1. Steven Jackson (24-years old), RB - St. Louis Rams (1st round pick,
24th overall, in 2004)
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
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".
3. Larry Fitzgerald (24-years old), WR - Arizona Cardinals (1st round
pick, 3rd overall, in 2004)
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.
4. Reggie Bush (22-years old), RB - New Orleans Saints (1st round pick,
2nd overall, in 2006)
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.
7. DeMeco Ryans (23-years old), MLB - Houston Texans (2nd round pick, 33rd
overall, in 2006)
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.