The NFL is notorious for having one of the shortest lifespans for the average player in the league. Because of the competition and sheer violence of the sport itself at the pro level, it seems that every couple of years we have a new handful of stars to watch out for, while the previous ones get pushed to the side. We're in the midst of a transitional time for the league; one where many of the elite players from several years ago are getting older, or at the least have been around for a while. Inevitably, there are going to be many young players making a name for themselves in the next few years.
Who are they going to be exactly? There's a ton of talent in the league right now; players who are going into their 2nd or 3rd season in the NFL. Additionally, the next few draft classes are stocked to the brim with great talent at a variety of positions, further bolstering the collection of impending great players. These players may not be at the peak of their game yet, but they soon will be, and the entire NFL fanbase will bear witness to them, and their transformation into a star player.
Ranked below are 15 players who will take the NFL by storm in the next 5 years.
15 Amari Cooper
After a nice start to his career with a pair of seasons where he breached the 1,000 yard mark, there's still room left for Cooper to improve even further. It doesn't hurt that he has one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Derek Carr, and the dynamic between them is only going to get better with time. Cooper is a do-it-all receiver that can excel on any kind of route, giving him the full playbook at his disposal.
The best has yet to come for his career, and in a few years, he honestly may be the best receiver in football. Cooper hasn't even hit his statistical peak yet, and he's putting up great numbers (in an offense loaded with playmakers, no less). The fact that he still has room to improve is a scary thought.
14 O.J. Howard
Far and away the best tight end in the 2017 draft call, Howard is going to be crazy good at the next level. His skill set is varied, and he excels at both blocking and pass-catching with ease. He's a natural, fluid athlete, and a physical freak, who can just as easily line up out wide, running routes from any position on the field.
It's no surprise, given his career at Alabama, where he gave some notable performances in big games, which helped raise his draft stock. He'll almost certainly be a first round pick in the draft this year, and should be able to contribute to any team immediately. He's going to be one of the tight ends of all-time when it's all said and done. Howard is a true playmaker.
13 Josh Rosen
Given the fact that this year's quarterback class is underwhelming to say the least, it's interesting to look ahead to 2018 to see who the top dog will be for the position. Rosen has a good shot to be one of the first taken in next year's draft. He's able to command an offense, and if he can stay healthy, he should have a stellar season in his final year at UCLA.
With the quarterback market the way it currently stands, Rosen has a good chance of getting picked in the top-ten, and starting immediately for the team who drafts him. He's better than any quarterback in this year's class, and should be a highly coveted prospect after the 2017 college season wraps up. He should be an upper-tier player at least in the NFL.
12 Jordan Hicks
Hicks is going into his third year with the Eagles, and there may not be a better young middle linebacker in the game right now. He's elite at all facets of the position; tackling, pass rush, dropping into coverage, signal calling, etc. The one downside is that he's struggled with injury in the past, including missing roughly half of his rookie season in 2015. When he's been on the field, however, he's produced amazingly well.
Nevertheless, Hicks is still one of the best young players in the game, and has proven to force turnovers at opportune times for Philadelphia. He's not an elite player quite yet, but he's well on his way, and will be a difference maker in the years to come. Keep an eye out for Hicks this upcoming season, as he may have his best campaign yet and earn a Pro Bowl bid.
11 Haason Reddick
It took a while, but last season in his final year at Temple, Reddick blew up, and had a great statistical season. He was figured to be a Day 2 draft pick immediately after, but he turned in an awesome combine performance, and now he's expected to be selected in the 1st round this year. He should be able to make an impact immediately upon entering the league, and be a great tackler and pass rusher.
Reddick is definitely one of the best linebackers in this draft class, and he really has a chance to be an elite NFL player if he goes to the right defensive system. The upside is there for him, and by his 2nd year in the league he should be a force as a pass-rusher. Definitely one of the most anticipated prospects this year.
10 Derek Barnett
When it comes down to it, Barnett may end up being the best defensive lineman in this year's class. For one thing, he broke Reggie White's sack record at Tennessee, which alone is an incredible feat. Next, his technique and skill set indicate that he'll have no problem adapting to the pro level, and should be able to rack up sacks right away as an edge rusher.
He's not as flashy or athletic as Myles Garrett, but he has the motor and toughness to succeed in the NFL as a more surefire bet. Projecting his performance right now, he'll probably be able to be a top-ten pass rusher by his 2nd or 3rd year in the league. Truly, Barnett is going to be a great player, and should dominate against most offensive lineman.
9 Jameis Winston
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trending upwards, and Winston is the franchise quarterback of the future. He's improved in each of his two seasons in the NFL, and that trend should only continue in 2017, where he very well may stake his claim as an elite NFL quarterback. Winston has the personnel around him to be great for a very long time, and there's no telling exactly how far his ceiling will go.
Out of all the quarterbacks in the NFL that could be considered "young," Winston is the best of the lot right now. There were many who thought that he didn't have the mechanics or the maturity to be an elite pro player, but he's proven most of them wrong. He'll only continue to improve, and aid to the improving fortunes in Tampa Bay.
