NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2021" continues Sunday, Aug. 22. Players ranked 40-11 will be revealed Sunday over the course of three hours -- each one-hour episode unveiling a new set of 10 honorees -- beginning at 4 p.m. ET. Seven players 25 years old and younger make an appearance in the list, which is voted on by the players themselves, between Nos. 40 and 31. With that in mind, NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew provides his own ranking of the league's top 10 players 25 and younger heading into the 2021 regular season.
To qualify, a player will have to be 25 or younger as of Sept. 9, when the 2021 season is scheduled to kick off. The age listed under each player's name is the age he will be on Sept. 9.
Young has the talent to rise to the top of this list one day, but he slots in at No. 10 after earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2020. He tallied 7.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, 10 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles for Washington's top-five unit last season. We should expect him to build off his rookie production, given what we've already seen this preseason. The guy is a monster off the edge and will be great for a long time.
Chubb has been an instrumental part of the Browns' new winning culture as a focal point in Kevin Stefanski's offense. An asset in both the run and pass games, Chubb racked up 1,217 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns last season. His greatest attribute might be his ability to make defenders miss. Since entering the league in 2018, Chubb has forced 168 missed tackles, second-most in the NFL behind only Derrick Henry, according to Pro Football Focus. Having a player like Chubb in the backfield makes life a lot easier for Baker Mayfield and the rest of the offense.
Metcalf has delivered in every aspect since he walked shirtless into a meeting at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine with the team that would later draft him. In his first two seasons, he's recorded 2,518 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns (including the playoffs), evidence that he deserves to be considered among the game's elite, thanks to a combination of his size (6-foot-4, 229 pounds), near-Olympic-caliber speed and confidence. I don't think the Seahawks get close to the playoff team they've been the past two seasons without him. Dominating the game's top defensive backs with ease week in and week out, Metcalf is becoming the gold standard at the receiver position.
Jackson is the most electrifying player in the league. The 2019 NFL MVP is a nightmare for defenses as a phenomenal rusher and improving passer, and we should see him make a leap in the passing game with more weapons around him in 2021. Jackson is a proven winner, too. Since 2019, he's posted a 24-6 regular-season record as a starter and helped the Ravens to three straight postseasons, including his first playoff victory last January. As long as Jackson is on the field, Baltimore will have a chance.
Allen made huge jumps in his on-field production, confidence and command of the offense last season. His downfield passing improved immensely in 2020, when he completed 26 passes of 20-plus yards, per Next Gen Stats, while also continuing to be a threat in the run game, with at least eight rushing TDs in each of his first three seasons. Fresh off signing a new contract, Allen will be well on his way to becoming one of the great quarterbacks of his era if he continues on this trajectory.
Nelson might miss the start of the 2021 regular season as he recovers from foot surgery, but that doesn't change the fact that he's a three-time first-team All-Pro. He's anchored the Colts' offensive line -- one of the NFL's premier units since Nelson was drafted -- having allowed a measly three sacks in as many seasons, per PFF. His value to this offense can't be matched.
A lot has changed since the end of the 2020 season, when Watson led the league in passing yards (4,823). His on-field play has been exceptional throughout his career, which is why he's in the No. 4 spot on this list, but his career is currently in limbo. The soon-to-be 26-year-old, who requested a trade earlier this offseason, is at Texans camp -- practicing sparingly -- while allegations of sexual assault and harassment made in the 22 lawsuits filed against the quarterback remain under investigation.
Garrett is a big reason why the Cleveland Browns' defense has improved in each of the last two seasons, jumping from 30th in total defense in 2018 to 22nd in 2019 to 17th in 2020. He's coming off a season in which he had 12 sacks, 18 QB hits and four forced fumbles while notching seven turnovers caused by pressure (most in the NFL), according to Next Gen Stats. With big additions to the defensive front, including Jadeveon Clowney, don't be surprised if Garrett comes close to or breaks Michael Strahan's single-season sack record in 2021.
While Mike Davis played well in McCaffrey's absence last season, no one can really replace CMC. In his last fully healthy season (2019), the Panthers' running back led the league in touches (403) and scrimmage yards (2,392, third-most in NFL history) and tied for first in scrimmage TDs (19). He's going to be a dynamo in Matt Rhule's offense, helping Sam Darnold make a leap in 2021. McCaffrey has averaged 135.2 scrimmage yards per game since 2018 (most in the NFL over that span), and I don't see that figure dropping when he takes the field in September.
No one should be surprised to see Mahomes, who barely qualifies for this list with his 26th birthday falling just eight days after the NFL Kickoff Game, in this spot. He's 37-8 since becoming the Chiefs' starting quarterback in 2018 (most wins by a QB in the NFL over that span), and he ranks first in many passing metrics among QBs with a minimum of 100 pass attempts since '18. His production has resulted in two Super Bowl appearances (one win), a league MVP award in 2018 and a contract extension worth nearly half a billion dollars. The crazy thing is, it feels as if Mahomes is just getting started.