the same production last season.

16. Eric Stokes, CB, Green Bay Packers

According to Pro Football Reference, only seven players in the league had a lower completion percentage allowed in their coverage than Stokes and his number was better than both Terrell and Surtain Jr. He may be a bit underrated with Jaire Alexander on the other side of the field, but Stokes was a first-round pick for a reason.

17. Christian Barmore, DT, New England Patriots

Listed as one of our top second-year breakout candidates, I love Barmore’s game and think he could emerge as one of the top interior defenders in the league this season.

18. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, DB, New Orleans Saints

His numbers aren’t eye-popping, but CGJ has become one of the better slot corners in the league in New Orleans and a very important part of one of the league’s top defenses.

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19. Kristian Fulton, CB, Tennessee Titans

After a poor rookie season that ended on injured reserve after six games, Fulton had a very good second season in Tennessee despite missing another four games with injury. Fulton had the 15th lowest completion percentage against in the league last season and could emerge as a star if he stays healthy.

20. D.J. Wonnum, DL, Minnesota Vikings

A fourth-round pick in 2020, Wonnum had a pretty good rookie season considering his draft spot and then blew up last year by starting 14 games for the Vikings and posting eight sacks and 15 QB hits. His 30 total pressures was right behind the likes of White and Burns, tied with Von Miller and ahead of players like Frank Clark, Preston Smith and others. 

21. Jonathan Greenard, DL, Houston Texans

A relative unknown on a brutal Texans teams last season, Greenard has a breakout season in 2021 with eight sacks and 18 pressures in just 12 games. There weren’t many players his age or younger with better numbers.

22. Odafe Oweh, Edge, Baltimore Ravens

We end the list with a quadrumvirate of pass rushers all heading into their second seasons and start with Oweh, who tied for second among rookies (with the next two guys on the list) with 27 pressures despite playing two fewer games than the next two guys. Oweh had just five sacks but led this group of four edge rushers with 10 QB knockdowns.

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23. Azeez Ojulari, Edge, New York Giants

Ojulari had eight sacks last season, third among rookies, and was the surest tackler of the bunch with a 9.3 percent missed tackle rate. 

24. Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami Dolphins

Probably the most physically talented of this group, Phillips also led them in sacks with 8.5, more than any rookie not named Micah Parsons. He had one fewer pressure than Ojulari, Oweh and the next guy on the list.

25. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tryon-Shoyinka tied for second among rookies in total pressures with 27 while also leading the entire group, including Parsons, in QB hurries with 17. That number was good for fifth in the entire league and tied with Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett and Mario Addison.

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Honorable Mentions: Derrick Brown, DT, Carolina Panthers; Ed Oliver, DT, Buffalo Bills; Jordyn Brooks, LB, Seattle Seahawks; Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Los Angeles Chargers; Kwity Paye, Edge, Indianapolis Colts; Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Cleveland Browns; Jaycee Horn, CB, Carolina Panthers; Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Buffalo Bills