B/R's NFL Re-Draft: Who Would Go in Round 1 If Every Player Were Available?
Let's take you to a parallel universe. Oranges are called apples, and apples are referred to as yemlins. The Kardashians are a regular, non-famous family. John Lithgow is president for some reason.
Oh, and an error in the collective bargaining agreement just voided every NFL contract, causing the league to hold a fresh draft that involves all 2,880 of its players.
If every team was forced to start from scratch with a leaguewide draft tomorrow, who goes first? Which non-quarterbacks are deemed good enough to be selected ahead of signal-callers in Round 1?
All of these first-round picks have to be capable of making a tremendous immediate impact, while those with long-term futures ahead of them are given extra credit. Let's mock it based on the original 2018 draft order, with all trades nullified.
(Hat tip to Michael Silver, then of Yahoo Sports, for hatching this idea about a decade ago.)
1. Cleveland Browns: QB Aaron Rodgers
Tom Brady might be the reigning MVP and the most accomplished player in NFL history, but he'll turn 41 in August. Early on, teams have to give more weight to elite quarterbacks who have at least several years ahead of them.
That's why I'd expect the Cleveland Browns to use the top pick on Aaron Rodgers, who is a two-time MVP, a Super Bowl champion, the highest-rated qualified passer in league history and still in his prime at the age of 34. The Browns can probably get a lot more seasons out of Rodgers than Brady, which gives him an edge.
2. New York Giants: QB Russell Wilson
The same logic applies to Russell Wilson, who is only 29 years old and coming off his fourth Pro Bowl season. The game's best dual-threat quarterback is an incredible improviser and a top-notch playmaker, and he was an MVP candidate while carrying a limping Seattle Seahawks team in 2017.
The New York Giants would have a tough time passing on Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson and Jared Goff, but Wilson is substantially younger than Brady and Brees, 39, and substantially more accomplished than Wentz, Watson and Goff (the first two of whom are coming back from major knee injuries).
3. Indianapolis Colts: QB Carson Wentz
Wentz might have been MVP had he not suffered that ACL tear in December against the Los Angeles Rams, and he's a decade-and-a-half younger than Brady.
He hasn't done enough yet to be picked ahead of Rodgers and Wilson in their primes. But the Indianapolis Colts wouldn't be able to justify going with Brady or Brees on their last legs, and Watson and Goff haven't shown quite as much early in their careers.
Wentz was super-clutch while winning 11 of 13 starts and posting a silly 33-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2017.
4. Houston Texans: QB Deshaun Watson
Before suffering a season-ending knee injury seven games into his rookie season, Watson was tied for the league lead with 19 touchdown passes while guiding a Houston Texans offense that scored 33-plus points in five straight outings. He was running away as the favorite for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and already performing like a potential MVP candidate.
Had Watson qualified, he'd have posted the third-highest passer rating in the NFL (103.0), and he was making a tremendous impact with his legs (269 rushing yards, two touchdowns).
If given the chance and with Rodgers and Wilson off the board, there's no way the Texans wouldn't take the 22-year-old again.
5. Denver Broncos: QB Jared Goff
The 2016 No. 1 overall pick turned into an elite franchise quarterback as a sophomore for the Rams, posting a 28-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, an average of 8.0 yards per attempt and a triple-digit passer rating (100.5) while running the league's highest-scoring offense at the age of 23.
The Denver Broncos will take that in the top five.
Goff and the four players mock-drafted ahead of him could be as good as Brady or Brees right now, which is why it wouldn't make sense to pass on any of them in favor of quarterbacks who are likely to decline and/or retire in the next few years.
6. New York Jets: QB Tom Brady
It would be tough for the first five teams to justify drafting the oldest position player in football with such an early pick, but the New York Jets wouldn't be able to resist. Brady is still Brady, a three-time MVP and five-time Super Bowl champion who doesn't appear to be slowing down after another dominant season with the New England Patriots.
