Imagine for a minute that every NFL team gets to start from scratch. Everyone is released from their current contract and sent back into one massive draft. No, it’ll never happen for real, and yes, it’d be terribly unfair to the players and a handful of teams, but that’s what makes it an interesting fantasy.
If every player had to be redrafted with teams recreating their 53-man roster from scratch, what would they do? Specifically, who would be chosen in the 1st round as the player to build around? Well, we did the leg work for you, so let’s see what happened when everyone in the NFL was redrafted.
1. Arizona Cardinals – Patrick Mahomes, QB
Is Mahomes the best quarterback in the NFL? Not yet, but based on his first season as a starter, it’s only a matter of time until he gets there. He’s also not that far from being the league’s best quarterback after taking a team with a bad defense to overtime of the AFC Championship Game last season.
Part of re-drafting every NFL player is calculating how much longer a player can perform at an elite level, and that makes Mahomes the obvious choice for the top pick. He won’t turn 24 until the middle of September, which means he should have at least 10 more great seasons in him, possibly more, making it a no-brainer for the Cardinals to take him in this fantasy scenario.
2. San Francisco 49ers – Aaron Rodgers, QB
Rodgers is no spring chicken anymore, but he’s still playing like someone in the prime of his career. He had over 4,400 passing yards and the lowest interception percentage of his career in 2018, and that’s on a team that didn’t give him a ton of support and with a coach he didn’t like.
If he takes care of himself and stays healthy, there’s no reason why Rodgers can’t continue to play at a high level into his early 40s. He should have more than a few good years left, and even if his performance starts to drop off, the 49ers would be wise to take a chance that Rodgers is still good enough to win a Super Bowl within the next few seasons.
3. New York Jets – Andrew Luck, QB
For the first time in a long time, the Jets could be free of uncertainty at the quarterback position if they were to get Luck. In fact, there’s a strong argument that Luck should go ahead of Rodgers second overall. Nevertheless, any team with a top-5 pick in this scenario is going to get a great quarterback.
Last year, Luck was able to answer every question about his health after sitting out all of 2017 following shoulder surgery. As he gets ready to turn 30 during the 2019 season, there’s nothing but blue skies ahead for Luck, who is the safest bet outside of Mahomes to be an elite quarterback for the next 10 years.
4. Oakland Raiders – Deshaun Watson, QB
Of all of the quarterbacks who have come into the league over the last few years, Watson has the biggest upside. Not even the Raiders could screw up this pick, as there are plenty of good options left, but the hope of Watson reaching his full potential is too much to pass up.
Watson shined briefly as a rookie in 2017 before suffering an ACL injury. He came back in 2018 and got the Texans to the playoffs despite an awful offensive line in front of him. We’ve yet to see him fully healthy and with a proper supporting cast around him. Watson isn’t as much of a sure thing as the reigning MVP, but he’s three days younger than Mahomes and may have a higher upside.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Carson Wentz, QB
There was a time when Wentz might have gone first overall in a draft like this, so the alternative-universe Buccaneers will be happy to get him at no. 5. The 2018 season didn’t go according to plan for Wentz, but people seem to forget that he was the MVP frontrunner in 2017 before suffering that knee injury late in the season.
Injury concerns put a little bit of distance between Wentz and the top-4 selections in our draft. But those concerns didn’t stop the Eagles from promising him a very real $128 million over the next four years, and so the Bucs would happily sign up for Wentz being their quarterback for a lot longer than that.
6. New York Giants – Jared Goff, QB
With two Pro-Bowl seasons under his belt, it seems like a safe bet that Goff is here to stay. He’s also played in a Super Bowl, which is not something that everyone drafted ahead of him other than Rodgers can say.
To be fair, the Giants had a few different options to consider at this point of our make-believe draft, so Goff wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice. However, you have to think about long-term, and with Goff yet to turn 25 at the start of the 2019 season, there’s every chance that he’ll provide the most quality years of any quarterback left.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Russell Wilson, QB
The Jaguars luck out a little bit in that they get arguably the safest pick in the draft by taking Wilson no. 7 overall. He’s the perfect blend of established without being old. Wilson is also free of any serious injury concerns, so Jacksonville has a good idea of what they’ll get out of him.
