I think this is a very interesting idea by ESPN, in that it gives insight into what you value most in NFL players, with also bringing into account age and career trajectory. The following would be the 10 players I would go with.
1. Aaron Donald, DT, Rams (28)
In my opinion, and also the opinion of the NFL top 100 list, Aaron Donald is the best player in football right now. In terms of stats, he racked up 20.5 sacks last year, a career high. In each of his 5 years in the league, he has gone to the Pro Bowl, and also been selected to First Team All-Pro for 4 of those years. He is probably the most disruptive players in the game, routinely being double-teamed, meaning that offenses have to gameplan their entire scheme on a week to week basis around him. For the next 3 years, I don’t think there’s a better player to have.
2. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs (23)
Mahomes had a historic first year as starting Chiefs QB, tossing 50 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions, and leading his team within minutes of an AFC conference championship. If he continues to grow as most young players do at his age, he is on track to have a Hall of Fame career. For the next 3 years, this is who I want running my offense.
3. Quenton Nelson, G, Colts (23)
With a QB like Mahomes, I want to make sure he is on the field as often as possible, and set him up with a solid offensive line. That’s why I went with Nelson here, the Colts first round pick in the 2018 draft had an unbelievable first year that saw him elected to First Team All-Pro. He is everything you can ask from an interior offensive lineman, with excellent pass blocking and run blocking. At his age as well, he will only continue to get better over the next few years, which will be scary for the rest of the league.
4. Tyron Smith, T, Cowboys (28)
Continuing with the theme from my previous pick, I will go with another offensive lineman here, and one of the most dominant tackles in the game right now with Tyron Smith. This 6’5 320-pound beast has made the Pro Bowl his last 6 seasons and is exactly who I’d want protecting Mahomes’ blindside. In addition to all this, he is a great veteran presence who will be one of the oldest players in this core 10.
5. Khalil Mack, DL, Bears (28)
The theme you probably see developing here is that I am building the core through my lines first. That continues with, for my money, the second best defensive player in the game in Khalil Mack. Like Donald, he is another player who is so disruptive on a week to week basis that offenses have to gameplan completely around him, which first of all doesn’t always work, but also, will free up teammates to make plays. Some of Mack’s best stats in the past couple years: 4 Pro Bowls and 3 First Team All-Pros in 5 seasons, 6 forced fumbles and 12.5 sacks in 2018, voted #3 player in football by fellow players in the 2018 NFL 100