Even the most casual NFL fan is more than aware of the young superstars like Desean Jackson and Chris Johnson. These players have dominated both opposing teams and post game highlight reels very early in their careers. These superstars are not the only young players that are changing games on Sundays, however. The NFL is a rich with young talent, and much of goes largely unnoticed.
For the next few weeks, we’ll be writing about the top young talent that you may or may not have heard of in each division. The focus is going to be on players that under 26 years old, and haven’t yet been named to the Pro Bowl, though many have developed into Pro Bowl level talents.
First up is the AFC East. The Jets are often thought of as a team with a ton of young talent, but are they the team richest with young talent? Let’s take a look.
1. QB Mark Sanchez, New York- Sanchez is probably the most well known player on this list, and for good reason. While he has shown the inconsistencies that most young QBs display early on in their careers, Sanchez has done what many young QBs don’t: win, and win in big games. In fact, Sanchez has won more playoff games on the road (4) than any other QB in NFL history. Statistically, the former USC Trojan has plenty to improve on before he can become a true superstar, but his ability to win games earns him the #1 spot on our rankings.
2. TE Rob Gronowski, New England¬- One of the youngest members of the Patriots was also one of their biggest play makers in 2010. Gronowski (22 years old) started 11 games of his rookie season and quickly became a often looked to target for Tom Brady. The frequent targets led to Gronowski having a record setting rookie season. He had 10 touchdown catches, making him the first rookie TE do to so since the merger. Because he is so young, Gronowski has the potential to develop into an All Pro level TE for years to come.
3. WR Stevie Johnson, Buffalo- Johnson is perhaps better known for some infamous tweets and touchdown celebrations than his play on the field. If he continues to put up numbers like he did in 2010, that won’t be the case much longer. As a 7th round pick out of Kentucky, Johnson’s first two seasons with Buffalo were very quiet. 2010 was a break out year for the young WR as he caught 82 passes for 1072 yards and 10 TDs. If Johnson proves 2010 wasn’t a fluke, he is likely to soon become a household name.
4. MLB Brandon Spikes, New England- In 2010 Spikes was drafted to be a starter along side Jerrod Mayo, and he almost immediately filled that role. The MLB had a productive rookie year, recording 61 tackles and starting 8 games. Spikes would have likely started 12 games, but was suspended due to violating the league’s banned substance policy for the final 4 games of the season.
5. RB Shonn Greene, New York¬- Greene has only had two starts in his first two years, but he hasn’t let that keep him from being productive. He has a 4.6 ypc average for his career and in 2010 he adding a receiving threat to his arsenal, catching 16 passes for 120 yards. Greene is likely to see his biggest role yet in 2011, and if he lives up to the potential he has flashed thus far in his career, he will have many big games ahead of him.
6. RB Danny Woodhead, New England- Woodhead was one of the NFL’s feel good stories in 2010. A former undrafted player, he was signed by the Patriots in week 2 of the 2010 season. The multipurpose player made plays all over the field, finishing the season averaging over 5 yards a carry (97 carries, 547 yards) and added nearly 400 receiving yards. Woodhead may never be an every down RB, but he certainly is a player that defenses must account for when he’s on the field.
7. DE Kendall Langford, Miami- When Miami DT Randy Starks made the Pro Bowl in 2010, it left many Dolphins fans scratching their heads. Starks had had a nice season, but it was his teammate Langford that had the standout season. Langford has started all but 5 games in Miami since being drafted from Hampton in 2008. Langford has continually improved every season, and had his best season in 2010, posting 47 tackles in 16 starts. If he continues to grow as a player, a trip to Hawaii won’t be too far down the road.
8. CB Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo- In 2008 McKelvin was one of the top rookie players in the NFL as both a KR and a CB. A broken leg in 2009 proved to be a tremendous setback, and McKelvin struggled at times to return to the level he played at in his rookie season. In spite of that, McKelvin still flashes moments that make you think that with experience and renewed confidence, he just may live up to his potential as a top CB.
9. CB Vontae Davis, Miami- The Dolphins drafted Davis in the 1st round to be a contributor in the secondary immediately, and two years in to Davis’ career they certainly can’t be disappointed. Davis has played in all 32 games since being drafted, and has started 31 of those. Davis hasn’t put up solid, but not quite eye popping numbers as a starting corner (93 tackles, 5 interceptions in his career), and has provided Miami with a solid CB to build around.
10. S Chris Clemons, Miami- A 5th round pick in 2009, Clemons spent most of his rookie year on the inactive list. 2010, however, was a breakout season for the former 5th round pick. Clemons started 14 games for the Dolphins and ranked 3rd on the team with 60 tackles. Clemons, who ran a 4.4 40 yard dash brings a lot of upside to the Miami secondary and only figures to improve in the coming years.
WR Julian Edleman, New England
WR Brian Hartline, Miami
CB Kyle Wilson, New York
OG Andy Levitre, Buffalo