Somebody in the top 10 would have to gamble that he can continue to beat Father Time until he's in his mid-40s, and the AFC East rival Jets make a lot of sense in the No. 6 spot. He's a no-brainer over the almost-as-old-but-less-accomplished Brees or potential one-year wonders like Matt Ryan, Cam Newton or Derek Carr.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Drew Brees
Brees hasn't lost a step either, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be happy to take him seventh overall and spend the next few seasons using him against the NFL South rival New Orleans Saints. But you know he'd have that team in contention every year.
The man posted the highest qualified completion percentage (72.0) in NFL history last season while leading the league with an average of 8.1 passing yards per attempt.
Every other quarterback available would have to overcome hurdles in order to become as effective or accomplished as Brees, who is a Super Bowl champ, an 11-time Pro Bowler and a two-time Offensive Player of the Year.
8. Chicago Bears: QB Derek Carr
Carr might have gone higher than this a year ago, but the 2016 MVP candidate has to prove that wasn't an aberrational season after he slumped for much of the 2017 campaign with the Oakland Raiders.
He still made the Pro Bowl, however, and there's plenty of room for growth in his age-27 season, especially if he can stay healthy this time around. So while the 2014 second-round pick hasn't accomplished as much as Ryan, Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers or Matthew Stafford—all of whom remain available—upside gives him an edge for the Chicago Bears, as those four quarterbacks all face questions.
9. San Francisco 49ers: QB Matt Ryan
Ryan is the highest-paid player in NFL history for a reason, and the San Francisco 49ers would probably be thrilled to land an MVP-winning quarterback ninth overall. But he also has to prove that his incredible 2016 season wasn't an anomaly because he came back to earth when his numbers plummeted in 2017.
On the bright side, he's likely still in his prime at age 33, and we're talking about a four-time Pro Bowler who hasn't missed a start since 2009. He's accomplished quite a lot while having enough gas in the tank to merit being a top-10 selection.
10. Oakland Raiders: QB Cam Newton
Newton is in a similar situation. He was crowned MVP in 2015 as he led the Carolina Panthers to a Super Bowl but has since struggled with the two worst statistical seasons of his career. That has to caution teams early in this fictional draft, but the Oakland Raiders would be pushing it by letting him slip out of the top 10.
After all, Newton is a 29-year-old three-time Pro Bowler who still has a ridiculously high ceiling based on his physical abilities. You also can't look past the fact that he's rushed for 54 touchdowns in his seven-year career (only three running backs have more this decade), and he's coming off a season in which he rushed for a career-high 754 yards.
11. Miami Dolphins: QB Matthew Stafford
Stafford has yet to lead the Detroit Lions to a playoff victory, but the Miami Dolphins would probably give him a shot in South Florida. The top pick of the 2009 draft is only 30 years old, and he's coming off the highest-rated passing season of his career.
Even though his resume lacks team-related accomplishments (he's lost five more games than he's won) and Pro Bowls (he's been named to just one), Stafford has steadily improved while playing every contest since the start of 2011.
It's possible he's about to take the next step, which is why he won't drop far beyond the top 10.
12. Cincinnati Bengals: QB Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben is probably going to the Hall of Fame, but he's 36, he's publicly flirted with retirement in recent years and it's fair to wonder how much gas is left in his tank. He hasn't made it through a complete season since 2014, and his numbers have slipped in recent campaigns as his mistakes have increased.
Everybody listed above except Brady and Brees has a lot more upside, but Big Ben can't drop much lower than this because he remains one of the top gunslingers in football, and he has a pair of Super Bowl victories under his belt.
For what it's worth, he has said he wants to play three more years, and the Cincinnati Bengals are assuming he honors that promise by making this selection. Three more seasons out of a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback with Roethlisberger's skill set and accomplishments might be better than (possibly) getting 10 years out of the less-accomplished players below him.
13. Washington Redskins: QB Philip Rivers
Rivers is quietly coming off a strong season in which he threw just 10 interceptions while averaging a stellar 7.9 yards per attempt. His 96.0 passer rating was his best since 2013, and he found himself in the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year.
He'll turn 37 in December, but the Washington Redskins would probably give him a shot here over quarterbacks facing bigger questions such as Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo and Marcus Mariota.
