Source: Getty

In order to qualify for this list, a player cannot be entering his age 26 season. Even if the player is not 26 at the time this article is published, if he will be 26 at any point during the 2019-20 NFL season, he is not eligible. It’s an annoyingly selective criterion that removes a lot of talented players from consideration, but that’s why I wanted to use it in the first place. I like making content like this and will also do a “top 30 players under 25” article later this summer if this one does well.

Some other quick notes before we begin; I did not consider any players taken in the 2019 NFL draft for this list, no matter how good they are projected to be. Players’ ages appear in parentheses next to their team names. There is some flexibility to these rankings as players can move up or down a few spots based on a reader’s preferences. The main idea is that they’re in the right general area in the rankings.

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30. Denzel Ward CB, Cleveland Browns (22)

29. Myles Jack MLB, Jacksonville Jaguars (23)

28. Amari Cooper WR, Dallas Cowboys (25)

27 Marshon Lattimore CB, New Orleans Saints (23)

26. Kareem Hunt RB, Cleveland Browns (23)

25. Bradley Chubb OLB, Denver Broncos (22)

24. Roquan Smith MLB, Chicago Bears (22)

23. Chris Jones DE, Kansas City Chiefs (24)

22. DeForest Buckner DT, San Francisco 49ers (25)

I believe there is a bit of a cutoff at this point. A lot of the players that have already been listed have only made one Pro Bowl or have never been to one at all. The players in the next two levels are more established or have put up larger numbers. To be clear, I view all the players on this list as Pro Bowl or borderline Pro Bowl talents and I think they can and will move up and down the list over time. For now though, numbers 22 through 30 are in the bottom tier.

I also want to discuss why some of these players are in this bottom tier, starting with Hunt. Obviously, he had his off-field issues and was justly cut from the Chiefs for his offense, but that didn’t impact his ranking. I’m not taking off-field issues into consideration for this, only the talent level and contributions of players. Based on that, Hunt should be much higher. However, he missed five regular season games in 2018 and arguably cost his team a shot at the Super Bowl by getting suspended and not being available in the playoffs. His lack of availability is why he’s so low.

Jones and Buckner could arguably be pushed up into the next category based on their terrific 2018 campaigns, but I’d like to see more production against the run from both of them before moving them up another category. Smith was an incredible rookie who will compete for Pro Bowls for the next decade. Cooper, Jack, Lattimore, and Ward are all very good, but none of them are in the conversation for being in the top five at their positions in the league.

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21. Christian McCaffrey RB, Carolina Panthers (23)

20. Alvin Kamara RB, New Orleans Saints (23)

19. Deshaun Watson QB, Houston Texans (23)

18. T.J. Watt OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers (24)

17. JuJu Smith-Schuster WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (22)

16. Baker Mayfield QB, Cleveland Browns (24)

15. Danielle Hunter DE, Minnesota Vikings (24)

14. Jamal Adams S, New York Jets (23)

13. Jared Goff QB, Los Angeles Rams (24) 

The following 12 players were hard to rank for me, but they represent the elite of the elite. As for numbers 13-22, they’re all Pro Bowl caliber players. However, I don’t see them making All-Pro teams consistently. That’s what separates them from the next group. I do want to explain my ranking a little bit though. My eyes tell me Mayfield will be a better quarterback than Goff, but the Rams QB just went to the Super Bowl and Mayfield only has one year under his belt. So, for now Goff stays higher. I really wanted to put Adams at 13 and move him into the top group, but I’m holding off on making that move for now. Kamara beat out McCaffrey even though I think McCaffrey did more for his team in 2018. It’s really a tossup between those two though as to who ranks where.

Hunter is an absolute monster in the run and pass games. He put up 14.5 sacks and 72 combined tackles in 2018. Smith-Schuster, Watson, and Watt ended up grouped together, but I think Smith-Schuster could really separate himself and maybe even move up a level if he posts numbers on par with his 2018 season in 2019. I’m interested in how high Watson can go as I don’t think we’ve seen his final progression yet.

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12. Jalen Ramsey CB, Jacksonville Jaguars (24)

11. Myles Garrett DE, Cleveland Browns (23)

10. Leighton Vander Esch OLB, Dallas Cowboys (23)

9. Derwin James S, Los Angeles Chargers (22)

8. Quenton Nelson OG, Indianapolis Colts (23)

7. Tyreek Hill WR, Kansas City Chiefs (25)

6. Darius Leonard OLB, Indianapolis Colts (23)

5. Joey Bosa DE, Los Angeles Chargers (23)

4. Todd Gurley RB, Los Angeles Rams (24)

3. Ezekiel Elliott RB, Dallas Cowboys (23)

2. Saquon Barkley RB, New York Giants (22)

1. Patrick Mahomes QB, Kansas City Chiefs (23) 

These players will dominate the All-Pro lists for the next decade. All of them will rank in the top five at their given positions in most years moving forward as well. For me, Ramsey and Garrett are the closest players to being bumped down a level. They’re both great, but I can see areas where each needs to improve. James, Nelson, and Vander Esch all had great rookie years that resulted in All-Pro selections. Hill is another player with legal issues that may result in him missing a portion if not all of 2019. He may have been a First Team All-Pro in 2018, but we’ll see if Hill’s poor behavior off of the field impact what he can do in 2019.

Leonard was snubbed from the Pro Bowl, but the rookie linebacker put together one of the most complete seasons by any defensive player in recent history. He recorded 163 combined tackles (the most in the league), seven sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, eight passes defensed, and two interceptions. Bosa stays ahead of Leonard though because when he’s healthy he is a top five defensive end with terrific pass rush and run defense capabilities. Then there are the running backs. You can really rank these guys in any order, but I think Barkley is the most versatile and talented. I put Elliott above Gurley because Gurley’s recent injuries might permanently slow down his career. Hopefully, that isn’t the case, but we won’t really know until he takes the field in Week 1. Mahomes at one was a no-brainer. 

Next Best Five

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Tre’Davious White CB, Buffalo Bills (24)

Deion Jones LB, Atlanta Falcons (24)

Joe Mixon RB, Cincinnati Bengals (22)

Ryan Ramczyk OT, New Orleans Saints (25)

Mitchell Trubisky QB, Chicago Bears (24)

Even though Trubisky made the Pro Bowl this past season, I wasn’t very impressed with his play. I don’t see him even on the same plain as Goff or Mayfield. Jones would ordinarily be in the top 30, but there were a lot of good rookie linebackers this year and Jones missed most of the season with an injury. I still went with him just over Kwon Alexander and Jaylon Smith though. Picking Mixon was tricky and I would be open to hearing an argument in favor of a number of other backs. Chris Carson, Nick Chubb, James Connor, and Phillip Lindsay all had good years this past season, but I think Mixon edged out Connor by a hair. Ramczyk’s only offensive line competition for his spot was Jack Conklin and Laremy Tunsil. I went with White just over Donte Jackson from Carolina.

I really should have made the qualifications for a player to make the list stricter. It should have been only players under 25 because there are just so many good players I had to leave off of the list. I mean, Keanu Neal, Yannick Ngakoue, and Sheldon Rankins didn’t even land in the next best five and they’re Pro Bowl caliber players. That’s one thing I didn’t like about this list, I felt it left to many people out. That’s not to say I wanted to include everyone though. Players like Jarrad Davis, Kenny Clark, Leonard Fournette, O.J. Howard Cooper Kupp, Calvin Ridley, and Leonard Williams were selectively removed from consideration early on in the process.