I already hit you with a twenty-twenty-one first-round mock draft from Pro Football Focus earlier today, but I thought I’d double your pleasure with another bit from the website. This time, it’s a list of their top 25 players in the NFL right now who are under the age of 25.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are fairly well-represented, but interestingly, the list is populated from a lot of the same teams. Almost every team represented has at least two players on the list. The Baltimore Ravens have three, with quarterback Lamar Jackson at number eight, cornerback Marlon Humphrey at 18, and tight end Mark Andrews at 24.
As for the Steelers, they do get two names on the list, though neither crack the top 15, let alone the top 10 or the top five. The two who made the cut are third-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was a first-team All-Pro in 2019, and fourth-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is coming off a down year for many reasons.
Checking in at 17, they write of Fitzpatrick:
The Steelers didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but that’s because they spent it on a 23-year-old safety whose 84.4 overall grade ranked sixth at the position after landing in Pittsburgh prior to Week 3. You don’t want to make too many conclusions based on two-week sample sizes, but it’s hard not to see the kind of effect Fitzpatrick had on the Pittsburgh defense from his free safety position after joining the team. Over the first two weeks of the season, the Steelers allowed 155 passing yards on throws 20 or more yards downfield (t-11th most). That number was just 376 over the remaining 14 games (second lowest).
The 11th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, Fitzpatrick was acquired by Pittsburgh two games into the 2019 season in exchange for their 2020 first-round pick, which proved to be the 18th selection. He intercepted five passes and recovered two fumbles, returning one of each for a touchdown.
Smith-Schuster was a Pro Bowler in his second season in 2018 with 111 catches for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He was injured for much of the year in 2019, though, missing four games, and finished with just 42 catches for 552 yards and three scores. Checking in at 25 on the list, they write:
It’s easy to get dispirited with Smith-Schuster after the 2019 season, attributing all his struggles in his third season to the fact that Antonio Brown wasn’t there to draw away attention. That could certainly be part of it, but the truth is there were other contributing factors — from injury to brutal quarterback play on the least efficient offense in the NFL — that also played a role. The percentage of accurate passes he received dropped from 61.4% in 2017 and 2018 to 50.8% in 2019. Next year is a big year for JuJu to prove last season was an aberration, but we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt after two strong seasons to open his career. On a side note, the fact that he won’t even be 24 to start his fourth NFL season is absurd.
It should probably be noted that T.J. Watt is already 25 years old. Otherwise he would probably be second on the list behind Patrick Mahomes.