Building Blocks: The Top 10 NFL Players You Want to Start a Franchise With

Kyle Vassalo@VassaloBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2010

Building Blocks: The Top 10 NFL Players You Want to Start a Franchise With

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 11:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets stretches on the field against the Minnesota Vikings at New Meadowlands Stadium on October 11, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets won 29-20. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Every franchise is looking for that one guy who can get everything going in the right direction.

    The one who can resurrect a franchise from the ashes and lead it to glory.

    Mean Joe Green did it with Pittsburgh.

    Peyton Manning did it with Indianapolis.

    Around the league there are young, talented players who have given their team some hope for the future. While quarterbacks obviously are the most likely position to point to when trying to build a franchise, they won't dominate this list.

Honorable Mention: Maurkice Pouncey

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 05:  Maurkice Pouncey #53 of the Pittsburgh Steelers lines up against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
    Geoff Burke/Getty Images

    If Maurkice Pouncey dominated at any other position the way he does at center, he would undoubtedly break into the top five.

    Pouncey is the ultimate Steeler.

    Pittsburgh sees the value in having an elite center, and it appears they found another one when they drafted Pouncey with the 18th overall pick.

    He has become the leader of the offensive line and it appears he has many Pro Bowl years ahead of him. Not only is Pouncey a mauling run blocker and textbook in pass protection, he is an incredible leader given his age.

    Having a center like Pouncey who can take command at the line of scrimmage is a beautiful thing. His impact this season may cause his twin brother, Mike Pouncey, to move up in the draft. He can play anywhere on the interior line and is going to be a staple for the Steelers for years to come.

    The best part?—He is only 21 years old.

Honorable Mention: Desean Jackson

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    Desean Jackson is the best deep threat in the NFL.

    He has the best average yardage per catch in the entire NFL. He runs great routes and has world-class speed, making him a terror for defenses to cover. He might not have many receptions, but when he gets his hands on the ball, he is always a threat to break loose.

    Jackson has the potential to take an average slant to the house. He is very difficult to handle in the open field and his agility and quickness embarrass would-be tacklers on a consistent basis. If you were starting a franchise, Jackson's big play ability makes him very appealing, especially if you have a quarterback with a big arm.

    On top of that, the 24 year old is also a punt returner.

    He is the only player in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl at multiple positions.

    Unlike Devin Hester of the Bears, Jackson is a wide receiver first and foremost, but his impact in the return game makes it impossible for the Eagles to sideline him for special teams.

    You can hate his immaturity and his antics, but if you are a head coach in the NFL, the thing you will hate most about him is his ability to put a dagger in your team—Cue the video.

Honorable Mention: Chris Johnson

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    NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 13: Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans jumps across the goal line to score his second touchdown in the first half against the St. Louis Rams at LP Field on December 13, 2009 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Ge
    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    I know, I know, how can I have Chris Johnson out of the top ten? He could quite possibly be the most talented running back in the NFL, but when there are only ten spots, somebody is bound to get snubbed.

    Johnson took a step backwards this season, but he remains one of the most productive backs in the NFL. He is one of the few backs in NFL history to ever ellipse the 2,000 yard mark in a single season. Johnson dominates with his speed and proves that just because you lack size, you can still be an every-down back in the NFL.

    Johnson preserves his body well because he rarely gets a clean shot laid on him. If you were starting a franchise, it would be easy to surround him with a few weapons and have one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.

    He ran a 4.24 40 yard dash time at the combine, forcing teams to take notice of him when he was coming out of the draft. The Titans were the first team to pull the trigger and haven't looked back since.

    The 25 year old phenom will be a coveted fantasy option for years to come.

No. 10: Matt Ryan

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 27:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons looks upfield during warm-ups prior to the start of the game against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome on December 27, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Halleran
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Matt Ryan, or Matty Ice as his Boston College teammates dubbed him, has led his team within one game of clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

    The 25 year old quarterback took a small step backwards in his second year, but has come back even stronger, having a career year this season and commanding one of the best teams in the NFL.

