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 65 to 61.
70. Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears
Years remaining on contract: 1
2022 cap hit: $9.74 million
Smith has been in the news quite a bit this offseason, holding in, demanding a trade and bad-mouthing the Bears front office to the media. His contract situation definitely pushed him down this list a little bit for me. Taking a player who has a very uncertain future and is looking to reset the market at a position that is not quite as valuable is dicey. I have a tough time swallowing the idea of paying an off-ball linebacker $20 million plus per season. That being said, Smith is on here because he is enormously talented and only 25 years old. He is coming off back-to-back All-Pro seasons and has proven to be a well-rounded playmaker. I love the player, I just don’t love the situation I would find myself in taking him to build a team around.
69. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, Houston Texans
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $6.31 million
Talk about a risk-reward scenario. Stingley enters the NFL having played just 10 games over his final two collegiate seasons. Despite injuries and a lack of playing time, he was still selected third overall this year. What Houston is banking on and what talent evaluators pointed to during the pre draft process was Stingley’s top-end potential when fully healthy. As a freshman back in 2019, he was arguably the best corner in the country. He flashed that extreme upside again during the pre draft process where it seemed as though he was finally back at full health. If Stingley is able to regain that form, he should be one of the front runners for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Getting an elite lockdown corner on a rookie deal is something I am willing to gamble on. Maybe he turns out to be Jeff Okudah, but he might also end up being Jalen Ramsey.
68. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
Years remaining on contract: 3
2022 cap hit: $24 million
This was one of the toughest players to rank. On one hand, you have the greatest interior pass rusher in league history, who leads the league in sacks since he entered and has a resume longer than the runtime of The Batman. On the other hand, Donald is 31 years old, mulled retirement this offseason and has a monstrous contract. He will have the fifth-largest cap hit in the league for the 2023 season. Despite the negatives, it is hard to pass on the game-changing eight-time Pro Bowler, seven-time All-Pro, three-time Defensive Player of the Year. I told you his resume was long. If I was doing this list a few years ago, Donald would be a lock for the top 25. Now, it is a little harder to justify taking him with his career inevitably beginning to wind down, but there is simply no way I could leave him off the list.
67. Elgton Jenkins, OL, Green Bay Packers
Years remaining on contract: 1
2022 cap hit: $4.72 million
Versatility is incredibly valuable in the NFL, especially along the offensive line. Teams always look for players that can line up at multiple positions to give them depth. No offensive lineman offers more versatility than Jenkins. He has started at tackle, guard and center for the Packers since joining the team in 2019 and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2020 at left guard. Having a player who could be a solid tackle or a dominant guard is a true luxury. Now, there are a few knocks on Jenkins. He is coming off a torn ACL that cost him the second half of the 2021 season. He is also in the final year of his rookie contract. It is hard to pin down exactly where he will fall in terms of pay structure given his ability to line up at multiple positions, but I would make it a priority to keep him around.
66. Odafe Oweh, EDGE, Baltimore Ravens
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $2.58 million
Oweh is just getting started. A raw pass rusher with great physical traits coming out of Penn State, he flashed that incredible ability during his rookie season in Baltimore. It yielded five sacks, three forced fumbles and 27 pressures in what mostly amounted to a situational role. There is certainly a lot of projection involved here, but I think Oweh has the makings of a special edge rusher in the NFL. He will get a chance to step into a full-time starting role in 2022 and I expect him to make the most of it. Taking a chance on a high-upside 23-year-old with four years left on his rookie contract seems like a very reasonable risk to take here.
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