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Predicting top 10 players in NFL five years from now: Two-way college star listed; where Patrick Mahomes ranks


Predicting top 10 players in NFL five years from now: Two-way college star listed; where Patrick Mahomes ranks

The year is 2029. Tom Brady’s purchase of the New England Patriots has now been finalized, while an 86-year-old Jerry Jones just fired a 77-year old Bill Belichick as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. The NFL is still king of the sports world, and some of today’s stars are still leading the way as we approach 2030.

If you think writers who put out future mock drafts the day after the conclusion of the current NFL Draft are crazy, then what I’m about to do is certified insane. This is the final boss of the polarizing portion of the offseason which we’ve dubbed “list szn.” Who will be the best football players five years from now? That’s what I’m here today to recklessly speculate about.

I’m going to be talking about the top 10 players in the NFL entering the 2029 season. All of these players won’t be household names. I’m not sure many had Patrick Mahomes challenging Brady for the best quarterback ever on their bingo cards during his time at Texas Tech, so I’m going to have to dip into the college ranks to prop up players who may or may not live up to the hype. These names vary in age, with some players entering the latter stages of their NFL careers in 2029, while others will be entering their primes. Let’s begin with a young talent making his name known in Boulder. 

10. Travis Hunter, CB/WR, Colorado (age 26)

Hunter shocked the college football recruiting world when he committed to Jackson State University to play for Deion Sanders as the No. 1 prospect in the class. He played cornerback and wide receiver, and continued to play on both sides of the ball after he followed Sanders to Colorado. In Hunter’s first season for the Buffaloes, he caught 57 passes for 721 yards and five touchdowns, and made 30 tackles to go along with three interceptions and five passes defensed. 

With Colorado now a member of the Big 12, Hunter was selected to the preseason All-Conference team as a defensive back. Our prediction is that he goes on to be a high NFL draft pick, and even contribute in all three phases of the game — like Troy Brown did for the Patriots in 2004. Ultimately, Hunter will stand out as a cornerback because of his athleticism and ball skills, but his versatility will add to his “legend.”

9. Jeremiah Smith, WR, Ohio State (age 23)

If we are talking best players in the NFL five years from now, at least one of these guys is going to be very, very young. I’ll go with wide receiver Jeremiah Smith, The Ohio State freshman hasn’t even played a single down of college football, but he may be the star of tomorrow. Check out CBS Sports’ profile on this kid. 

The Ohio State freshman, standing at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, led Chaminade-Madonna Prep to a 14-0 record to go along with a third consecutive state title, and his stats are straight out of “Road to Glory” mode. Smith caught 88 passes for 1,376 yards and a whopping 19 touchdowns in 2023. No wonder he’s the first wide receiver to ever be ranked as the No. 1 overall recruit in the Top247 rankings since 247 Sports started them back in 2010. 

Smith also had a nice spring in Columbus, becoming the first player among Ohio State’s newcomers to have the black stripe removed from his helmet. It will be fun to see if he can make an immediate impact at one of the schools that claim to be “WRU.” 

Gardner was recently named the best cornerback in the NFL by CBS Sports, as he’s allowed the fewest yards per target (4.6) over the past two seasons. The Cincinnati product led the league with 20 passes defensed in his first NFL season, and tacked on 75 tackles while he won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Gardner is the seventh cornerback over the last half century to make the Pro Bowl in both of his first two seasons, and the first cornerback to be named a First Team All-Pro in both of his first two seasons since Dick Harris in 1961. 

Chase has crossed 1,000 receiving yards in all three of his NFL seasons, including an incredible rookie campaign in which he caught 81 passes for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns. This past season, he caught a career-high 100 passes for 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns while Joe Burrow missed seven games due to injury. Chase is one of the best receivers in the NFL, and set to break the bank soon. He and Burrow, who, of course, also played together at LSU, should be a dynamic duo for years to come.

Alt was CBS Sports’ No. 7 overall prospect in this past class, but that may be low. After all, the Notre Dame product was selected No. 5 overall. The 2023 Unanimous All-American stands at 6-foot-9, 321 pounds, and registered the highest overall PFF grade (90.7) by an FBS offensive lineman last season. Alt allowed just one sack on 740 pass-blocking snaps over the past two years, according to Next Gen Stats, and reached 14.14 miles per hour in the first five yards of his eventual 5.05 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, which is the fastest speed recorded by any offensive lineman in the first five yards of the 40 over the last two combines. 

I’m very aware that Alt hasn’t played a single down of NFL football, but he just looks like one of those guys who is going to be an elite offensive tackle for a decade-plus. His dad was even an offensive tackle selected in the first round, and is in the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame.

It was just one year, but it was a heck of a year. In 15 games, Stroud completed 63.9% of his passes for 4,108 yards, 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His 273.9 passing yards per game led the league, as did his 1.0% interception percentage. Stroud had the highest TD-INT ratio vs. winning teams in NFL HISTORY, including playoffs, and he became the youngest quarterback to ever win a playoff game. The Texans went from worst to first in the AFC South, and appear to be legitimate contenders if Stroud can build on his historic rookie season.

4. Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (age 32)

Entering 2024, the story around Burrow is his health as he’s suffered season-ending injuries in two of his four years in the league. The questions are warranted, but everyone will forget about this storyline if Burrow balls out in 2024 and wins MVP. Everyone knows Burrow is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and you have to wonder how high his ceiling really is. The former No. 1 overall pick is a cerebral player who could age like fine wine if he can stay on the field.

The best wide receiver in the NFL isn’t going anywhere. Even though he missed seven games due to injury in 2023, Jefferson averaged a career-high 107.4 receiving yards per game, and still finished inside the top 20 of receiving yards. He became one of just three players to reach 1,000 receiving yards in 10 or fewer games played. Jefferson has recorded the most receiving yards in a player’s first four seasons in NFL history (5,899), and has the most receiving yards per game in NFL history (98.3). So yeah, he should still be good in 2029. 

2. Micah Parsons, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys (30)

Parsons is already an elite pass rusher, and he’s still getting better and better. In his third NFL season at 24 years old, Parsons recorded a career-high 14 sacks, 64 combined tackles, 33 QB hits and 18 tackles for loss. He recorded the most pressures in the NFL with 103, and the best pass-rush win rate among edge defenders (35%). With his athleticism and versatility, imagine the kind of animal he’s going to become as he continues to get more and more experience. Parsons has played just 50 NFL games! He’s going to be very good for a long time. 

1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (34)

Mahomes is No. 1 in 2024, and could still be No. 1 in 2029 at 34 years old. If Mahomes willed the 2023 Chiefs offense to a Super Bowl, he can do so any year — but I guess we already knew that. He is already a Hall of Famer, and as wild as it is to say, on track to pass Brady as the best of all time. Losing both Travis Kelce and Andy Reid in the coming years will be tough, but Mahomes is one of those rare individual players who can determine the outcome of a team sport.

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