17. Cleveland Browns – Dak Prescott, QB
Prescott is far from a sure thing, but there’s no way the Browns would pass on one of the few remaining quarterbacks you could spend the next decade building around. For a quarterback who’s been to two Pro Bowls in his first three seasons, there are a lot of lingering questions about Prescott, which is why he’s dropped to this point in the draft.
For starters, he’s struggled when he’s been forced to be a drop-back quarterback. Also, one could argue he’s benefited from having Elliott and a good offensive line to help him, not to mention the arrival of Amari Cooper in 2018. On the other hand, he’s young, mobile, and has won games, so there’s no way he would drop much lower than no. 17 if every player were available.
18. Minnesota Vikings – Khalil Mack, LB
As the quarterback options dwindle, the Vikings will decide to go defense and build around Mack. The fact that he has five years under his belt causes Mack to drop a little compared to younger pass rushers. But there’s no question he’s a top-20 pick in this hypothetical draft.
Mack has been a Pro Bowler every year but his rookie season and a First-Team All-Pro selection three times in five years. He helped transform Chicago’s defense in 2018 and he would surely do the same for the Vikings in this made-up scenario.
19. Tennessee Titans – J.J. Watt, DE
It feels like Watt is old because he missed significant time in 2016 and 2017 due to injury. But he’s only 30 and proved in 2018 that he still has a lot left in the tank. With 16 sacks last season, Watt is still one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL.
In addition to being a great player, Watt is a great person and leader. For a team starting from scratch, he’s the perfect face of the franchise. He would be someone the Titans could build around both on and off the field, setting the foundation for future success in more ways than one.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger, QB
Well, what do you know? It looks like Roethlisberger is going to end up back with the Steelers after all of this crazy, hypothetical shuffling. In terms of past accomplishments, not too many current quarterbacks can match what Roethlisberger is done. But this draft is all about what you can do for me in the future, which is why he drops to no. 20 overall.
At age 37, Roethlisberger is running out of gas. Despite leading the NFL in passing yards in 2018, he also led the league in attempts and interceptions. He’s not as mobile as he used to be and his body has taken a lot of hits over the years. It’s possible that he only has two or three more good years in him, which isn’t a lot but it’s just enough.
21. Seattle Seahawks – Darius Leonard, LB
Is it jumping the gun a little to take Leonard 21st overall with the whole league available? Maybe. But he had a phenomenal rookie season for the Colts in 2018, and despite a little bit of risk, he seems like a player you can bet on sticking around for a long time.
After leading the NFL in tackles and being a First-Team All-Pro selection as a rookie, Leonard is someone you can build a defense around. He turned 24 at the start of training camp, so outside of Joey Bosa, he’s the youngest defensive player in the league who makes such a massive impact on that side of the ball.
22. Baltimore Ravens – Alvin Kamara, RB
There’s a fair amount of projection that comes with the Ravens taking Kamara 22nd overall. Right now, he’s a level below players like Barkley and Elliott. But he’s just as young, only turning 24 at the start of training camp, and has already made the Pro Bowl twice in two seasons.
The only reason for pause with Kamara is that he’s benefited from sharing time with Mark Ingram in his first two seasons. There’s little doubt that Barkley and Elliott can be workhorse backs while the jury is still out on Kamara. That’s why he falls a little, but his abilities as a rusher, receiver, and returner give him too much upside to drop any further than no. 22.
23. Houston Texans – Odell Beckham Jr., WR
In this kind of draft, it’s difficult to justify taking a wide receiver too soon. But Beckham surely qualifies as an exception. If you forget the past two seasons and just focus on what he did during his first three seasons in the league, it’s a no-brainer for the Texans to take him at this spot.
For starters, Beckham can electrify any crowd, which does count for something. He can also make plays that no almost no other receiver can make while making just about any quarterback look good. He’s also 26, which is younger than most of the elite receivers in the league, giving him more good years ahead of him than some other options.
24. Chicago Bears – Chandler Jones, LB
Is there a more underrated pass rusher in the NFL than Jones? Fortunately for the Bears, they’re smart enough not to let him slip through their fingers. People have forgotten about him a little, but Jones is definitely good enough to build a defense around.
At 29, his age works against him a little. But Jones is just two years removed from leading the NFL with 17 sacks. He’s also versatile enough to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, making him a somewhat boring but sound selection 24th overall.
25. Philadelphia Eagles – Von Miller, LB
In a year or two, Miller may be too old to be selected in such a draft, but he’s still good enough to build a defense around. He may be 30, but he’s been a Pro Bowler in five consecutive seasons. He’s also one of the most feared pass rushers in the game and should continue to be so for a few more seasons.
Even with opposing offensive lines scheming to stop him, Miller managed 14.5 sacks in 2018, and that was on a team that was usually playing from behind. He makes everyone else on the field better because of the attention he draws, which is why he’s still worthy of a 1st round pick in a complete re-draft.
26. Indianapolis Colts – Michael Thomas, WR
After leading the NFL in receptions in 28, Thomas is capable of being a franchise-starter. Obviously, he’s benefited from playing with a Hall of Famer at quarterback in Drew Brees. But few wide receivers average more than 1,200 yards receiving over their first three seasons in the league.
Admittedly, it’s a little bit of a stretch to make a wide receiver a franchise-starter because their performance is dependent on other factors. However, Thomas is worth the risk because of the way he’s taken the league by storm. He’s also a few months younger than Beckham, meaning he has many good years ahead of him, which is why he makes sense at this point in the draft.
