As the old adage goes, defense wins championships. And the best kind of defensive talent you can have is young defensive talent. Players whom teams scored on in the draft -- who aren't yet taking up large chunks of a franchise's salary cap.
In this piece, we'll dive into some of the league's best young defensive talent with our NFL All Under 25 first and second defensive teams. The only rule we're following with this group is that the players must be under 25 years old at the start of the 2023 season. Let's go ahead and jump in.
EDGE: Micah Parsons (Cowboys)
Parsons was a star from his first professional snap. The 2021 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year was named a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in each of his first two NFL seasons. In 2022, Parsons recorded 13.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three passes defensed and three fumble recoveries. According to Stathead's approximate value tool, he's the best player on this entire list. We can't really say he's a "linebacker" anymore, as Parsons will be moving forward. Either way, he's a monster.
EDGE: Aidan Hutchinson (Lions)
There are a few players we could probably slot in here, but I'm going to bet on the upside of the former No. 2 overall pick. Hutchinson recorded 52 combined tackles, 15 QB hits, 9.5 sacks and three interceptions last year, which earned the defensive end 2022 Pepsi Zero Sugar NFL Rookie of the Year honors. No other rookie in NFL history had ever recorded nine sacks and three interceptions before. Well, at least since 1982, when individual sacks became an official statistic.
DL: Alim McNeill (Lions)
We have a ton of flexibility with the younger defensive tackles, which gives us the ability to spotlight an underrated talent in the NFL. Head coach Dan Campbell calls McNeill "the dancing bear," which I think is pretty accurate. He's listed at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds, (slimmer than he used to be) but can get after the quarterback from the inside. McNeill recorded just one sack in 2022, but registered 10 pressures in Week 11 against the New York Giants. PFF claims that broke a record for most single-game pressures by a defender over 320 pounds since they started tracking such things. McNeill has played every game in his two NFL seasons, recording 80 combined tackles, 10 QB hits and three sacks so far. Keep an eye on him.
DL: Jordan Davis (Eagles)
Davis recorded just 18 combined tackles in his rookie season, but this selection is just off of pure potential. This athlete is 6-foot-6, nearly 340 pounds and can clog running lanes. With Javon Hargrave gone, Davis is going to have the opportunity to make an impact. However, he may face some stiff competition from fellow Bulldog Jalen Carter.
LB: Nick Bolton (Chiefs)
I actually think Bolton is already a Super Bowl MVP for the Chiefs, as he recorded nine combined tackles and a fumble recovery he took back for a 36-yard touchdown in the big game.in the NFL. In 2022, he racked up a whopping 180 combined tackles (second among all players), two sacks and three passes defensed to go along with his first two career interceptions. Bolton could have won
LB: Patrick Queen (Ravens)
Roquan Smith is the star linebacker for the Ravens, but that doesn't mean you can just forget about Patrick Queen. In his third NFL season, the former LSU star set career-high numbers across the board with 117 combined tackles, five sacks, 14 QB hits, six passes defensed and two interceptions. Baltimore declined his fifth-year option, so Queen is motivated entering this season.
Queen is one of three defenders with at least 300 tackles, three interceptions and 10 sacks since entering the league in 2020. The two other players? His teammate Smith, and the legendary Bobby Wagner.
Browns fans are chomping at the bit for a JOK breakout season. He may finally have it in 2023 with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Owusu-Koramoah recorded 70 combined tackles, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles in 11 games played last season, but he's an athletic specimen that can play different roles on defense.
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CB: Sauce Gardner (Jets)
Sauce Gardner was talking about feeling like thebefore he had even been drafted, and said there was no way he could be a bust. Well, he certainly didn't look like a bust in Year 1, as he won AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Gardner led the NFL in passes defensed with 20 and picked off two passes to go along with 75 combined tackles. He was the highest-graded cornerback according to PFF (87.9) and was the first rookie cornerback to be named a first-team All-Pro since Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott in 1981. The Jets found an absolute stud.
CB: Patrick Surtain II (Broncos)
While Gardner recorded the highest PFF grade among cornerbacks last year, Surtain was No. 2 with an 86.8. The DB had a couple of tough outings in the middle of his second NFL season, but that didn't stop him from being a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler. In 33 career games, Surtain has recorded 118 combined tackles, 24 passes defensed and six interceptions. He is going to be one of the best at his position for years to come.
S: Talanoa Hufanga (49ers)
After making just three starts in 2021, Hufanga exploded in 2022-- recording 97 combined tackles, two sacks, nine passes defensed, two forced fumbles and four interceptions. The former fifth-round pick out of USC really showed off his playmaking ability, and was named a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler. I'm excited to see what he's capable of in 2023 under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
S: Kamren Curl (Commanders)
Commander Curl finished last season as PFF's second-highest-graded safety (82.9) and was one of just three safeties to register at least an 80 grade against both the run and the pass. Not bad for a seventh-round pick out of Arkansas. Curl missed five games this past season due to injury but still recorded 83 combined tackles and one sack. He's a versatile defender Ron Rivera is glad to have.
EDGE: Jaelan Phillips (Dolphins)
EDGE: Greg Rousseau (Bills)
IDL: Ta'Quon Graham (Falcons)
IDL: Milton Williams (Eagles)
LB: Devin Lloyd (Jaguars)
LB: Pete Werner (Saints)
LB: Quay Walker (Packers)
CB: Tariq Woolen (Seahawks)
CB: Trevon Diggs (Cowboys)
S: Kyle Hamilton (Ravens)
S: Jevon Holland (Dolphins)