2022 NFL Franchise 100: No. 45-41

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 40 to 36.

45. Quenton Nelson, G, Indianapolis Colts
Age: 26
Years remaining on contract: 1
2022 cap hit: $13.75 million
There are few players who have dominated the league as thoroughly and consistently as Nelson has since the moment he stepped on an NFL field. He is a four-time All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler in his first four seasons. He is coming off his worst year as a pro, which still resulted in a second-team All-Pro designation and a Pro Bowl selection. Positional value and contract structure are what holds Nelson back from being higher on this list. I have no doubt that the Colts will re-sign Nelson, but he is in the final year of his rookie deal with no long-term extension in place. He is going to cost a lot to keep, which is saying something because he already carries the largest cap hit for a guard in the entire league by nearly $1.5 million. He is that good, but it is easy to question paying an interior offensive linemen that much money.

44. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Age: 29
Years remaining on contract: 2
2022 cap hit: $10.32 million
Evans is one of the most consistent receivers in NFL history. He has had at least 1,000 yards receiving every single season he has been in the league. He also has 75 career touchdown receptions, including 27 over the past two years. He is definitely nearing the end of his prime, but he still looks like he could have a few great years left in the tank. He has a very affordable cap hit for this season, but 2023 carries a cap hit north of $23 million. His contract expiring heading into his age 31 season could put teams in a tough spot. However, if Evans is still producing like he has up to this point, it would be easy to justify re-signing him.

43. Evan Neal, OT, New York Giants
Age: 21
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $4.46 million
I get that not everyone is going to agree with this one, but I am sticking true to my draft board for right now. I had Neal as my highest-rated player entering the 2022 NFL draft. Nothing I have seen or read so far has led me to change my mind on that front. The Giants are going to start him at right tackle for now, but I think he is a future left tackle in this league. He is a great run blocker and has the traits to develop into an asset in pass protection as well. Neal will turn 22 in September. If he hits like I think he will, he could be a franchise tackle in the league for the next decade.

42. Shaquille Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts
Age: 27
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $11.17 million
Where do I even begin with Leonard? He is a four-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, not to mention the 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is an elite tackler with a nose for making big plays. His 17 forced fumbles are tied for second most since he entered the league, trailing only T.J. Watt. Don’t discount his ability in pass coverage either. Leonard is a complete player with plenty of years left in his prime. My only knock against him would be his contract situation. He has a cap hit of at least $19.7 million for the final four years of his deal, which is very high for an off-ball linebacker, but when you have elite talent, you have to pay to keep said elite talent.

41. Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Age: 29
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $17.80 million
The triple crown winner has arrived. Kupp became the first receiver since Steve Smith Sr. in 2005 to lead the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in a dominant season that nearly saw him eclipse 2,000 yards. He is a perfect fit in Sean McVay’s offense. As much as I love Kupp, I am a little hesitant to put him higher on this list. For as good as he was, he has topped 1,000 yards only one other time in his five-year career. He will also turn 30 next offseason and has a lot of money tied up in his remaining contract. The counter argument to all of this is that we have finally seen Kupp at his best when he has a quality quarterback. I’m hedging my bets a bit putting him here.

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