    Ryan led the Falcons to the biggest franchise turn around in the history of the league. He might not be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning yet, but when you talk elite quarterbacks, he is certainly in the next group of guys.

    The Matt Ryan to Roddy White connection is one of the most desirable in the the League. Larry Fitzgerald proved this season that a great wide receiver is nothing without his quarterback. While Ryan is surrounded by talent, it is impossible to call him a game manager.

    His trophy case holds a Rookie of the Year trophy and it appears it will be surrounded by Pro Bowl and possibly Super Bowl ring(s) in the near future.

    Expect to see the Falcons in the playoffs on a regular basis while he is under center.

#9: Haloti Ngata

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    Many people don't understand the impact a great defensive lineman can have on a defense.

    In a 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle is arguable the most important position on the field. Future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis requested the team bring in someone to dominate up front, and the team answered the call.

    The Ravens selected Haloti Ngata in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft. He has turned out to be everything they had hoped he would be, earning Pro Bowl honors last year and second team All-Pro honors in two seasons.

    His numbers are solid, but his impact goes far beyond a stat sheet.

    Ngata's strength and relentless pursuit of the ball makes it impossible to block him with one man. It is difficult to run away from Ngata, as he is right in the middle of the field. Teams have to account for him first and foremost, and by double teaming Ngata, the opposition is forced to leave guys like Ray Lewis unscathed.

    In a 4-3, it can be easier to accumulate stats at the defensive tackle position. Just ask Albert Haynesworth how easy the transition is. Some may overlook Ngata, given the talent that is around him, but one look at the video above demonstrates just how forceful he can be.

#8: Joe Thomas

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    BALTIMORE - SEPTEMBER 27:  Joe Thomas #73 of the Cleveland Browns defends against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on September 27, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Browns 34-3. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
    Larry French/Getty Images

    It is widely believed that the safest position to draft at the top of the board is offensive tackle. Everybody is looking for a blind side pass protector to keep up with pass-rushing defensive ends like Mario Williams and Dwight Freeney.

    Joe Thomas stands a half inch shy of 6'7.

    He is 312 pounds and has some of the best feet in the NFL.

    He is as quick as he is big and is the cornerstone of an underrated Cleveland offensive line. The Browns are starting to bring in legitimate options around Thomas.

    If Colt McCoy is going to succeed in the NFL, what better place to do it than behind the capable protection of a left tackle like Joe Thomas?

    Many people believe that the most important position on the field is quarterback, and it very well might be. Even so, show me a great quarterback and more often than not, I will be able to direct your attention to a stellar left tackle.

    Thomas is 26 years old and if the Browns continue to take positive steps, the Browns just might be able to work their way into relevancy, a place Browns fans are not accustomed to seeing.

#7: Clay Matthews

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    Every year, without exception, the best pass rushers soar in the draft. Ever since Lawrence Taylor revolutionized the outside linebacker position, teams have been trying to duplicate that production.

    Clay Matthews could be the best pass rusher in the entire NFL.

    When he came out of USC, some believed he was the third best linebacker on his team. He was a walk on at USC, and lived in the shadows of Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing.

    Matthews has deep roots in the NFL and his blue collar work ethic has propelled him to where he stands today. Nothing was given to him and he has been overlooked throughout his entire career. Now, people are starting to take notice as he has single handedly taken over games.

    He can rush from either side, making it difficult to constantly put the strength of the offense at his side. Try as they might, few teams have been able to control Matthews this season. He is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and his candidacy is well deserved.

    Matthews sets the bar for pass rushing outside linebackers in the league.

    Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, Aaron Maybin, Larry English, Robert Ayers, and Peria Jerry are just some of the defensive players selected before Matthews was picked at 26. In only his second year, Matthews has made nearly the entire league kick themselves for passing on him.

#6: Adrian Peterson

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    Adrian Peterson has earned the nickname "All Day" for his ability to be an effective workhorse back.