14. Green Bay Packers: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
If Garoppolo was able to do enough in seven career starts to earn a five-year, $137.5 million deal from the 49ers, he's probably done enough to be picked in the top half of the first round of this make-believe draft.
The 26-year-old former Tom Brady disciple won all seven of those starts, and his small-sample career numbers—67.3 completion percentage, 12 touchdowns to five picks, 8.3 yards-per-attempt average, 99.7 rating—are fantastic. It's apparent that he has something special going on, and somebody like the Green Bay Packers would surely recognize that.
15. Arizona Cardinals: QB Kirk Cousins
The 29-year-old struck free-agency gold this offseason after delivering big numbers in three consecutive years as a full-time starter in Washington. He led the league with a 69.8 completion percentage while posting a triple-digit passer rating (101.6) in 2015, he made the Pro Bowl in 2016, and he hit the 4,000-yard mark for a third straight season in 2017.
Cousins was never able to get double-digit wins out of a talented Redskins team, though, and his key rate-based numbers have dropped in back-to-back seasons. It's possible he's peaked, which is why he's a risky enough selection to drop to the Arizona Cardinals in the middle of Round 1.
16. Baltimore Ravens: QB Dak Prescott
There has to be some level of concern that Prescott came back to earth permanently when he experienced a sophomore slump in 2017, but the fact is that he's a year removed from the highest-rated rookie passing season in NFL history.
The soon-to-be 25-year-old was a Pro Bowler and the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016, and it's possible his struggles in Year 2 had to do with a lack of support in the Dallas offense. He hasn't done enough for a team to select him much earlier than this, but he looks as though he can become another Russell Wilson.
It's doubtful the Baltimore Ravens will pass on that.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: QB Marcus Mariota
Like Prescott, Mariota likely would have gone off the board earlier a year ago. But he lacked consistency and failed to take a step forward in what many expected would be a breakout third season with the Tennessee Titans.
It's fair to wonder if he lacks the durability and/or arm talent to become a superstar, but we're still talking about a talented dual threat who put up superb numbers during his first two seasons. Turning 25 in October, he wouldn't slide out of this wild initial run on quarterbacks. And the Los Angeles Chargers would be a nice fit because they need a young franchise quarterback as they try to win over football fans in their new home city. Plus, you can't get much closer to Mariota's home state of Hawaii.
18. Seattle Seahawks: QB Andrew Luck
This is a gamble, but it's one worth taking this deep in Round 1, with more than half of the league's projected starting quarterbacks off the board.
Luck missed the entire 2017 season while recovering from surgery on a balky shoulder than also slowed him down in 2015 and 2016. But he won't turn 29 until September, he was still a Pro Bowler in each of his first three seasons after the Indianapolis Colts selected him and he posted a career-best completion percentage of 63.5 in 2016. And he's still Andrew freakin' Luck.
With their diamond in the rough from the 2012 draft long gone, the Seahawks would probably bite on the top pick from that draft and hope he's finally healthy again.
19. Dallas Cowboys: DT Aaron Donald
Leave it to the Dallas Cowboys to buck the run on quarterbacks and draft the best non-passer. And look for a new run to begin with the selection of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
Teams would probably determine at this point that the difference between, say, Alex Smith and Blake Bortles isn't that significant if they can land a top player at another position. And there's no doubt the Rams pass-rusher would be the first non-quarterback to go off the board.
The 27-year-old has been a Pro Bowler in all four of his pro seasons and a first-team All-Pro in each of the last three. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best player in the NFL in 2017.
It's impossible to be a Hall of Fame shoo-in with just four seasons under your belt, but Donald is as close as you'll get this early. He's surely got a decade of dominance ahead of him.
20. Detroit Lions: DE Joey Bosa
After Dallas' selection of Donald, it wouldn't be surprising if 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack or three-time first-team All-Pro Von Miller went here. But instead, it's Joey Bosa, who has a little more upside as a No. 3 overall pick coming off a Pro Bowl sophomore season.
This offseason, Pro Football Focus ranked the former Ohio State star as the best player below the age of 25, which makes sense considering that he's compiled 23 sacks in just 28 games. The Lions couldn't let the soon-to-be 23-year-old drop out of the top 20, especially with Mack and Miller facing some fair questions.
