Three players to build around for every NFC team

2MA5WXH New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (97) waits between plays against the Baltimore Ravens during an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

• The Giants are set in the trenches: With defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, now-second-year edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, New York boasts fearsome talent on both lines.

• The Bears have a new wave of talent to build around: Chicago acquired wide receiver D.J. Moore in their blockbuster trade this offseason, and the team signed young linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in free agency.

• Seattle made out well in the 2022 NFL Draft: Both cornerback Tariq Woolen and offensive tackle Charles Cross are solid building blocks for the future.

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes


We started by looking at the three players to build around for every AFC team, and now we dive into the NFC. While the NFC is severely lagging behind the AFC in terms of top-end teams entering 2023, there are reasons for optimism across many rosters in the conference.

JUMP TO A TEAM:

ARZ | ATL | CAR | CHI | DAL | DET | GBLAR
MIN | NO | NYG | PHI | SF | SEA | TB | WSH

The Cardinals certainly aren’t the easiest team for which to identify building-block players, but they do have a few core pieces on either side of the ball. Most importantly, they have an extra first-round pick from the Houston Texans next season to, hopefully, land another franchise player.

Once Kyler Murray returns healthy, he’ll have first-round tackle Paris Johnson Jr. blocking in front of him. Fans are quick to forget that through Week 8 in 2021, before injuries, Murray’s 89.5 passing grade ranked fourth, his 9.0% big-time throw rate led the NFL and his 1.0% turnover-worthy play rate ranked second. Murray was also second in adjusted completion percentage over the span, at 81.4%, and his 8.9 yards per attempt ranked fourth.


Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta’s overhauled roster is now chock full of young talent, but their back-to-back top-10 picks at pass-catcher need to be the focal point of this passing attack going forward. We’re quick to forget that Kyle Pitts became only the second tight end in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie, and entering Year 3 he’s still a full year younger than 2023 first-rounder Dalton Kincaid. London had a similarly impressive rookie campaign, with his 85.3 receiving grade the 10th best among all wide receivers on the season. These two big-bodied long-striders are a great foundation to add receiving options with diverse skill sets around.

Terrell had a down season in 2022 but has already proven to be one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL. His 85.6 coverage grade in 2021 ranked second in the NFL at the position, behind only Jalen Ramsey. With a vastly improved defensive line playing in front of him in 2023, expect a bounceback from Terrell.


Carolina Panthers

A rookie No. 1 overall pick will always make lists like these, and Young is no exception. While he can certainly produce early in the shot clock, what makes Young special is what he does when the play breaks down. He earned a 92.2 grade when his time to throw was more than 2.5 seconds in 2022, third in the country, with his 79.1% adjusted completion percentage on such plays ranking second. He’ll have to extend plays and get creative as a rookie while the Panthers look to add more pass-catching weapons over the next few years.

On defense, Carolina has two cornerstones on the line in edge defender Brian Burns and interior defender Derrick Brown, the latter of whom took a big step in 2022, earning a career-high 84.4 overall grade.


Chicago Bears

The Bears added two of our selections here this offseason, with wide receiver D.J. Moore coming aboard in the blockbuster trade for the No. 1 overall pick and Tremaine Edmunds their big free agent splash signing. Moore has five straight receiving grades above 70.0, and his 48 missed tackles forced since 2019 rank ninth among wide receivers. His 109 explosive receptions place sixth. Edmunds had a breakout 2022 campaign earning an 88.1 coverage grade in his fifth season, and he’ll still be 25 years old in Week 1. The 6-foot-5, rangy athlete will patrol the middle of the field in Chicago for years to come.

Ultimately, everything comes down to Justin Fields and how he commands this new-look offense. Fields became just the third quarterback in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards in 2022, and if he can get the passing game to match he could ascend as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.


Dallas Cowboys

Dallas' first-round selections in 2020 and 2021 were slam dunks, adding an offensive weapon to build around in CeeDee Lamb and a defensive playmaker who can take over football games in Micah Parsons. Over the past two seasons, Lamb’s 90.2 receiving grade ranks seventh and his 33 missed tackles forced rank fifth. Parsons’ 19.3% pressure rate over the past two seasons leads the NFL, and he enters 2023 as a full-time edge defender for the first time.