    Peterson can put the Minnesota Vikings on his back and withstand the punishment of running between the tackles. He is the complete back, encompassing the ability to catch, block, run between the tackles, run defenders over, and still manages to have incredible break-away speed.

    At only 25, Peterson has already been named a first team All-Pro twice and second team All-Pro in his other season.

    He has set NFL records already in his brief career, having the most rushing yards in his first eight games in NFL history (1,036), the most rushing yards in a game (296), and he is the only player to ever have two, 200 yard rushing games in his rookie campaign.

    If you wanted a running back that could be an offense within himself, there is no better option than Adrian Peterson. He was overlooked on draft day by teams by six teams.

    While he was injury prone in college, he has broken that trend thus far in the NFL.

    The knock on Peterson throughout his career was that he lacked ball control, fumbling 20 times in his first three seasons. He dedicated his 2009 off-season to fixing the problem and it has paid dividends, rendering a fumbleless season thus far in 2010.

    It is scary to think what he will be able to accomplish, assuming the problem has been alleviated permanently.

#5: Jake Long

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    MIAMI - OCTOBER 12:  Offensive lineman Jake Long #77 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates after a touchdown by Ronnie Brown #23 against the New York Jets at Land Shark Stadium on October 12, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Jets 31-27.  (Phot
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    The Dolphins decided to pass on Matt Ryan and went with left tackle Jake Long, with the first pick in the 2008 NFL draft. It's a move that some would argue haunts the franchise, but I would argue that it remains the right decision.

    Matt Ryan has Sam Baker at left tackle.

    The Dolphins had a porous offensive line and Matt Ryan would not have been nearly as effective behind the Miami line. With the addition of Brandon Marshall in the off-season, combined with the running back tandem they have, the Dolphins are a quarterback away from having a scary offense.

    Rome was not built in a day and the Dolphins were unable to completely turn around their franchise in a few short years. Even so, Long has given them arguably the best left tackle in the entire NFL.

    The Dolphins have nothing to be disappointed about, given that left tackle is one of the most important positions on the entire roster.

    He is a mammoth 6'7", 315 pounds. His quickness and long arms make him the complete offensive lineman.

    In his first two seasons, he made the Pro Bowl, being named an All-Pro in his second season. Jake Long is emerging as one of the great offensive lineman in this league and the Dolphins couldn't be happier.

    Now all they need is a guy for Long to protect.

#4: Patrick Willis

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    Ever since Patrick Willis set the tackling record his rookie year, teams have been taking notice.

    Willis has prototypical speed and size that make him the perfect middle linebacker. He has been under the wing of Hall of Fame middle linebacker Mike Singletary for his entire professional career (that is until Singletary was let go last Sunday).

    It served Willis well, as he has combined fundamentals with freakish athleticism to make him the best linebacker in football. With all due respect to Ray Lewis, what would Willis be able to accomplish if he had Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata in front of him and Ed Reed behind him?

    Willis has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons. The All- Pro middle linebacker is the heart and soul of the 49er defense. At only 25 years old he has already mastered the craft and yet it appears he still has his best football in front of him.

    Above everything else, Willis is among the biggest class acts in the NFL. His humility is refreshing, given the overwhelming amount of "look at me" players in the league today. Willis has encountered a number of tragedies in his personal life, including but not limited to, the tragic drowning of his younger brother Detris. His brothers and sisters have always looked to Patrick Willis for guidance and he brings that same leadership to the football field.

    Willis is not flashy, or overly vocal. He just does his job and leads by example, which could be his best quality. For a great football player and an even better human being, the number four slot is well deserved. His story gives Michael Oher's a run for it's money.

    The video is worth the ten minutes.

#3: Ndamukong Suh

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    If you haven't seen a Detroit Lions game this year, you might think this is too high of a designation for Suh. If you have seen a Detroit Lions game this year, you might think he deserves to be slotted at number one or two.

    Ndamukong Suh looks like he could revolutionize the position of defensive tackle.

