Chris Godwin is one of the NFL's best receivers. He's coming off an 86-catch, 1,333-yard, nine-touchdown season for the Buccaneers in 2019, has already caught 179 passes for 2,700 yards in a three-year career, and he is about to share the huddle with the greatest quarterback in league history.
Godwin is also only 24 years and precisely (as of Thursday) 133 days old. He was five when Tom Brady made his first NFL start. That says a lot more about how old Brady is than how young Godwin is, but you get the idea: Godwin has done a whole lot in the NFL before his 25th birthday. And he's just the leader of a vanguard that is poised to lead the next wide receiver revolution.
Wide receivers accomplish much more at ages 22-24 than they did in the past because so many of them leave college before their senior seasons, while very few are forced to spend years on the bench learning the West Coast offense the way they did in olden times. Today's spread-heavy offenses are designed to get playmakers on the field right away. And with a 17-game season on the horizon and offenses becoming more pass-happy every year, this generation of young receivers will rise quickly up the all-time leaderboards, changing benchmarks and expectations for their position as they go.
Here's a breakdown of the best receivers in the NFL under 25, loosely ranked according to how likely they are to make a Godwin-like leap to superstardom this season. Grab as many of these rising stars for your fantasy roster as you can, and keep your eye on the rest as they start to reshape the NFL.
A.J. Brown, Titans (Age: 23 years, 9 days)
Brown averaged 20.2 yards per reception as a rookie, the second-highest figure in the NFL. (Mike Williams of the Chargers averaged 20.4 yards per catch). Brown also finished fourth in the NFL in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, which measures efficiency as well as big-play capability. And he did it all despite playing half the season with peashooter-armed Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.
Brown caught 25 passes for 605 yards and five touchdowns with Ryan Tannehill under center in his final six regular-season games. That projects to 67-1,613-13 over a full season. Derrick Henry will get most of the attention in Tennessee, and Tannehill will get most of the money. But if the Titans remain in the Super Bowl chase, it will probably be because Brown built on his rookie success.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos: (Age: 24 years, 273 days)
Sutton has caught passes from Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Drew Lock and (on one memorable trick play) Emmanuel Sanders during his two NFL seasons, which is not exactly a Hall of Fame short list. Through it all, he has proven to be a bad quarterback's best friend, whether he was chasing down Flacco moonballs, leaping in front of two defenders to turn Allen underthrows into big plays, or serving as a security blanket for Lock as a rookie.