Quarterback Dak Prescott needs to take advantage of the arrival of Brandin Cooks, the health of Michael Gallup and the eventual return of Terence Steele to run an extremely high-powered offense in 2023 and beyond.


Detroit Lions

The young and exciting Detroit Lions are bubbling with potential all across their roster, and four more top-50 draft selections enter the fold in 2023. St. Brown’s 2.9% drop rate is in the top 15 among 77 wide receivers with at least 100 targets over the past two seasons, and his 116 first-down receptions rank eighth.

Penei Sewell is an ascending superstar and will still be just 22 years old in Week 1 of his third season, earning an 80.6 overall grade in 2022 and playing on the opposite end of the line from where he lined up in college.

Hutchinson got progressively better as his rookie season went on, ending the season with a 70.2 pass-rush grade and 9.5 sacks as a rookie. More defensive line help, along with Alim McNeill, could be the key to this defense taking that next step, though a revamped secondary this offseason will also go a long way.


Green Bay Packers

The Packers have been so good for so long because they live by the draft and develop philosophy as well as any club, and that doesn’t change with the departure of Aaron Rodgers. Second-year wideout Christian Watson exploded down the stretch of 2022 once he finally got healthy, with his seven touchdown receptions from Week 10 on tied for the league lead, his 2.58 yards per route run placing third and his 6.0 yards after the catch per reception ranking ninth despite an average depth of target of 16.5 yards that was the third highest over the stretch.

Rashan Gary’s ACL tear sustained in 2022 was unfortunate timing as he enters his fifth-year option season in 2023, but he was on an absolute tear before going down. His 19.9% pressure rate through Week 9 ranked second among edge defenders. Last but not least, Alexander is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, with his 91.5 cumulative coverage grade over the past three seasons the top mark at the position.


Los Angeles Rams

The Rams are more or less starting from scratch in 2023, but Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald will remain franchise cornerstones to build around until they decide to call it a career. Donald may go down as the best defensive player of all time, and Kupp is still a target machine when healthy.

Los Angeles’ earliest selection in the 2023 Draft was TCU guard Steve Avila, who may work his way into a starting role as a rookie and can hopefully be an anchor on the interior of the offensive line.


Minnesota Vikings

Despite being in a “competitive rebuild” state of flux across the roster at large, Minnesota should be excited about its young franchise cornerstones at premium positions on offense. Justin Jefferson has the most receiving yards through a player’s first three seasons in NFL history by nearly 700 yards; we don’t need to add much more than that.

At tackle, the Vikings were one of just three teams to rank in the top 10 in pass-block grade and run-block grade at the position, and the duo could continue to develop and grow over time into, perhaps, the best bookends in the NFL.


New Orleans Saints

New Orleans’ aggressive approach to the draft looks to have paid off once again, with rookie wideout Chris Olave absolutely bursting onto the scene and ranking ninth among wide receivers with 2.42 yards per route run in 2022. Ryan Ramczyk has been a model of consistency over his first six seasons, never grading below 73.0 as a pass blocker or a run blocker in any year.

The Saints have a lot of older players still leading the way, in particular on defense with Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis and Tyrann Mathieu. Top cornerback Marshon Lattimore missed a lot of time in 2022 with injury, but in 2021 he led all cornerbacks with 20 forced incompletions and his 22 defensive stops were a top-15  mark. A bounceback in 2023 would go a long way toward keeping this defense performing at a top-10 level.


New York Giants

The Giants should be excited about their future, as a handful of highly drafted players are looking the part so far early in their careers. Lawrence put elite play on tape throughout 2022, culminating in a 92.0 overall grade. Lawrence absolutely dominated as a zero- and one-technique, leading the league with 40 quarterback pressures from those alignments.

Kayvon Thibodeaux dealt with soft tissue injuries during his first offseason program, and we’ve seen that delay the progression of rookies a bit over the years, but he started to put the pieces together as the season went on and recorded at least one quarterback pressure in every game he played in, including nine pressures in a Week 12 matchup with the division rival Dallas Cowboys. With another offseason, Thibodeaux could start to consistently cause problems on all three downs.

