The NFL is increasingly a young man's game. Average ages for starters have plummeted since the 2011 labor agreement implemented a rookie wage scale (among other possible factors). With so many young players in prominent roles, there was no shortage of worthy candidates for my annual Top 25 Players Under Age 25 list. When one of the longtime personnel evaluators I consulted for the piece tried to find a corresponding list of players 32 and older, we struggled to find even 20 who were healthy, playing at a high level and not quarterbacks or specialists.
There was another discovery in putting together this list. The top offensive players were all very talented, of course, but in many cases, they also had highly acclaimed play designers putting them in position to maximize their abilities. Andy Reid and Sean McVay are the offensive designers for four of the top five offensive players. Sean Payton and Norv Turner call plays for the next two, and Matt Nagy coaches one of the others.
Here are the 25, supported in some cases with comments from NFL coaches and evaluators collected during the season and this week. Note that injuries are keeping O.J. Howard off the list for now, and Kareem Hunt was removed from the list after his release from the Chiefs. Stefon Diggs missed the cut because his 25th birthday arrives this week. Baker Mayfield was a consideration too, but could be a year away.
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Turns 25: Sept. 17, 2020
With 37 touchdown passes, Mahomes is on pace to throw nearly 54 of them this season, which would challenge the record of 55 set by Peyton Manning in 2013. Offense is up across the league, but Mahomes is still outpacing the other leading MVP candidates. Andrew Luck (32), Drew Brees (29), Philip Rivers (26) and Jared Goff (26) are his nearest challengers for scoring passes.
"He makes the same throws as Aaron Rodgers and is a great kid," an evaluator said. "He can do it from any platform. It's just fun to watch."