21. Buffalo Bills: DE Khalil Mack
The Buffalo Bills should have drafted Mack when they moved up to the No. 4 spot in the 2014 draft. But this is their chance to make up for the decision to go with Sammy Watkins one spot before the Raiders took Mack, who at the age of 27 has already been to three Pro Bowls while receiving a pair of first-team All-Pro honors.
The reason he's a spot behind Bosa is his sack totals have dropped in back-to-back years, and he's coming off a down season in general. But the best is probably yet to come.
22. Kansas City Chiefs: LB Von Miller
Miller recorded the lowest sack total (10) of his career last season, not including the 2013 campaign in which he played just nine games. But he still made the Pro Bowl for the sixth time in his seven-year career, and PFF graded him as the 10th-best player in the league.
And there is no disputing that Miller is one of the best all-around players. He should bounce back after everyone seemed to struggle in Denver in 2017, and he'd make a hell of a centerpiece for the Kansas City Chiefs at linebacker. Still, he lingered this long because at 29 years old, he may be losing a bit of steam.
23. Los Angeles Rams: RB Todd Gurley
At this point, teams would be targeting the remaining superstar-level playmakers at positions other than quarterback because they'd be better off landing one of the best running backs or wide receivers than the 19th- or 20th-best signal-caller.
Fittingly, that gives the Rams running back Todd Gurley, who was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 and the Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 with the franchise. Still just 23, he led the league with 2,093 scrimmage yards and 19 touchdowns last year. Put it all together, and it's enough to qualify as one of the 25 most valuable players in pro football.
24. Carolina Panthers: RB Le'Veon Bell
Since the start of 2016, running back Le'Veon Bell has compiled a league-high 3,830 scrimmage yards. No other player is within 500 yards of that total, despite the fact that Bell missed five games during that stretch. He joined Gurley as a first-team All-Pro in 2017 and is widely considered the best all-around back in the NFL.
The only reason Bell falls to the Carolina Panthers in the No. 24 spot? He's two-and-a-half years older than Gurley, and he already has more than 1,200 carries under his belt. At the position with the shortest shelf life in football, that has to be a factor.
25. Tennessee Titans: RB Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott ranks third on the 2016-17 scrimmage-yards list despite missing seven games during that span. The running back, who turns 23 years old at the end of the month, led the league in rushing as a rookie in 2016 before ranking first with 98.3 rushing yards per game during a suspension-derailed sophomore campaign.
Elliott's yards-per-attempt average plummeted by an entire yard last season, so he slides below Gurley and Bell because he has to prove that 2017 was a slump stemming in part from that six-game ban. He's less of a sure thing but might have a higher ceiling than both of the backs selected ahead of him.
26. Atlanta Falcons: WR Antonio Brown
This offseason, wide receiver Antonio Brown's peers voted him the league's second-best player. So plenty of you would probably have him off the board by now, and that's fair because he has been dominant. He is coming off his fourth consecutive first-team All-Pro season, and he's caught at least 100 passes for more than 1,200 yards and a minimum of eight touchdowns in five straight dazzling years.
That's enough to make him the top receiver in this mock draft, but it's also fair to wonder if, like Bell, he could soon begin to slow down, as he turns 30 years old next week. And top-end backs and receivers don't typically put teams over the top these days, so it's tough to justify drafting one super-early if he isn't in his early or mid-20s.
27. New Orleans Saints: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is in his mid-20s, and three 90-plus-catch, 1,300-plus-yard, 10-touchdown seasons in a row to start his career are enough for OBJ to be a first-round pick here.
But Beckham still hasn't been a first-team All-Pro, he's coming off a lost season due to an ankle injury and it's fair to be at least a little concerned about his past behavior. That's why the 25-year-old stud remains a spot below Brown.
The New Orleans Saints will gladly grab the LSU product and Louisiana native in this spot.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Julio Jones
And then there's Julio Jones, who has done more than Beckham but less than Brown and is closer to Brown's age. His All-Pro 2015 season (136 catches, 1,871 yards, eight touchdowns) was one of the best for a receiver in NFL history, and he followed that up with another All-Pro campaign in 2016.