After a somewhat rocky start to his career, Thomas appears to have blossomed into one of the best all-around tackles in the sport. Three tackles earned pass-blocking and run-blocking grades of 80.0 or better in 2022, and Thomas was one of them. If 2022 first-round pick tackle Evan Neal can develop on the right side, the Giants could have an elite tackle tandem for a decade.


Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles list here could be 10 names long, and while Josh Sweat may appear to be a confusing choice from Philadelphia’s absolutely loaded defense, he’s the youngest stud on a unit that boasts a ton of veteran talent. Three NFL edge defenders earned run-defense and pass-rush grades above 80.0 in 2022: Nick Bosa, Maxx Crosby and Josh Sweat.

The reunion of two old friends in Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown led to immediate fireworks and a trip to the Super Bowl, and there’s no reason they can’t get back to the big game a few more times. Brown is one of three wide receivers to rank in the top 10 in receiving grade in each of the past three seasons, joining Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson. Meanwhile, Hurts silenced any remaining doubters with an 80.6 passing grade in 2022, which he capped off with an incredible Super Bowl performance outside of one tough play where he fumbled.


San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are absolutely loaded with building-block players on both sides of the ball, making this a tough decision. We’re taking a gamble with wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, as San Francisco can’t pay everyone.

Bosa and Warner have strong arguments as the best players at their respective positions across the NFL. Over the past three seasons, Warner’s 83.8 run-defense grade ranks fourth at the position and his 91.0 coverage grade ranks second. After tearing his ACL in 2020, Bosa responded with 165 pressures and 34 sacks over the past two seasons, ranking second and first among edge rushers, respectively.

Aiyuk is one of the best separators in the NFL and has impressive body control at the catch point to boot, charted as “open” or “wide open” on 55.8% of receiving snaps in 2022, a top-five mark among wide receivers. Deebo Samuel already received his top-of-market extension, as did tight end George Kittle, but San Francisco may have no choice but to pay all three starting in 2024.


Seattle Seahawks

Tariq Woolen somehow fell to the fifth round despite his 4.26-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine at 6-foot-4, and he immediately made a lot of teams regret passing on him by earning a 77.8 coverage grade with six interceptions last season. Now with fifth overall pick Devon Witherspoon set to join him, Seattle could have a truly scary secondary once again.

The Seahawks found both of their starting tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft. First-rounder Charles Cross and third-rounder Abraham Lucas both could be the foundation of the offensive line for years to come. Both players graded above 60.0 as pass blockers and run blockers in their rookie campaigns, and another year of growth could be huge for Geno Smith and this high-powered offense that also added wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. D.K. Metcalf’s rare combination of size and speed opens things up for a plethora of playmakers around him, with his 10 touchdowns on passes thrown 20-plus yards over the past three seasons the sixth most at the position.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What made the Tom Brady experience in Tampa go so well was the consistent infusion of top young talent, in addition to the many good players already in the fold. So, fortunately for the Buccaneers, they have players to build around. Tackle Tristan Wirfs is expected to slide over to the left side for 2023 after allowing the lowest pressure rate in the NFL in 2022, at 0.9% of pass-block reps. Wide receiver Chris Godwin regained form after a torn ACL suffered in 2021, posting his sixth straight season earning a receiving grade above 75.0 with five consecutive seasons dropping less than 5% of his targets.

While Vita Vea had a down year in 2022, earning the first sub-70.0 grade of his career, his presence on the interior will unlock 2023 first-rounder Calijah Kancey. They could be a potentially great duo of different skill sets (and sizes). It was tough to not include any of the three very talented secondary players in Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Antoine Winfield Jr. on this list, but all three deserve a mention here.


Washington Commanders

While Daron Payne received a gigantic and well-deserved extension this offseason, Jonathan Allen is still arguably the best player on this defensive line, earning his third consecutive pass-rush grade above 80.0. His 161 total pressures and 15.5% pass-rush win rate since 2020 both rank fourth among interior defenders.

Terry McLaurin has established himself as one of the best wide receivers in the game, earning a 77.0-plus receiving grade in four straight seasons, and has still yet to experience stability at the quarterback position. 2022 rookie Jahan Dotson displayed his crafty route-running ability and knack for finding the open field against zone coverage while also making a handful of acrobatic catches and hauling in a touchdown on 20% of his 35 receptions. The two could be a very tough combo to cover for opposing secondaries for years to come.

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