The NFL season is right around the corner and while all 32 franchises are trying to make their final roster decisions, I wanted to take a different approach to roster building. Inspired in part by the annual NFL Top 100 players list, voted on by the players in the league, I wanted to know who the top 100 players would be to start a team with in 2022.
There are a variety of factors that went into creating this list. Let me lay out the criteria.
First, age played a major role in determining which players made this list. Only six players over the age of 30 made the list. Positional value was the other big driving force behind these rankings. There is no doubt that Jonathan Taylor is one of the best young players in the game right now, but you wouldn’t pick him first overall to start an NFL franchise from scratch. The positional value of running backs is simply not high enough to warrant that. Neither is the longevity of the position on average. You most likely want to find a player who is going to last a long time to build your franchise around. There are a few notable exceptions to that rule. With that in mind, I prioritized quarterbacks, offensive tackles, cornerbacks, edge rushers and wide receivers. There are plenty of instances where a more talented player slid down the board a little further simply because they played a less valuable position.
There were a few other factors I considered, including years remaining on contract, contract structure and salary commitments. There is a reason why rookie contracts are so valuable, especially when you hit on a star. That player is now on a team friendly deal with several years of team control built in.
If you missed the previous entry, you can find it here.
With all of that in mind, let’s continue our countdown to No. 1. Check back Wednesday for players 90 to 86.
95. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Minnesota Vikings
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $3.03 million
He is built a bit like an oak tree and that is one of the many reasons I have Darrisaw next on my list. He had a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to production during his rookie season. PFF charts him as allowing five sacks and committing three penalties in 12 games. Those numbers aren’t great, but qualify as decent for a rookie making the transition. Keep in mind he missed the majority of training camp last year with an injury. Darrisaw graded out as a 71.9 for his rookie year. Reports coming out of Vikings camp in 2022 indicate he is ready for a big jump. The comparisons he is drawing are a little premature, but Trent Williams’ name has been mentioned more than once. Finding a young tackle with great measurables and upside feels like a big win.
94. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Baltimore Ravens
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $10.28
Had I done this list a year ago, Humphrey would likely have been much higher on it. He was coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he forced a league-leading eight fumbles and posted very respectable advanced metrics in pass coverage. That was following a 2019 season where he made 1st-team All-Pro. However, 2021 saw Humphrey slip a little bit performance wise. He also missed the final five games of the year with a torn pectoral muscle. The injury coupled with a not-so-friendly contract over the next few seasons made it hard for me to put him much higher, no matter how productive he has been in the past. His cap number is at least $19 million each of the final four seasons of his deal. I’m sure some of that can be rectified with a little salary cap magic, but it is still off-putting all the same. Still, finding a 26-year old cornerback who is Pro Bowl caliber when healthy seems like a worthy investment, even if there is some additional risk.
93. Trey Smith, G, Kansas City Chiefs
Years remaining on contract: 3
2022 cap hit: $858 thousand
Trey Smith was one of my favorite interior line prospects in the 2021 draft, but he blew away even my wildest expectations. He ranked second in pass-block win-rate and third in run-block win-rate among guards as a rookie. The only other guards to show in the top ten in both those categories last season were Zack Martin and Kevin Zeitler. That’s good company to keep. Of course, there are drawbacks to Smith’s game. He committed 10 penalties, which PFF has as tied for the seventh most among all guards. He is already a steal given that his cap hit won’t rise above $1 million until 2024, but if he can cut down on the penalties, I think we are looking at a perennial Pro Bowler with All-Pro potential.
92. Vita Vea, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $3.77
There are few people on this planet with the combination of size and athleticism that Vea brings to the table. He is an excellent run stuffer with a good motor and does offer some production as a pass rusher. He posted a career-high four sacks in 2021, resulting in his first Pro Bowl nod. His presence alone impacts everything the opposing offense has to do from a game planning perspective. You cannot single block Vea often and hope to win. He is a nose tackle who can collapse the pocket. Those are hard to find. What’s more, his contract is very team friendly. Past 2023, the Buccaneers can part ways with him and incur minimal cap penalties, in most cases, freeing up a solid amount of cap space. Not that they should have any desire to move on from Vea. I think he has another four to five years at his peak before you have to start worrying about him being in decline. That is worth the investment if you are building a team.
91. Kwity Paye, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $3.10 million
As we round out the 90s, we find another member of the 2021 draft class. Paye got his career off to a solid start during his rookie year with the Colts. He recorded four sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. It is worth noting that all four of his sacks came in the second half of the season. He is a physical player with incredible athletic tools. Again, this ranking is largely based on the upside he has flashed with hopes that he can take that next in 2022. He was seen as a project coming out, so I am betting he will continue to improve. What’s more, Paye is entering just the second-year of his rookie deal, so he has a very team-friendly cap hit through the 2024 season. The Colts can also exercise his fifth-year option to keep him under contract through 2025. High-upside players on team-friendly contracts will be a theme of these rankings.
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