The first half of this year’s NFL season has come to an end and not in the way that many had expected.  While the New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East standings in routine fashion, despite a brief interlude of quarterback drama, the defending champions Denver Broncos sit in third place in the AFC West.  Furthermore, the reigning NFC champion Carolina Panthers currently sit at a dismal 3-5 overall record and are in dead last in the NFC South. 

However, there have been even more shocking surprises this year for the avid football fan.  The Oakland Raiders are in first place in their conference with a 7-2 record thanks to quarterback Derek Carr.  San Diego Chargers fans are having flashbacks to LaDainian Tomlinson, as Melvin Gordon has been tearing it up in the backfield after a horrendous rookie campaign.  The Dallas Cowboys, despite losing veteran quarterback Tony Romo to a  disappointing back injury, are sporting a 7-1 record and hold the top spot in the NFC East due to the unbelievably clutch play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. 

Carr, Gordon and Prescott have all stood out this season and shown their potentials as franchise players.  What do these three have in common?  None of them are more than 25 years old. Prescott is a rookie, Gordon is in his second season and Carr is only in his third season in the league.  The faces of the NFL have transformed into new, young and very exciting players to watch. 

Carr’s talent has never been in question, but he has also never been able to lead the Raiders to much success — in his first two seasons under quarterback, the team put up an abysmal 10-22 record.  However, the Raiders are leading their conference in 2016, and MVP talks have been well under way for the young gunslinger.  Through nine games, Carr has thrown for 2,505 yards, 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions.  In week eight of this season, Carr torched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 40 completions for an incredible 513 yards and four touchdowns in a 30-24 victory.  He followed that up in week nine with a 30-20 win against the incredibly tough Broncos defense. This young quarterback phenom is just getting started in the tough NFL, and his star potential is already limitless.

Gordon is an even bigger surprise for the Chargers this season.  He was the 15th pick in the draft in 2015 and was expected to make an immediate impact for the up and coming squad.  However, he rushed for 641 yards with zero touchdowns and was eventually benched to end the season.  Coming back with a vengeance, Gordon has already rushed for 768 yards and racked up nine touchdowns through nine games in 2016.  Although it took a year, Gordon has begun to live up to his potential as a legitimate franchise player.

Prescott was widely ignored in the 2016 NFL draft and fell to the fourth round before being selected by the Cowboys.  Through eight games this season though, Prescott has thrown for 2,020 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions to lead his team to the top spot in the conference.  He has also rushed for 125 yards and four touchdowns, showing his athleticism and impressive versatility. Whether or not Romo takes his team back upon recovering is unimportant, as the Cowboys are in excellent hands for the foreseeable future thanks to Prescott’s slide down the NFL draft board.

The NFL’s current stars are some of its newest players. Every team will need to utilize its young talent in the coming games. With an abundance of young players, it will be very exciting to see how the second half of the season unfolds.