    It is not often that a defensive tackle has the ability to take over games, but Suh is an unstoppable force. Most of the time, we have to look past the numbers to see the effect a defensive tackle has on his opposition. In Suh's case, the production speaks for itself.

    Suh has nine sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown thus far in his rookie season. Some wondered whether the production in college that made him a Heisman finalist would carry over into the NFL.

    Now they know.

    Teams are forced to double team Suh at all times, yet Suh is still able to dominate the line of scrimmage. His athleticism comes from his soccer roots and his size, well, being 6'4 307 pounds is an attribute that comes from whatever divine power you may believe in.

    Suh, who earned the nickname of Ducky in college due to the similarities in appearance drawn between he and the Land Before Time character, embodies everything you would want in a defensive tackle. He has great instincts, elite quickness, a nose for the ball, and above all else, he is ruthless.

    A forearm shiver to the back of the head of Jay Cutler is exactly the type of play the Lions need to see more of.

    The Lions no longer back down from anyone.

    If you question that statement, take it up with #90.

#2: Darrell Revis

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    NEW YORK - MARCH 16:  New York Jets Darrelle Revis poses for a portrait on March 16, 2010 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Finding a lock down corner is one of the hardest things to do in the NFL.

    Getting a guy who can contain elite wide receivers consistently.

    One who strikes fear into the heart of a quarterback every time he looks at his side of the field.

    One who makes life lonely for even the best wide receivers.

    One who creates an island.

    Revis Island has shipwrecked nearly every wide receiver that has crossed Darrelle Revis.

    Teams very seldom even throw the ball at him. It is as if they begin their gameplan knowing they will probably have to disregard their number one receiver. Guys like Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, and Larry Fitzgerald simply have not been able to contend with Revis.

    Revis' accolades may have been slightly overshadowed by a contract dispute that lingered into the 2010 season, but it's hard to argue that he shouldn't be paid more. Unlike the other players on this list, Revis is not a fun player to watch. He usually runs stride for stride with his receiver in man coverage and the quarterback rarely even looks his direction.

    Teams disregard their number one weapon when they face the Jets, which allows them to be versatile. With Antonio Cromartie on the other side, the Jets have the best cornerback duo in the league.

    If you were going to start a franchise, why wouldn't you want a guy that can completely eliminate the best of the best from the game? Revis is only 25, but if he keeps this level of dominance up, he will go down as one of the best corners of all time.

#1: Sam Bradford

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    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 05:  Quarterback Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams runs out onto the field before the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 5, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Rams defeated the C
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Last year, the Rams were the worst team in the NFL.

    They had bits and pieces scattered amongst their franchise.

    Steven Jackson is a talent.

    O.J. Atogwe is an above average safety.

    Their line was slightly above average at best.

    That being said, the rest of their team was in shambles.

    This year, they are one game away from going 8-8 and making the playoffs.

    So what changed?—Sam Bradford entered the building after being selected number one overall.

    Bradford has limited options at wide receiver. After Malcom Floyd went down, it was unclear how Bradford would do with an even weaker receiving corp.

    His numbers won't blow your mind, but given the state of his offense, they are remarkable. His accuracy is among the best in the league, he has the poise of a ten-year veteran, and he has given the Rams the desire to win.

    The Rams have more wins this year than they have had in their last three years combined. It's no accident that the defense has made great strides this season. Having number eight on the sideline lets everybody in the organization know that they have someone who can put them in a position to win.

    The future could not be any brighter for Sam Bradford. He might go to the playoffs in his rookie year with Danny Amendola leading the team in receiving. Give Sam Bradford a weapon like Julio Jones or A.J. Green in the upcoming draft and the possibilities are endless.

    The reason Bradford tops off this list is that I would feel comfortable saying he would succeed on any team in the league. The Rams were the lowest of the low and he has launched them back into relevancy.

    Teams try endlessly to find the next golden arm quarterback with the number one overall pick.

    The Panthers have the number one overall pick this year and though they have Jimmy Clausen, there is a good chance they will select Andrew Luck, with the hope that he can one day become what Sam Bradford is already.