2022 NFL Franchise 100: No. 85-81

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 Friday for players 80 to 76.

85. Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints
Age: 26
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $9.00 million
As you will see throughout this list, I am a fan of long, rangy corners. Lattimore certainly fits the bill at 6’0″ tall with great ball skills. He has been one of the most consistent producers at the position since he entered the league in 2018. He earned Rookie of the Year honors that season and has earned four Pro Bowl selections in his five years with the Saints. At just 26, he has plenty of prime years left ahead of him. His contract situation is about to get a little less appealing though. His $9 million cap hit for 2022 is a bargain for a player of his caliber, but his cap number is north of $22 million for the remainder of the deal. There is unquestionably room to maneuver within pretty much any contract and it is nice to have him locked up long term, but he has a ton of money left on this deal.

84. George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Age: 28
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $7.68 million
Let’s get this out of the way early here: I love George Kittle. I liked him as a late-round flier coming out of Iowa back in 2017, but I can’t pretend that I knew just how good he would go on to become. He has dominated the NFL not just as a receiver, but also as a blocker. He is the most complete tight end in the league and a true asset in both the run and pass game. It has resulted in three Pro Bowl selections and two All-Pro honors. However, he has been a bit banged up over the past two seasons, missing 11 games since the start of 2020. The other drawback with Kittle’s situation is he is far and away the highest paid tight end in NFL history. His cap hit will be nearly $3 million higher than any other tight end in 2023. That being said, even as he nears his 29th birthday, I think Kittle would be well worth the investment.

83. Davis Mills, QB, Houston Texans
Age: 23
Years remaining on contract: 3
2022 cap hit: $1.19 million
Alright, hear me out before you completely write me off here. I get that Mills has not really done much to deserve this kind of love, but I am willing to buy the upside. He completed 66.8 percent of his passes while tossing more touchdown passes (16) than interceptions (10) in 11 starts. That’s more than can be said for Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson or Trey Lance. Oh, and he did all of this playing on the Texans, who might be the most talent-bereft team in the league. Brandin Cooks was a great safety blanket for the rookie quarterback, but he did not have much else to fall back on. If he could do that playing in Houston, imagine what he could do if he was surrounded with some actual talent and given another year to develop. On top of that, Mills’ contract is one of the cheapest at the position in the league. His cap hit for 2022 ranks 62nd in the league. It is far from a guarantee that he will pan out, but I would have tons of cap space to build around a high-upside 23-year-old. I will take my chances in that situation.

82. Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts
Age: 27
Years remaining on contract: 1
2022 cap hit: $13 million
Talk about one of the most unique NFL journey’s in recent memory. I would hate being Ngakoue’s real estate agent, as he is now on his fifth team in four seasons. Now landing in Indianapolis, Ngakoue has been one of the league’s most consistent pass rushers despite all of the movement. He has produced at least eight sacks every season he has been in the league. In fact, since he entered the league in 2016, he is tied with Von Miller for the eighth-most sacks. He might not be a truly elite edge rusher, but I will take consistent production over the guy who flashes a 15-sack season only to never eclipse six sacks in a season the rest of his career. Ngakoue has a ton of value, however, he is also in the final year of his deal. I don’t love the idea of starting a franchise around a player on an expiring contract, but, hopefully, we could work out a long-term extension.

81. Rashan Gary, EDGE, Green Bay Packers
Age: 24
Years remaining on contract: 2
2022 cap hit: $5.05 million
In Year 3, Gary showed everyone why the Packers believed he was worth a first-round pick back in 2019. He posted a career-high 9.5 sacks and racked up an impressive 47 quarterback pressures. The latter was tied with Micah Parsons for the fourth most in the league. He earned a stellar 89.3 from Pro Football Focus as well. This came on the heels of a 2020 season where Gary showed signs of making the jump, putting up five sacks in limited playing time. He took the next step and now seems to have developed into an every down player. With two years remaining on his rookie contract, this is great value for a player that seems to be coming into his own.

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