2022 NFL Franchise 100: No. 90-86

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 Thursday for players 85 to 81.

90. Andrew Thomas, OT, New York Giants
Age: 23
Years remaining on contract: 3
2022 cap hit: $8.82 million
After a very rocky rookie season, Thomas looked a lot more like the player the Giants were expecting to get when they selected him fourth overall in 2020. Thomas earned a 78.9 grade in 2021 from PFF, allowing just two sacks. He has played well enough that New York is content to start this year’s seventh overall pick in Evan Neal on the right side. Neal does have experience playing on both sides of the line, but that was tough to envision a year ago given how much Thomas struggled his rookie year. If Thomas can replicate his 2021 form or even surpass it, he will be much higher on this list next year. Getting an above average left tackle on a rookie deal is fantastic value.

89. Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Age: 26
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $9.66 million
The first tight end to appear in the countdown has been one of the best red zone targets in the league. Since 2019, only Travis Kelce has scored more touchdowns among tight ends in the league. Andrews is significantly younger than Kelce and already locked up through the 2025 season. The final two seasons of his deal are a little less cap-friendly at over $16 million per year, but Andrews will still only be 30 years old when his deal is up. What keeps Andrews from being higher up on this list is his limitations as a blocker. The Ravens do not use him as one very often, nor should they, but his impact is a bit more limited as a result. Still, I would be happy to build around an elite receiving tight end.

88. Braden Smith, OT, Indianapolis Colts
Age: 26
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $11.57 million
I feel like despite being one of the better tackles in the league for several years now, Smith continues to be overlooked. Case in point: he has yet to be selected to a Pro Bowl. He has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, missing eight games over the past two seasons. When he is available, Smith is one of the best right tackles in the league. He earned a stellar 80.6 grade in 2021 from PFF despite the limited playing time. Unfortunately, he is about to become a lot less affordable starting in 2023. He is entering the first year of his four-year $70 million extension from the Colts. His cap hit will balloon up to $19 million in 2023. However, he does have an out in his contract after 2024. He is unquestionably worth the money, but it is harder to get excited about paying a right tackle $17.5 million per year.

87. Creed Humphrey, C, Kansas City Chiefs
Age: 23
Years remaining on contract: 3
2022 cap hit: $1.26 million
One of my favorite players from the 2021 draft class, I banged the table for Humphrey to be a first-round pick. Instead, he slipped to the second round and Kansas City landed a steal. He wound up being PFF’s highest graded center as a rookie, which landed him third in the AP’s voting for Rookie of the Year. If that wasn’t enough, Humphrey is under contract for three more seasons with cap hits all under $1.75 million. Paying that much for arguably the best center in the league is incredible value. The only thing that holds him back from being higher on this list is his positional value. Centers are certainly crucial to any offensive line, but teams are usually reluctant to draft them early or spend a ton on the position. There are only seven centers in the whole league right now that earn at least $10 million annually.

86. Kenny Clark, DT, Green Bay Packers
Age: 26
Years remaining on contract: 3
2022 cap hit: $9.98 million
It is hard to believe that Kenny Clark is entering his seventh season and won’t turn 27 until October. He is a seasoned veteran in the prime of his career. After working as a rotational player his rookie season, Clark has been a fixture of the Packers defensive line. He has earned Pro Bowl nods in two of the past three seasons. His production as a pass rusher has been really strong throughout his career with 22.5 sacks to show for his efforts. He also racked up a career-high 28 quarterback pressures in 2021, which ranked fifth among interior linemen. Unfortunately, his contract situation is poised to get a bit messy following the 2022 season. Clark’s deal carries cap charges of roughly $24 million in its final two years. I have to imagine that the deal will get reworked in some way, but it is definitely a bit daunting to see them looming.

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