27. Dallas Cowboys – Drew Brees, QB
Jerry Jones seems like the kind of guy to put all of his eggs in one basket, right? Good, because that’s what the Cowboys are doing by taking Brees in the 1st Round. He’s rolling the dice on Brees being able to bring a Super Bowl to Dallas.
Brees proved in 2018 that can still play at a high level and lead his team to the verge of a Super Bowl. The only problem is that he may only play one more season, so you can’t really build around him. This is all about betting that you can immediately put together a team that’s good enough to win a Super Bowl right now with Brees at quarterback.
28. Los Angeles Chargers – Todd Gurley, RB
A year ago, Gurley probably would have been the first non-quarterback taken in a draft like this. He likely would have been a top-10, possibly top-5 pick. Obviously, that’s no longer the case given the questions about the health of his knees.
Despite concerns that his knee issues will prove to be a long-term issue that prevents him from regaining the form he had early in his career, he’s still a 1st-round pick. When we get to the 28th pick in the re-draft, the risk-reward gets to a point that a team like the Chargers has to roll the dice on Gurley and hope that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
29. Kansas City Chiefs – Le’Veon Bell, RB
The fact that Bell sat out all of 2018 isn’t much of a concern for a draft like this. Even if he has a little bit of rust to shake off, there’s every reason to think that Bell will continue to be one of the most impactful running backs in the NFL in 2019.
The issue with Bell is that he’s 27, which is close to the age when running backs start to see diminishing returns on their productivity. In a way, taking a year off may actually help him by saving some of the wear and tear on his body. However, long-term Bell isn’t as valuable as guys like Barkley, Elliott, and Kamara.
30. New Orleans Saints – Antonio Brown, WR
Just because Brown is now the highest-paid receiver in the league doesn’t mean he’s the best wide receiver to take in this draft. That being said, Brown is too dynamic of a playmaker not to be selected in the 1st Round, so the Saints will take a chance on him 30th overall.
It’s hard to believe, but Brown is already 31 years old. He’s also a little on the smaller side, so there’s no guarantee his body will hold up as well when he keeps taking hits into his 30s. But if you’ve watched him play recently, you know that he can do things few receivers can.
31. Los Angeles Rams – Cam Newton, QB
Newton is another player whose stock has taken a serious hit over the last year. His shoulder seriously hindered him in 2018 and there’s no guarantee he’ll ever have the same kind of arm strength again. He also turned 30 earlier this year, so he will have to gradually reduce how much running he can do, which hurts his value.
That being said, he’ll be worth the risk for the Rams with the 31st overall pick. If Newton comes back healthy after last season, he’s still better than most of the quarterbacks in the NFL and should have a handful of good years left. That’ll be enough to take him late in the 1st Round.
32. New England Patriots – Luke Kuechly, LB
The 1st Round of our fictitious draft ends with Kuechly being selected to anchor the New England defense. At this point, Kuechly is probably the most consistent and reliable player available, so he should fit in with the Patriots.
While not overly flashy, Kuechly is still considered one of the best linebackers in the game. As a middle linebacker, the Patriots can literally build their defense around him. Kuechly not only provides steady play but also great leadership. Also, he’s missed just 10 games in seven seasons, so he’s a durable player, and at age 28, he’s still in his prime and should be around for many years to come.
Who Missed the Cut?
With a draft like this, there are three types of players selected right off the bat: quarterbacks, offensive skill players, and defensive players. Sorry, kickers, tight ends, and offensive linemen, but you’re just not valued as highly when it comes building a roster from the group up.
Let’s take a look at a few of the near-misses in each category, as these players will have to settle for being 2nd-round picks in our fictional re-drafting.
Even in a quarterback-centric league, there are plenty of quarterbacks who aren’t worth the risk of a 1st-round pick in a draft like this. The likes of Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Jameis Winston would fall into this category. All three are no doubt talented, but they’ve yet to prove that they can win on enough of a consistent basis to make teams want to start from scratch with them as the centerpiece.
Meanwhile, young quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray aren’t yet established. In a year or two, all could be capable of being on a list like this, but there’s not enough of a track record to make that leap right now.
Noticeably missing from this re-draft were several of the top wide receivers in the NFL. Players like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, and Tyreek Hill are the most notable absentees. The biggest thing keeping them off this list is their age.
Both Jones and Green are on the wrong side of 30, and Green’s recent injuries don’t help. Hopkins is 27 and probably would have been the next skill player selected. Meanwhile, Hill went undrafted in this fictitious scenario because of his real-life issues away from the field. Even if he avoids suspension from the NFL, his legal issues make him too big of a risk for a team to make the face of the franchise.
Obviously, the defensive side of the ball is going to be a little overlooked in a draft like this, as only eight of the 32 players selected playing defense. Most of the eight defensive players are pass rushers, as they make the most impact. Defensive backs like Jalen Ramsey and Eddie Jackson were considered, but they don’t play a premium position, so it’s hard to take them in the 1st Round.
In fairness, a couple of middle linebackers were selected, and Bobby Wagner was given consideration, although his age kept him from being selected in the 1st Round. The same is true for a player like Fletcher Cox, who could anchor a defense for a few more years but isn’t young enough to be a long-term asset for a franchise.