8 Joey Bosa
After some contractual disputes early on, in addition to an injury that kept him sidelined for the first few games of the season, Bosa had a stellar rookie season. He certainly didn't fail to turn heads as he notched over 10 sacks with the Chargers. With Los Angeles set to go back to a 4-3 front this year, the same one Bosa played in at Ohio State, there's no reason to assume he won't be firmly established as one of the elite pass rushers in the league by the end of the year.
Bosa should be a great player for a long time in the pro ranks. Every indication says that he's going to be an elite player of the long haul, and he'll continue to gain recognition until he's one of the marquee figures in the league. Playing for the Chargers doesn't necessarily help publicity, but Bosa's talent is too great to ignore.
7 Jamal Adams
Adams is far and away the best safety in the draft, and one of the best players in the draft period. He's going to dominate at the NFL level, and could be the best overall player at the position that we've seen since the days of Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Brian Dawkins. Adams was a standout at LSU, and that should only carry over to the next level.
He's most likely going to be a top-10 pick, and he should be slotted into a starting role from day one. There's a chance that he could establish himself as one of the best safeties in the game after only his rookie year. He has that kind of ability. By his 2nd or 3rd year, we could be talking about an All-Pro player. He's a ridiculous talent with an extremely high ceiling.
6 Danielle Hunter
Definitely the best pass rusher in the league that nobody pays any attention to. Hunter is intermixed with a very talented Vikings defense, so it's a bit tough for him to stand out as a pass rushing specialist. But after his first two seasons in the league, it's not a stretch to say that he'll end up being one of the best defensive ends in the game soon enough. He's still only 22-years-old and has plenty of years in front of him.
Whether or not he stays in Minnesota after his rookie deal, Hunter will continue to excel. He should notch himself as one of the best pass rushers in the game by the end of next season, and be getting a lot more publicity as a result of it. If he can work his way up to a full-time starter, we could be looking at a Hall Of Fame-type player.
5 Marshon Lattimore
He has more sheer ability than any other cornerback in this draft, and Lattimore will look to immediately make an impact as a top-10 pick. He played amazingly well at Ohio State, and he's for sure one of the blue chip defensive players in the draft this year. Any team picking in the top-10 would find starting time for him in his rookie year, and he could be a shutdown player right from the start.
Lattimore is by far the odds-on favorite to be the next "island" cornerback, who can be left in single coverage and still dominate. His reputation is that of a game-breaker, and he'll get plenty of opportunity to show what he's got in 2017. In a few years, it would be a shock if he wasn't one of the sport's elite corners.
4 John Ross
They say you can't teach speed, and Ross is a burner of the highest order when it comes to wide receivers. After he ran an eye-popping 4.22 40-yard-dash at the combined recently, heads really started to turn. There are some who think that Ross will crash and burn at the NFL level, but that kind of speed doesn't come around often, and he's a good enough route runner to not have to rely on it.
Instead, Ross should be able to solidify himself as an elite receiver in a season or two. If he finds himself in the right offensive system, he'll be borderline un-coverable, and defensive backfields will find themselves at the mercy of his speed. Ross has a really high ceiling, and perhaps will be the best receiver to come out of this draft class.
3 Saquon Barkley
Barkley had a monster season at Penn State last year, and he'll look to have one more before entering the NFL Draft in 2018. He'll most likely be the top-tanked running back in the class, and likely a top-15 pick. His skill set is unbelievable, as is his breakaway speed. He's the kind of player that alone can make the difference between wins and losses.
Barring a complete drop-off in the quality of his play, expect Barkley to contribute right away at the NFL level. He's got the kind of skill set that comes along once in a great while. He could be dominant right away, and be one of the best players of his era.
2 Mike Evans
Strangely enough, Evans hasn't gotten quite the amount of credit that other dynamic young receivers have. He's easily been one of the best players in the league for the past three seasons, but he always seems to fly just slightly under the radar. However, with an improved Bucs offense and Jameis Winston coming into his own, Evans should finally begin to get his accolades.
With DeSean Jackson now playing across from him and providing a field-stretching ability that few can match, Evans should have a career year. He's improved every season in the NFL, and could prove himself to be the very best receiver in the game after 2017 is done. There's a lot of room for Evans to still grow, which is a scary thought considering the numbers he's put up already.
1 Dalvin Cook
Contrary to some recent popular opinion, Cook is going to wind up being the best running back in this draft class. The tape at Florida State doesn't lie, and Cook was able to put up monster statistics in a competitive conference, at one of the most marquee programs in history. He's a dynamic runner, high-quality pass catcher, and will be just fine in pass protection.
All in all, he's the total package at the position, perhaps even on the level that Ezekiel Elliott was in his rookie season last year. The sky is the limit for Cook, who will succeed right from the get-go in the right offensive system. He's a certified game-breaker, and between him and Elliott, one of them is going to be the best running back in football 2 or 3 years down the line. Expect Cook to put up numbers fast in his rookie year, he's one of the best players in the draft.
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