The youth movement is always in effect for NFL teams, and every year a new group of young players makes waves during training camp.
This is the time of year when players really have a chance to establish their value, and we’ve already seen some youngsters doing just that around the league.
The following 15 young studs are well on their way to becoming key contributors for their respective teams during the 2018 season.
Taywan Taylor, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans
As a rookie in 2017, Taylor provided a spark now and again for the Tennessee offense. He would finish his first NFL campaign with 16 catches for 231 yards and one touchdown. But based on how things are going so far in camp he’s set for a much more significant role within the team’s offense as a primary outside receiver. While Rishard Matthews has been out with an injury, Taylor has been one of the two starting receivers for the Titans, and he’s done nothing but impress, day after day.
Tavon Young, cornerback, Baltimore Ravens
Two summers ago, Young burst onto the scene for Baltimore as a fourth-round pick out of Temple and became an integral player for the team’s secondary as a rookie. Then last summer he suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Well, it appears that injury did nothing to derail this young man’s future, because he’s already dominating once again in training camp and has re-established himself as the primary nickel cornerback for the Ravens. He’s also impressed the heck out of defensive coordinator Don Martindale, who recently said Young is “a pit bull out there. He’s the epitome of Ravens defense when you are talking about just attitude,” per PressBox’s Bo Smolka.
Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield has done absolutely nothing so far (yes, we know it’s very early) to make the Browns regret drafting him No. 1 overall in April. Hue Jackson has been gushing over his rookie quarterback, who has been throwing laser beams to his receivers in practice. Jackson recently said Mayfield has been “exceeding expectations,” and while Tyrod Taylor will be the starter from Day 1 it’s not hard to imagine Mayfield will be pushing him every step of the way.
Carl Lawson, defensive end, Cincinnati Bengals
After what Lawson did during his rookie season, it’s clear the Bengals landed a steal picking him up in the fourth round out of Auburn. Lawson finished the season with 8.5 sacks, and it sure looks like he’s set to hit double digits in 2018 based on how he’s abusing his teammates during practice. Though, when we reflect on just how this dude looked earlier this offseason we should have seen this coming.
Anthony Miller, wide receiver, Chicago Bears
It seems like every single day brings a new positive report from Bears beat writers about this rookie out of Memphis. Miller has been one of the stars of camp so far, thanks to plays like this one, which are reportedly becoming quite the norm. Miller was a prolific receiver for the Tigers in college, hauling in 238 passes for 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns in three seasons. If he can continue to shine in camp then it should surprise nobody if he comes out and has an instant impact during the regular season for Chicago.
Bradley Chubb, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos
It’s hardly surprising that Chubb has been standing out in camp so far for the Broncos. After all, he was the consensus top pass rusher in the draft class and was seen as a bargain at No. 5 overall. Still, we’ve seen many top picks fail to live up to the hype over the years. According to Benjamin Allbright of 104.7 FM Denver, Chubb’s hype was warranted. Allbright recently wrote that Chubb “looks like a steal” while noting he looks comfortable working in space adapting to being a linebacker in Denver’s 3-4 scheme. With Von Miller on the other side of the field, opposing offenses are going to have their hands full with this defense.
Dante Pettis, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have some serious talent on offense this year, and it looks like rookie receiver Dante Pettis is already carving out a big role for himself. Team reporter Joe Fann recently noted that Pettis has stacked good practices together, noting he is “super smooth in and out of his breaks.” Thanks to this skill set, Pettis could become a go-to option for Jimmy Garoppolo in the red zone. Don’t sleep on this rookie receiver, or on San Francisco’s offense in general this coming season.
Teez Tabor, cornerback, Detroit Lions
Tabor’s first NFL season didn’t play out like a happy dream. Instead, the second-rounder struggled, dealt with injuries and managed to appear in just 10 games, starting one. The former Florida Gators star contributed mostly on special teams, but thankfully for him there’s a new regime in town and he appears to be a big part if the team’s plans going forward. Tabor has earned starting reps opposite Darius Slay, and he earned some high praise from receiver Golden Tate recently: “We’ve seen this guy get better very quickly, and we’re expecting him to do some great things this camp,” Tate said, per Tim Twentyman of the team’s official site. Tate doesn’t offer that kind of praise lightly, and this young man could be a rising star for the Lions.
Saquon Barkley, running back, New York Giants
Of all the rookies making waves across the NFL right now, perhaps Barkley is the least surprising. Everyone knew this young man was going to be a stud, and he’s done nothing to dissuade our opinion on this subject early on in camp. In fact, Barkley has been so impressive this summer that an AFC scout recently said opposing defenses will need to “pray for injuries and bad weather” to slow the Giants’ offense down while noting Barkley can “do some serious damage,” per NJ.com.
Jaire Alexander, cornerback, Green Bay Packers
Everyone makes mistakes, but Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ mistakes with the football are few and far between. That being said, rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander can already boast that he’s forced two mistakes since OTAs. Alexander picked Rodgers off during the offseason, and then he did it again in pads on Monday on a beautiful read, undercutting Randall Cobb for the pick. Many who cover the draft for a living were very high on Alexander coming out of Louisville. It appears he’s well on his way to living up to that hype.
Donnel Pumphrey, running back, Philadelphia Eagles
Before Rashaad Penny, there was Donnel Pumphrey tearing up the competition at San Diego State. He was a dynamo in college, racking up 7,444 yards from scrimmage in four years. Unfortunately, his rookie season with the Eagles last year was over before it started, as a hamstring tear put him out for the year. Now that he’s healthy again, the second-year back appears to be in line for a ton of work as a receiver (perhaps as the primary slot specialist), as he’s reportedly been one of the most-targeted back on the Eagles this summer, per NJ.com.
Shaquem Griffin, linebacker, Seattle Seahawks
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll gushed over Griffin’s progress during the team’s offseason practices. Based on the reports coming out of camp he continues to thrive after switching to linebacker. On Monday, Griffin picked off Russell Wilson during goal-line work, and he (not surprisingly) constantly hears fans cheering for his work on the field. Griffin was a dynamo the past two seasons at UCF. He’s done nothing but impress early on in his pro career, and we predict it won’t be long before he’s a full-time starter in Seattle.
Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo Bills
While Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron have been less than impressive as they battle it out for the starting job, rookie Josh Allen has quietly been the team’s best passer in camp. He’s been so impressive, in fact, that general manager Brandon Beane hinted that Allen could earn the starting job this summer. If he shows up well during the team’s first preseason game, then don’t be surprised if Allen earns more reps with the team’s first-string offense going forward.
Raekwon McMillan, linebacker, Miami Dolphins
We recently highlighted McMillan as a young player who could come on strong for his team in 2018, and based on the reports coming out of Dolphins camp that appears to be a good bet. Head coach Adam Gase recently gushed over the second-year linebacker, saying, “There’s a different kind of swagger about Raekwon McMillan. Guys in the locker room respect him. He has leadership. He’s not afraid to tell anyone anything. He’s all ball,” per SB Nation’s Matthew Cannata. McMillan was already locked in as a starter last year before an ACL injury knocked him out of his rookie season. Now he’s coming back with a vengeance.
Sony Michel, running back, New England Patriots
The Patriots let Dion Lewis hit free agency this past spring, and they ended up with a guy in Michel who could be even better. So far this summer he’s been a dynamic playmaker for New England’s offense, showing big-play potential on a regular basis, according to Kevin Duffy of the Boston Herald. The Patriots saw something special in him to have selected him in the first round during April’s draft. So far, it looks like Michel is going to live up to those expectations, and then some.