The breakout 'blues'

J.J. Watt has proved to be the epitome of a franchise player in 2012. George Bridges/MCT/Getty Images

When it comes to building a team in the NFL, the salary cap makes it pivotally important to properly identify the players who will serve as the backbone of your franchise. Those are the players you build around, the ones you can depend on to turn in an outstanding season year after year. We call those players "blues."

You can think of it as front-office shorthand for blue chip if you'd like, but the term and the color-coded player grading system was first developed by former NFL superscout Mike Giddings. Blues are the top-of-the-line players, while reds are a step down -- the good-but-not-great guys with whom you try to plug some holes. But blues are the cornerstones.

Blues have the physical and mental characteristics that enable them to win one-on-one matchups and excel at their position. The specifics vary by position, but generally blues will flaunt speed, size, athleticism, quickness and explosiveness. It's hard to be a blue without those qualities, but one notable exception is at quarterback where you can overcome some physical shortcomings with mental acuity, guile and arm accuracy.

As you're evaluating your roster before, during and after every season, it's essential that you can correctly identify your blues and lock them up. The salary cap makes it almost impossible to keep all the players you'd like, so you need to be able to judge talent properly and make the right call and identify those blues as soon as they emerge.

Looking at the first weeks of the 2012 NFL season, I've already seen over a dozen players emerge to the point of earning that coveted status. In no particular order, here's my list of breakout blues.

1.) J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

This is an obvious one. Watt is the rarest of football commodities, after a franchise quarterback: a pass-rushing inside defensive lineman. Moreover, in an era when sub packages are more and more common, Watt is a three-down player. His versatility against the run or disrupting the pass -- whether by batting down balls or quarterbacks -- is a tremendous asset. That's really all there is to say. Watt has everything you could possibly want, including a nasty on-field temperament.