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Top 10 players from 2012 NFL Draft class: Russell Wilson ranks No. 2

NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2022" -- voted on by the players themselves -- kicked off on Sunday, Aug. 14. Players ranked 100-51 were revealed Sunday over the course of five hours, with each one-hour episode unveiling a new set of 10 honorees. Two notable stars from the 2012 NFL Draft class, quarterback Russell Wilson and defensive end Chandler Jones, were revealed in Episode 4 (Nos. 70-61) at Nos. 61 and 62, respectively. With that in mind, NFL Network analyst Marc Ross provides his ranking of the top 10 players from that year's crop of rookies, taking into account everything that's happened between that year's draft and today.

Harrison Smith
Minnesota Vikings · FS

Drafted: Round 1, No. 29 overall by the Minnesota Vikings

Smith has been a huge leader in the back end of Minnesota's defense for the last decade. The six-time Pro Bowler is the epitome of consistency and the prototypical playmaker any team wants at the safety position. He doesn't always receive the recognition given to other, flashier guys, but Smith is the only player in the league with at least 25 interceptions and 15 sacks since 2012.

Chandler Jones
Las Vegas Raiders · DE

Drafted: Round 1, No. 21 overall by the New England Patriots

Jones should've been a top-10 pick, in hindsight. He's made an impact in both of his previous career stops (New England and Arizona) as a dynamic pass rusher and against the run. In the last 10 seasons, Jones has more sacks than any other player -- just edging out Cam Jordan (106) and Von Miller (104) with 107.5. The two-time All-Pro helped the Pats win Super Bowl XLIX. Now playing opposite Maxx Crosby in Las Vegas, Jones has an opportunity to build on his legacy.

David DeCastro
G · Free agent

Drafted: Round 1, No. 24 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers

DeCastro had his third ankle surgery last summer and hasn't played an NFL snap since the 2020 season. At 32 years old, it's unlikely he'll take the field again now, but the longtime Steelers guard was one of the best in the league at his position when healthy. In nine seasons with Pittsburgh, DeCastro made six Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro three times. He also helped the Steelers' offense log five top-10 overall finishes in that span, while boosting Ben Roethlisberger's Hall of Fame career. The Steelers' O-line and offense at large haven't been the same since mainstays like DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva and Maurkice Pouncey left.

Stephon Gilmore
Indianapolis Colts · CB

Drafted: Round 1, No. 10 overall by the Buffalo Bills

Gilmore was a solid player in Buffalo, but he lifted his play to another level after joining the Patriots in 2017, ultimately winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. That season, Gilmore led the league in interceptions (six, tied) and passes defensed (20). A special player in coverage, Gilmore has been selected to five Pro Bowls in the last six years. He's coming off a down season, in which he was traded from New England to Carolina, then played in just eight games due to a quad injury, but he has a chance to bounce back in his first year with the Colts, who signed him in an effort to improve their shaky pass defense. Gilmore still has the tools to be a top-tier corner if he can stay healthy, but what he's accomplished to this point is why he lands at No. 7.

Fletcher Cox
Philadelphia Eagles · DT

Drafted: Round 1, No. 12 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles

Cox, who earned Pro Football Focus' third-best defensive grade among interior D-linemen between 2014 and 2019, has been a disruptive force in the middle of the Eagles' defensive line since he was drafted. His production took a step back last season -- he missed out on a Pro Bowl nod for the first time since 2014 -- but his consistency and availability deserve recognition here. That's not to mention Cox's role in helping the Eagles win the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl. He's held down the defensive tackle position in Philly for a decade and is now tasked with teaching rookie Jordan Davis the ropes.

Justin Tucker
Baltimore Ravens · K

Drafted: Undrafted

Of the players on this list, Tucker is the most dominant at his position right now. He owns a career field-goal conversion rate of 91.1 percent, is both a five-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler, and he set the NFL's record for the longest converted field goal just last season. An undrafted player who's determined to be a Raven for life after signing a four-year extension earlier this week, the 32-year-old Tucker is in the conversation for best ever, with guys like Adam Vinatieri and Morten Andersen.

Bobby Wagner
Los Angeles Rams · MLB

Drafted: Round 2, No. 47 overall by the Seattle Seahawks

Wagner has been one of the best linebackers of the decade. He was a key part of the Seahawks defense that dominated Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, and he remained the center of that unit until this offseason, when he was released by Seattle and signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Rams. Wagner, whose 1,377 tackles are the most in the league since 2012, has eight Pro Bowl nods and six first-time All-Pro selections. He's also led the NFL in tackles twice in his career (2016, 2019). His legacy continues to grow, and honestly, I could've gone either way with the No. 3 spot, where Wagner was edged out by a player who made a strikingly similar impact at the position.

Luke Kuechly
ILB · Retired

Drafted: Round 1, No. 9 overall by the Carolina Panthers

Kuechly left the game when he was among the best players in the NFL. Retiring in January of 2020 after eight years in Carolina, he made a profound impact on the defense. Kuechly was a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro, as well as the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. At the time of his retirement, he had the most tackles in the NFL since 2012, with 1,092. Kuechly was arguably the best off-ball linebacker in the NFL for much of his career and a huge reason for the Panthers' success (four trips to the playoffs, including one to the Super Bowl) in the mid-2010s.

Russell Wilson
Denver Broncos · QB

Drafted: Round 3, No. 75 overall by the Seattle Seahawks

Wilson is one of the top quarterbacks of his era. The nine-time Pro Bowler has 104 QB wins (second-most in the NFL since 2012, behind Tom Brady) and 292 touchdown passes (third in that span, behind Brady and Aaron Rodgers) to his name. So why is he in second place on this list, surpassed by a player who is no longer in the league? Well, we can't let Wilson's recent ascension to the upper echelon of QBs make us forget that, in the earlier portion of his career, he played second or third fiddle to Seattle's dominant defense and run game. In each of Wilson's first four NFL seasons, the Seahawks recorded more rush attempts than passes (to his credit, many of those runs were Wilson's), while the defense finished no worse than fourth in yards allowed, serving as the catalyst in the franchise's first Super Bowl win. He became the focal point in Seattle in the past few seasons, a role he will undoubtedly play in Denver, where he has a prime opportunity to cement his legacy. If the 33-year-old can win another ring or capture an MVP award in this chapter of his career, he could move definitively ahead in the Wilson-Andrew Luck conversation. I'm looking forward to revisiting this one down the line. 

Andrew Luck
QB · Retired

Drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts

Luck was everything the Colts wanted with the first overall pick -- especially as the successor to eventual first-ballot Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Luck was likely well on his way to a Hall of Fame career of his own when he abruptly retired ahead of the 2019 NFL season at 29 years old. The four-time Pro Bowler took the Colts to the playoffs in four of the six seasons in which he played, including an AFC title game appearance in 2014. (He missed the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury, then won Comeback Player of the Year in 2018.) He ranks in the top three in NFL history in passing touchdowns (171, second) and passing yards (23,671, third) in a player's first six seasons. Unlike Wilson in Seattle, Luck had to largely do it all himself, with the Colts' defense ranking 20th or worse in four of the seasons he played in, while the ground game never ranked better than 18th. Despite the brevity of his career, Luck's impact all while battling injuries is the reason he's No 1 here. Heck, Indy is still trying to find his permanent replacement, with Matt Ryan being the latest in a string of starters that included Jacoby Brissett in 2019, Philip Rivers in 2020 and Carson Wentz in 2021. As I mentioned when discussing Wilson, the new Broncos' QB could supplant Luck here in the future -- but to my eyes, that hasn't happened yet.

Follow Marc Ross on Twitter.

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