2022 NFL Franchise 100: No. 55-51

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 Monday for players 50 to 46.

55. Ikem Ekwonu, OT, Carolina Panthers
Age: 21
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $5.01 million
I love building in the trenches, especially along the offensive line. My team building philosophy has long been to put together an elite offensive line and figure out the rest of the offense around that. Ekwonu is a road grader with immense upside. He has a ways to go in pass protection, but I am willing to bet on his physical gifts and great size, much like the Panthers did. Those traits give him the chance to be a franchise left tackle and a perennial Pro Bowler. Finding quality tackles in the NFL is difficult. If I could grab Ekwonu and hang onto him for the next decade, I would be thrilled.

54. Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills
Age: 28
Years remaining on contract: 6
2022 cap hit: $11.74 million
I have been a fan of Stefon Diggs for a long time. He was a star in Minnesota, but he has morphed into a superstar in Buffalo. Diggs has posted four straight 1,000-yard seasons, attended the past two Pro Bowls and earned a spot on the AP All-Pro First Team in 2020. That was the year he led the league in receptions and yards. He has become Josh Allen’s go-to target. Diggs is a technician who breaks down opposing corners with his route running. As long as he can create separation, he will be valuable. However, I am a bit concerned about the length of his contract. There are a lot of players I would love to have locked down for the next six years, but Diggs will be 35 by the time his deal expires. Very few receivers are able to produce at a high level into their mid 30s. Each of the final five years on his deal carry a cap hit north of $20 million. He can be released heading into 2027 for a minimal dead cap hit, but it will be hard to move on from him before then.

53. A.J. Terrell, CB, Atlanta Falcons
Age: 23
Years remaining on contract: 2
2022 cap hit: $3.90 million
Terrell has very quickly become one of the league’s elite cover corners. Don’t believe me? He was named an All-Pro in 2021 after posting a PFF grade of 82.6, allowing just 4.8 yards per target and forcing incompletions on half the balls thrown his way. His size and speed make him an ideal fit to guard just about any receiver in the league. At just 23, he has the prime of his career still ahead of him. Not to mention that paying a No. 1 lockdown corner less than $4 million is a bargain. His payday will come down the line, but I will take the value that comes with his rookie deal for now and hope he can replicate this form.

52. DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Age: 23
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $4.58 million
The first receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the Heisman fared well in his first NFL season. He racked up 916 yards and five touchdowns in his rookie campaign. Those numbers might not jump off the page, but it is important to remember that no one threw the ball less this past year than the Philadelphia Eagles. In a run-heavy offense, those are some solid stats to put up. Smith is shifty and crafty. His skill set makes him an asset in just about any system. He is definitely a bit undersized, but he has not let that stop him so far. Getting a solid No. 1 receiver or elite No. 2 receiver at this price is incredible value when you see how much money the NFL is giving wideouts right now. If I can save in that department and spend elsewhere, I think that puts me in a good position to succeed.

51. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, New York Giants
Age: 21
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $5.70 million
Another rookie shows up here. I am very high on Thibodeaux’s traits and upside. His production was a bit inconsistent during his college career, but he looked sharp in the preseason before suffering a knee injury. I know a lot of the feedback I have gotten so far is that I am too high on these rookies. Perhaps, I am. This is my first time doing these rankings and I want to learn from them. However, rookie contracts are invaluable, especially for players at high-value positions like quarterback, edge rusher and offensive tackle. I will take Thibodeaux’s deal and bank on him paying huge dividends at a fraction of the cost.

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