But the 29-year-old saw his rate-based numbers fall off a bit during a tough 2017 season in which he scored just three touchdowns. And it's a bit concerning that he has just 25 touchdowns over the last five years.
The Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't let him escape after seeing Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell go off the board, but on the brink of his 30s (birthday in February), Jones is a small step behind the handful of offensive stars who were chosen ahead of him.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Jalen Ramsey
Jalen Ramsey could have gone to the Steelers, but you get the feeling Pittsburgh would prefer a more established offensive playmaker to compensate partially for the loss of Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown. Besides, it's more fitting for the best young defensive back to wind up on his real-world team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Ramsey was a first-team All-Pro as a 23-year-old sophomore in 2017, and the numbers—four picks, 17 passes defensed and, according to PFF, an opposing passer rating of 63.9—indicate he's only going to get better. He's become a shutdown corner out wide, and PFF ranked him as the second-best player under the age of 25.
Put it all together, and the he is the only defensive back worthy of first-round status here.
30. Minnesota Vikings: QB Patrick Mahomes
The last 11 selections have been superstar non-quarterbacks. And while there are a few game-changing players still on the board, we may have reached a point where teams wonder if it's worth passing on a non-elite passer. The remaining game-changers—Luke Kuechly, Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, Rob Gronkowski, to name a handful—all come with some legitimate concerns, which we'll elaborate on later.
So let's give the Minnesota Vikings a quarterback who has thrown 35 passes in his NFL career.
Yup, that's how valuable signal-callers are these days, and Patrick Mahomes did just enough as a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs to merit this. The No. 10 overall pick in 2017 was lights-out in his first preseason game before performing well in his only regular-season appearance, a Week 17 victory over the Broncos. The 22-year-old has incredible arm talent and potential, and he should have a huge career ahead of him.
31. New England Patriots: QB Alex Smith
The New England Patriots go a less risky route with Alex Smith, Mahomes' predecessor in Kansas City. A team knows what it's getting with Smith, whose ceiling is much lower than most of the other players in this mock draft, but we're still talking about the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 and the league's highest-rated passer last season.
He's as efficient and reliable as almost any quarterback in the NFL, and the late bloomer appears to have plenty of gas left at the age of 34. You know head coach Bill Belichick would take advantage of those traits and try to prove that Smith's lack of playoff success had more to do with his supporting casts than the signal-caller himself.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: QB Nick Foles
That's right—the defending Super Bowl champions are so secure with their 2017 quarterbacks that they'd use a first-round pick on their backup, Nick Foles.
Of course, Foles is no ordinary backup. The man is a Super Bowl MVP with a Pro Bowl nod and the third-highest-rated passing season in NFL history on his resume. And he's still on the right side of 30.
Other teams might have gone with Case Keenum, but it's possible he was a hit-year wonder in Minnesota last year. Jameis Winston is dealing with off-field issues. Mitchell Trubisky and Blake Bortles have too much to prove.
At this point, Foles looks like a more sensible choice than all of those dudes, plus Ryan Tannehill (coming off a lost season due to an ACL tear), Eli Manning (fading), Joe Flacco (fading faster) and Andy Dalton (peaked three years ago).
Why didn't [fill in the blank] make the first-round cut? A few explanations...
TE Rob Gronkowski: You can't flirt with retirement and be a first-round pick for a team rebooting its entire roster, especially if you're not a quarterback.
DE J.J. Watt: The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has too many injury concerns for a player who has missed all but eight games over the last two years and is on the verge of turning 30.
LB Luke Kuechly: The 27-year-old linebacker has too many concussion concerns, with three big ones in the last three seasons.
QB Jameis Winston: The top pick of the 2015 draft has encountered too many issues on and off the field.
LB Chandler Jones: The 2017 sack leader needs to follow up that breakout season with one more biggie in order to prove it wasn't a fluke.
WR DeAndre Hopkins: Like Jones, Hopkins is coming off a massive year but wasn't consistent enough during his first four seasons. His career catch rate of 56.2 percent is also weak.