There is no greater competitive advantage in the NFL than to have productive players on rookie contracts. That is particularly true at the quarterback position, but it still applies to the other positions on the field.
Marc Sessler of NFL.com has compiled an All-Under-25 Team using the best players at their position who are younger than 25 years of age at the start of the 2019 season. Two members of the New York Giants made the list, running back Saquon Barkley and guard Will Hernandez.
About Barkley, Sessler says,
What more could you ask from a rookie? The Offensive Rookie of the Year had nine big-play snaps of 40-plus yards -- five more than any other back. The second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft also finished second among runners with 91 catches and rolled through his rookie season as the central focus of New York’s offense. Like Elliott before him, Barkley has fully delivered on his lofty draft pedigree. It’s worth noting that Todd Gurley -- knee concerns aside -- turns 25 on Aug. 3, before the opener.
And about Hernandez he says,
The list made by CBS Sports is simply a Top - 25 of players under 25 years old, and only Barkley makes that list at 19th.
In 2018, despite playing with a washed up quarterback and running behind an offensive line that was among the worst run-blocking units in football, Barkley managed to eclipse the 2,000-yard (from scrimmage) threshold while scoring 15 total touchdowns. Nobody in football gained more yards than Barkley last season. Of his 1,307 rushing yards, 872 of them came after contact, according to PFF, which really highlights just how bad his supporting cast was. Barkley only ranks behind the remaining two running backs because they’ve been at the top of their game for a longer period of time. If Barkley does what he did in 2018 again in 2019, he’ll move up the list. And I have no doubt he’ll do exactly that.
Who else could make the list?
This year I would argue that kicker Aldrick Rosas should have been on both lists. This is his final year of eligibility — turning 25 in December — and he rebounded from a poor first season in New York to be simply phenomenal in 2018.
Let’s take a look at some of the Giants’ players with the potential of making the list next year.
Note: For those wondering where Evan Engram is, both will be 25 years and 3 days old for the start of the 2019 season and isn’t eligible.
Deandre Baker (CB, age 22) - This might sound harsh, but I am going to have to see Baker in action before I predict that he will be one of the best young corners in the NFL. After spending three draft picks to acquire him, the Giants will be throwing him into the fire against some of the NFL’s best receivers, and cornerback has one of the sharpest learning curves of any position for a rookie. The Giants are likely hoping that the similarities between Georgia’s defensive scheme and the Giants’ will help short-circuit the learning curve, but we will just have to see if that is justified.
There is also the matter of Baker’s athleticism. I know that the mere mention of the word “athleticism” will set teeth to grinding and a cry go up that “WE WANT FOOTBALL PLAYERS, NOT ATHLETES!” But there is an undeniable athletic premium at the cornerback position, and the fact that Baker’s SPARQ score in the 9th percentile is a concern — not only was he among the least athletic corners drafted in 2019, but by far the least athletic corner drafted in the first round since 2014. I’m not saying that disqualifies him or means he will be a bust, simply that in a league where corners face elite athletes on a weekly basis and can’t be as physical as they could in college, he has to prove he can do it at the NFL level.
Sam Beal (CB, age 22) - Like Baker, I’m going to have to see Beal in action. He is simply a mystery right now after missing his entire rookie season to shoulder surgery. There wasn’t much tape on him before the supplemental draft, but what I was able to find showed quick feet, loose hips, and a good understanding of how to use his length to his advantage. Those traits should translate to the next level, but it was also at a lower level of competition than what he will face in the NFL. He could be a sleeper, or his ceiling could be that of a “good, but not great” player.
Julian Love (CB, age 21) - The youngest player on the Giants’ roster, I would actually give Love the best odds among the corners to make the list before he ages out. He has a level of athleticism that Baker lacks, and has proven himself to have impressive ball skills. Because of the presence of Baker and Beal — not to mention Grant Haley — Love might not be thrown in the fire right away and will likely have lower expectations when he does hit the field. With (potentially) a bit more time to develop and likely playing a position where he will face teams’ third or fourth receivers, Love is in the best position of the three to look his best.
There is also the fact that there are already a pair of excellent 23-year old corners on the “All-Under-25” list in Jalen Ramsey and Marshon Lattimore, and sophomore corner Denzel Ward nipping at their heels. It’s entirely possible that the Giants’ young corners will play well, but not well enough to surpass those three — that isn’t a slight against the Giant’s players, but a recognition of how good Ramsey, Lattimore, and Ward are.
Lorenzo Carter (EDGE/OLB, age 23) - Carter has a chance to make an All-Under-25 team in 2020, but whether he makes it or not might not be up to him. He has elite athleticism for the position, which is a big part of the battle when it comes to rushing the passer. He will also be showcased on an every-down basis with Olivier Vernon now bookending with Myles Garrett. However, Carter’s development is no sure thing. That elite athleticism was as much a curse as a blessing for him at Georgia, where he was much more of a utility player than a true EDGE, and he came to the Giants under-developed as a pass rusher.
The Giants hope that he take the next step this year, but it will have to be a big one with players like Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Brian Burns, Montez Sweat, Clelin Ferrell, and Chase Winovich all entering the league this year. There might simply be too much competition for Carter to distinguish himself unless he has an incredible break-out season.
Dexter Lawrence (iDL, age 22) - Lawrence faces a similar issue as Carter. The NFL just saw an bunch of talented players at his position enter the league. Perhaps Lawrence will surprise and emerge as an impact player along the defensive line, but until we get new information, I had him ranked behind Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, Jeffery Simmons, Christian Wilkins, Jerry Tillery, and Zach Allen. And even if Kenny Clark and Da’Shawn Hand take steps back and fall out of contention, Lawrence has work to do if he is going to be one of the two best defensive tackles in a deep and talented iDL class.
Jabrill Peppers (S, age 23) - As with Carter, Peppers’ athleticism, stamina, and willingness to do whatever his coaches asked of him in college was as much a curse as a blessing. He played just about every position for Michigan except for offensive line, but that left him under-developed as a defensive back.
And unfortunately, his play as a box safety last year reflected that and was underwhelming. He finished 57th among 59 safeties when targeted in coverage, and gave up five touchdowns in the red zone, four to tight ends. He will need an incredible breakout season to surpass Derwin James and Jamal Adams on the list of safeties and make the team — as well as prove that it was Gregg Williams who was holding him back as a player.
B.J. Hill (iDL, age 23) - Hill surprised when he seized a starting job as a rookie and made his presence known throughout the season. He does have an intriguing blend of size and athleticism that could give him upside as an interior pass rusher. That upside might give him a better chance to make the All-Under-25 team next year than Lawrence, but he faces the same problem of playing at a position that suddenly has a lot of young, talented players across the league. He should continue to be a good, productive player, but he might not be among the very best at his position in his age group.