In the preseason Peter King did an All Future team, and a few days ago I saw Bill James's top baseball players under the age of 25 list. This, along with my entry on the phenoms in the NFC North and a comment I posted regarding up and coming players in the NFC East, motivated me to make my All 25 or Under Team. My criteria: these are the guys I'd most want on my team right now, so I take potential over accomplishment, and their current level of play over potential. I went with a three receiver, single back offense because I'd rather have a stud receiver than a fullback, and a 4-3 defense. If you want to run a 3-4, replace Haloti Ngata with DeMeco Ryans.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (March 2, 1982, 4th year). This came down to Big Ben or Vince Young. Take away the fact that Roethlisberger has won a Super Bowl and played through a massive head injury, appendicitis, and concussion, all in the same season. He's got a career QB rating of 91.9, while Young's is 65.2.
Running back: Adrian Peterson (March 21, 1985, 1st year). If Peterson wasn't takng the league by storm, this would have been a tough call between Stephen Jackson and Joseph Addai.
Wide receiver: Roy Williams (December 20, 1981, 4th year), Larry Fitzgerald (August 31, 1983, 4th year), Braylon Edwards (February 21, 1983, 3rd year). It was easy picking these three; I'm not ready to anoint Calvin Johnson just yet. This is the order I'd take them, because Williams is the most dangerous of the three after the catch and Fitzgerald might have the NFL's best hands, but I'd love to have any of these three. Marques Colston would be my fourth wideout.
Tight end: Kellen Winslow, Jr. (July 21, 1983, 4th year). KW2 may have come back from microfracture surgery with more explosiveness than he had before. Jason Witten finishes a distant second.
Offensive tackles: Marcus McNeil (November 16, 1983, 2nd year), Joe Thomas (December 4, 1984, 1st year). McNeil should have been Rookie of the Year last year, and if it weren't for Peterson Thomas might get my vote this year. If I had to pick a right tackle I'd probably take Willie Colon, but I'd be crazy to take Colon over Joe Thomas.
Offensive guards: Logan Mankins (March 10, 1982, 3rd year), Shawn Andrews (December 25, 1982, 4th year). Chris Snee also received some consideration, but these are two of the league's best.
Center: Nick Mangold (January 13, 1984, 2nd year). The former 1st round pick is an easy choice for the pivot.
Defensive ends: Osi Umenyiora (November 16, 1981, 5th year), Jared Allen (April 3, 1982, 4th year). Both of these guys are a little old for this squad, but they're also two of the top ends in the league. Allen is a free agent after this season and is likely to be franchised.
Defensive tackles: Tommie Harris (April 29, 1983, 4th year), Haloti Ngata (January 21, 1984, 2nd year). Harris is probably the best DT in the league, and Ngata is probably the league's strongest player. Ngata's upside gave him the nod over Luis Castillo.
Outside linebackers: Shawne Merriman (May 25, 1984, 3rd year), DeMarcus Ware (July 31, 1982, 3rd year). As the league's two best linebackers, these picks were easy. Kamerion Wimbley would probably be a distant third.
Inside linebacker: Patrick Willis (January 25, 1985, 1st year). My preseason pick for R.O.Y. and the likely winner, Willis gets the nod over a stacked field with DeMeco Ryans, Jonathan Vilma, Ernie Sims, Lofa Tatupu, and A.J. Hawk. Willis is the one mike I've seen this year that consistently moves the pile backward.
Cornerbacks: Dunta Robinson (April 11, 1982, 4th year), DeAngelo Hall (November 19, 1983, 4th year). Hall has played well this year but has been a constant distraction; he'll likely be on the market in the offseason. Robinson stands out over Nathan Vasher and Ellis Hobbs, who both might be products of their system.
Safeties: Sean Taylor (April 1, 1983, 4th year), LaRon Landry (October 14, 1984, 1st year). Taylor is an obvious choice. At first I was deciding between Donte Whitner and Kerry Rhodes for the other spot, but if you were picking teams and were looking and Landry, Whitner, and Rhodes without pads, you'd take Landry in a second.
Kicker: Stephen Gostowski (January 28, 1984, 2nd year). Gostowski gets the nod over Nick Folk on the strength of his kickoffs: sixth in the league in touchback percentage.
Punter: Daniel Sepulveda (January 12, 1984, 1st year). The rookie is dropping punts inside the 20 at a league leading 51.5%, an absurd number.
Return specialist: Devin Hester (November 4, 1982, 2nd year). Another slam dunk.