My 12 foundational NFL players

Andrew Luck and Luke Kuechly are both terrific young players for the Colts and Panthers, respectively. US Presswire

Twelve blue-chip players. When we'd do research as a front office and try to determine what level of talent you needed to build a true Super Bowl contender, we'd end up at that number. There can be a debate about what a "blue chip" talent looks like, but to me, there's no debate about how much of it you need. And if you had the ability to pick any 12 current players to build the ultimate NFL roster, a team built to win for a while, which players would you choose? That's precisely what I've done below, identifying the 12 players I believe would provide the strongest foundation for both immediate and future success.

In a month dedicated to fantasy football drafts, you could consider this a "fantasy" draft for a real NFL GM.

In making these evaluations, I didn't simply select the best players in the NFL today. I wanted players who have much of their careers ahead of them so we could maximize the production we receive from them over the long term. To that end, I avoided players over age 26 in most cases, simply because we want to enjoy the most productive seasons of their careers. I also avoided players with any significant injury issues. If you're going to rely on a player to be a pillar of your organization, he needs to be available to carry the load.

As you'll see from these personnel decisions, I crafted this roster with the intent of building:

1. Dynamic offense that create matchup problems

2. Scheme-versatile defense that can be mobilized in an array of different packages.

Looking at these dozen selections -- six on offense and six on defense -- our coaching staff is going to have a lot of options.

With only 12 players, I obviously don't have enough to make a full lineup, so you'll get a sense of how much I value not only these players, but also the positions they fill. Of course, there's no disputing that the most important of all these roles is the quarterback, and that is the first slot filled.


Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

I could have gone with Robert Griffin III here -- during their draft season, I actually had them graded the same -- but the injury history is enough of a red flag that I leaned to Luck. When all is said and done, RG III might be the single greatest mobile quarterback we've ever seen in the NFL. But the history of the league suggests that Griffin's career, or ability to utilize his running skills, could be shorter. So you're left with a quandary: Do you want a guy who will likely give you 10 good seasons working under center, or do you want an electrifying performer who can be dazzling but -- based on the odds -- will likely have a shorter career? Picking between these two talented quarterbacks was one of the hardest decisions I had to make for this roster. On this team, I'm playing the percentages, though, and we will get all we need from Luck. The numbers he put up as a rookie -- 4,374 yards and 23 TDs on a 54.1 percent completion rate -- are only going to improve.