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 60 to 56.
65. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Years remaining on contract: 2
2022 cap hit: $2.14 million
At long last, a running back appears! I referenced Taylor in the open. He is without a doubt the top running back in the league right now and at age 23, it seems like he has a lot left in the tank. However, running back is the NFL position with the shortest average career length. The league average is 3.3 years. Running backs stand at 2.57, per Statista’s Christina Gough. For as great as Taylor has looked, it is hard to project longevity for him. Two years ago, Saquon Barkley would have felt like a lock for this list, possibly pushing the top 50. Now, it is unclear if he will even be on the Giants by the end of the season. Christian McCaffrey is in a similar boat. So, despite my better judgment, I will take Taylor in hopes that I can build a contender around him before I inevitably have to pay him or injuries sidetrack his career. There is no question he can be the focal point of an offense: he is that talented. The question is how long he will be capable of filling that role.
64. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, Denver Broncos
Years remaining on contract: 1
2022 cap hit: $13.93 million
This is a tough decision to make. When healthy, Chubb is one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. Unfortunately, he has really struggled to stay healthy over his first four seasons. He missed a combined 22 games during the 2019 and 2021 seasons. Now, the buzz out of Broncos camp this year has been overwhelmingly positive, but I will need to see it before I am willing to move Chubb higher up this list. His talent deserves it, but his injury history and contract history, he is in the final season of his rookie contract with no extension in place, gives me some pause. That being said, if he winds up reclaiming his 2020 form, where he reached the Pro Bowl, he would be a steal at this spot.
63. Fred Warner, LB, San Francisco 49ers
Years remaining on contract: 5
2022 cap hit: $8.13 million
This is a perfect example of me loving the player, but not the contract situation. Warner signed a five-year, $95.2 million extension to stay with 49ers during the 2021 offseason, resetting the off-ball linebacker market. He carries a cap hit north of $20 million over the final three years of his contract. While I don’t love that for a position that is definitely not at a premium in the league, I do love Warner’s consistency and production. He has missed just one game in his four seasons with the 49ers so far. His 2020 season is one of the best in recent memory, earning him 1st-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. He took a bit of a step back in 2021, but still plays at a high enough level to justify this kind of love.
62. Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $7.48
Is he a tight end or is he a receiver? The world may never know. Pitts essentially acts as a big receiver. He can line up all over the formation and causes matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. He became just the second rookie tight end to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in 2021 and seems set for an even larger role moving forward. While I love Pitts’ big-play ability and versatility in his receiver role, he comes with some serious drawbacks. For one, he cannot block. Most of the top tight ends of the past decade have been both elite receivers and dominant blockers. Think Rob Gronkowski, George Kittle and, to a lesser extent in the blocking department, Travis Kelce. Pitts also does not bring much to the table in the red zone. He scored just one touchdown as a rookie and oftentimes looked uncomfortable trying to find space in the red zone, where the field shrinks. Those are both areas of his game that can be developed, but he clearly has limitations right now. While I love that he is under contract for the next four seasons, his rookie deal is hardly a bargain given his draft slot. He already carries a top-10 cap hit for the position in his second season. It’s still solid value, as he is worth more on the open market than what he currently makes, but his deal is far from a bargain.
61. Jaycee Horn, CB, Carolina Panthers
Years remaining on contract: 4
2022 cap hit: $4.80 million
Meet one of my favorite young corners in the NFL. Horn’s rookie season got cut short by injury, but he was off to a great start and I believe in his potential as a lockdown corner. He has long arms and a great vertical. The injury is certainly a concern, but it is nothing that I think will impact his career long term. For me, finding athletic, tall corners is always a priority. Horn fits that mold to a tee. Plus, he has four more years on a rookie contract. If his brief rookie campaign is any indication, he will be one of the most underpaid corners in the NFL for the remainder of that deal.
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