Next-generation 'pillar players'

Tabbing no-brainer franchise players and less-than-clear-cut cornerstones

Updated: December 9, 2013, 1:14 PM ET
By Bill Polian | ESPN Insider

Aldon Smith and Robert Griffin IIIGetty Images, AP PhotoAldon Smith and Robert Griffin III are two players to build around.

It's around this time of the season when front-office personnel turn their attention to the future. The script of the current season has largely been written, and it's time to plan ahead. Part of that process is identifying the players on your roster whom you can build around moving forward. In some instances, it's easy: No one would dispute that Luke Kuechly or A.J. Green or Andrew Luck is a key piece of the future for their teams. But for a few recent draft picks, the case is less clear. And we're seeing it play out to some degree in the nation's capital.

Robert Griffin III is a phenomenal quarterback. He and Luck topped my prospect rankings in their draft year of 2012, and they both delivered on their potential in their rookie seasons. But while Luck has continued to progress, Griffin has hit a roadblock -- namely his surgically repaired knee.

With the Redskins standing at 3-10 after Week 14, the blame game is in full swing. And there are some who would place it at Griffin's fleet feet. The decision Washington must make going forward is whether Griffin remains its quarterback of the future or whether his performance in 2013 is cause to move in another direction. It's a decision that could completely alter the future of this franchise.

While I'm not privy to the internal information, from afar, my experience tells me the choice is clear: The future lies with Griffin. In his brief time in the NFL, he's demonstrated many of the traits you want from a foundational player, and I believe he's absolutely worth building around.

Griffin's just one example of my "pillar players," or those who have progressed from prospects to franchise cornerstones. These players are pivotal to their team's success, and worthy of significant investments from their teams going forward.

I've included my no-brainer franchise players in the table below -- this list represents players on their first NFL contract, whom their teams either will build around or have already begun doing so -- followed by my list of the NFL's less-than-clear-cut cornerstones and my rationale for why they deserve that status, starting with Griffin.


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