Pro Football Focus named their top 25 players under the age of 25, and a pair of Falcons made the list. You can probably guess the two players.
Here are the writeups for cornerback A.J. Terrell, who was No. 9 on the list, and tight end Kyle Pitts, who is at No. 24 this year but is likely to be higher on the 2023 version of the list.
Terrell earned the highest coverage grade of any cornerback in the NFL last season (90.1). He allowed just 29 catches for 200 yards all year and surrendered a league-low 47.5 passer rating into his coverage. His massive leap in production in just his second NFL season at such a difficult position moves him into the top 10 of this list.
It felt like Pitts’ rookie season wasn’t talked about nearly enough. He recorded 1,026 receiving yards on 68 catches from 110 targets, and it’s as if no one was impressed. His lack of touchdowns (just one on the year) probably played a part, but he was one of only two rookie tight ends in NFL history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards. No more Matt Ryan in Atlanta might get in the way of some inevitable monster stats from Pitts early on in his NFL career, but this is still one of the best young players at any position.
And hey, that’s cool. Having a list of 25 great players under the age of 25 and having two Falcons on it feels a bit special given that Atlanta hasn’t been in that position since...2017? That’s when Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, and Devonta Freeman were all 25 or younger and the nucleus of a team in the Divisional Round of the playoffs after making it to the Super Bowl the year before. The recognition is nice for players we spend a lot of time cheering for, and it’s deserved.
Terrell, in particular, made an astonishing leap from his rookie season to 2021. One of the stingiest cornerbacks in football, the second-year pro delivered a remarkable campaign in coverage despite chaos and injuries around him in the Falcons secondary, and did so while coming up with some big plays and proving to be a sure tackler.
I wrote a whole article about how great Pitts is likely to be just the other day, so suffice to say at 21 years old, we haven’t begun to see his best football. Frankly, so long as he stays healthy, the question is whether he’ll be just a great tight end or a generational player.
It’s easy to look at these two—and great young players more generally—and make starry-eyed projections about the best days ahead. I basically just did that with Pitts. That said, you probably noticed that only Jarrett is still an elite player from the list of names I threw at you above. The Falcons saw injury rob Freeman and Neal of some of their respective primes and have seen Jones fall off from the heights of 2016 and 2017, which tells you how quickly careers can swing. It also illustrates the importance of building that great team as soon as possible, taking advantage of the greatness of guys like Pitts and Terrell while they are undeniably great. The Falcons will have plenty of cap space to make that happen in 2023, but it’s one more reason they have to get it right.
Atlanta’s added more potential building blocks in this draft class, from wide receiver Drake London to intriguing pass rusher Arnold Ebiketie, and perhaps they’ll belong on a list like this soon enough. For now, the Falcons are fortunate enough to have two very young, game-changing talents, and hopefully they take full advantage of that in 2022 and beyond.