When you talk about the best running backs in the National Football League, the first name that comes to mind is LaDainian Tomlinson. After that you're probably discussing Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, or Brian Westbrook, but we're talking about the top ten players under 25. Most of the top running backs in the league are in their late-20s, but one name that eludes any conversation is 24-year old Steven Jackson. Jackson is, in my mind, the best young running back in the NFL. He combines size (6-foot-2, 231-pounds), strength, speed and versatility into one package. Not only is he an effective runner (1,528 rushing yards in 2006 with 13 TDs), but he's developed into one of the game's premier receiving threats out of the backfield (90 receptions for 806 yards and three touchdowns).
2. Shawne Merriman (23-years old), OLB - San Diego Chargers (1st round pick, 12th overall, in 2005)
Nicknamed "Lights Out," Merriman is all that and more on the football field. He has shown excellent playmaking ability and a knack for getting into the backfield and causing havoc. An absolute terror to quarterbacks, Merriman has totaled 27 sacks in his first two seasons in the NFL. Now that's what I call, "Lights Out".
One of the most prolific receivers in college football history, Fitzgerald is an elite receiver that many forget about when they discuss the top receivers in the NFL. The reason for the anonymity is because Fizgerald plays on a team that hasn't reached the playoffs since 1998. Fitzgerald's best season occurred in 2005 when he hauled in 103 receptions for 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was slowed by injuries in 2006, but still managed to collect 69 receptions for 946 yards and six touchdowns. Don't be fooled by the team he plays on, because Fitzgerald is the brightest star in the desert sky.
Just like Fitzgerald, Bush was "must see TV" every Saturday when he was running all over the opposition at USC. Now, in the NFL, Bush had an up-and-down season statistically. He gained only 565 rushing yards and scored six touchdowns while splitting time with Deuce McAllister. However, Bush was a key ingredient in the Saints passing attack, recording 88 receptions for 742 yards and two touchdowns. Expect a larger role and more productivity from Mr. Elusive.
5. DeAngelo Hall (24-years old), CB - Atlanta Falcons (1st round pick, 8th overall, in 2004)
Known for his cocky demeanor, Hall is one of the best playmaking defensive backs in the NFL. He has elite speed and skill that compare favorably to all-world cornerback Champ Bailey. In his first three years in the NFL, Hall has pocketed 12 interceptions and has detoured quarterbacks from throwing his way. If Hall had a comparable corner lining up on the other side of him in the Falcons secondary, his production would be off the charts.
6. Frank Gore (24-years old), RB - San Francisco 49ers (3rd round pick, 65th overall, in 2005)
Gore had all the talent in the world at the University of Miami. He was plagued by injuries as a Hurricane, which ultimately dropped his draft stock tremendously, and he ended up being a third round pick. Since Gore's been a member of the Niners, he's been healthy and has become the productive player they envisioned when they selected him in the 2005 NFL Draft. Gore had a breakout season in 2006 and amassed 1,695 yards on 312 carries and eight touchdowns. He also showed his ability as a receiver collecting 61 receptions for 485 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, the injury bug hit Gore once again this summer, resulting in him missing all four of the 49ers' preseason games after breaking his right hand in training camp. The good news is that he will be back for the season opener and will help the Niners return to the playoffs.
Last season, the Texans drafted Mario Williams with the No. 1 overall pick, but it was their second-round selection, linebacker DeMeco Ryans, that received all the publicity. He collected the Defensive Rookie of the Year award after exploding on the scene in 2006. He made an instant impact on the Texans defense, registering 155 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, and an interception. Expect greater things from Ryans this season.
8. Tommie Harris (24-years old), DT - Chicago Bears (1st round pick, 14th overall, in 2004)
Harris is one of the premier defensive tackles in the NFL and has been a mainstay on the Bears defensive line since he entered the league in 2004. Last season, Harris suffered a torn hamstring in Week 13, and his injury left the Bears interior defense susceptible to the run. Now with Harris coming back healthy in 2007, the Bears defense should be as strong as ever.
9. Shawn Andrews (24-years old), G - Philadelphia Eagles (1st round pick, 16th overall, in 2004)
The "Big Kid," Shawn Andrews, is the best, young interior offensive lineman in the NFL. He was drafted by the Eagles in 2004 as a tackle, but with the Eagles already having two quality tackles on their roster (Jon Runyan and William Thomas), they quickly converted Andrews to guard. Andrews played his final season at Arkansas at 375-pounds, and he played his rookie season in the NFL at 390-pounds. Andrews turned his life and playing career around after a close friend of his died at the age of 23 due to being overweight. After his friend's death, Andrews dropped 40-pounds and is now an impressive 335-pounds. He's on his way to being a perennial Pro-Bowl player.
10. Sean Taylor (24-years old), SS - Washington Redskins (1st round pick, 5th overall, in 2004)
It feels like Sean Taylor has been in the NFL forever. From his legal troubles to his incredible talent, Taylor's resume is more descriptive than a 10-year veteran's. Known for his risk taking and hard-knock style of play, Taylor is considered to be one of the league's hardest hitters and least disciplined players. If Taylor is able to control his aggression on the field, he has the talent to become a future Hall of Famer.
|The former publisher of NFLDraftPro.com, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. He's also covered the NFL Draft for the Eagles' official website, PhiladelphiaEagles.com.|