Wilson is Mr. Consistency. He’s started 16 games in seven straight seasons, missing the playoffs just once in those seven seasons. He’s also played in 13 playoff games, going 8-5, including a Super Bowl win. Considering he’ll be 30 at the start of the 2019 season with plenty of good seasons left, he’s too good to pass up.
8. Detroit Lions – Matt Ryan, QB
If he were a couple of years younger, Ryan would be in the same conversation as Rodgers and Luck for the no. 2 and 3 spots in this fictions draft. However, he’s 34 and because he started as a rookie, he has a lot more miles on him compared to Rodgers, who spent a few seasons on the bench at the start of his career.
That being said, Ryan won an MVP in 2016 and would have been in the conversation again in 2018 had his team been better. He probably won’t play as many more seasons as Luck, Wilson, or even the slightly older Rodgers, but Ryan would help the Lions to win for at least the next three to five years.
9. Buffalo Bills – Tom Brady, QB
How crazy would it be if Brady somehow ended up with the Bills, one of the teams he’s tortured the most during his career. In truth, he’d probably retire rather than play anywhere but New England. Also, he’d probably only be upset about being taken 9th overall in our draft.
However, Brady’s problem is that he’s in his 40s and only has a few more years left. When you’re starting over from scratch, it’s hard to build a team around a quarterback in his 40’s. But the Bills would take a chance on Brady nonetheless with the hope that he could lead them to just one Super Bowl win and help to put years of misery and those four straight Super Bowl defeats in the 1990’s behind them once and for all.
10. Denver Broncos – Aaron Donald, DT
It’d be amazing to see any team with a top-10 pick in this situation not take a quarterback, but Donald is just that good. He’s been a Pro Bowler every year since he was a rookie and is easily the most impactful defensive player in the NFL right now.
More importantly, he’s the perfect fit for the Broncos, who have won a Super Bowl behind a historically good defense. Donald is someone who can serve as the centerpiece of an amazing defense. He’ll spend the 2019 season at age 28, so he’s right in his prime and should have a handful of good years left. After leading the NFL in sacks in 2018, Donald is in his prime and would undoubtedly be the first defensive player selected in this kind of draft.
11. Cincinnati Bengals – Derek Carr, QB
After a slight break, we’re right back to the quarterback parade, as the Bengals take Carr 11th overall. Part of the reason the Broncos passed on him and opted for Donald is because of a considerable drop-off between Carr and the quarterbacks selected before him.
Despite being a three-time Pro Bowler, Carr has had some shortcomings during his career and didn’t even reach 4,000 passing yards in a season until 2018. Also, at age 28, Carr has less room for growth than guys like Watson, Wentz, and Goff. At this point, he is who he is, which is a good but not great quarterback.
12. Green Bay Packers – Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
Garoppolo would be a fascinating case study if a draft like this ever actually took place. In theory, he has all of the promise in the world, but because he got hurt in 2018, he’s never actually been a starter for a full season. However, the Packers have to trust him enough to take him 12th overall, much like the 49ers put their faith in him by offering him a contract worth $137.5 million.
He’ll be 28 by the end of the 2019 season, so his age is starting to work against him just a little bit, much like Wilson and Carr. On the other hand, like Rodgers, his body was spared a lot of hits while serving as a backup, so if he bounces back in 2019 and stays healthy, it’s not impossible to think that Garoppolo could be a top-5 or top-10 quarterback for the next decade.
13. Miami Dolphins – Joey Bosa, DE
Among the NFL’s top edge rushers, Bosa is the youngest, which makes him a more desired player when you’re building a roster from scratch. Given their recent problems at the position, the Dolphins might be better off taking a quarterback, but Bosa is tough to pass up at 13th overall.
In his first two NFL seasons, Bosa racked up 23 sacks, and he’s probably a couple of more years away from reaching his prime. There could be some concern after his missed half of 2018 with a foot injury, but he returned to accumulate 5.5 sacks in seven games, so it’s a safe bet that he could anchor the Miami defense for close to a decade.
14. Atlanta Falcons – Philip Rivers, QB
Rivers is another quarterback who’s still playing at a high level but whose age hurts him in a draft like this. There have been few signs of decline from Rivers, although one has to assume there will be within the next couple of years. Also, he’s someone who needs plenty of help around him, as evidenced by the fact that he’s never played in a Super Bowl.
That being said, the Falcons will take their chances with the 37-year-old Rivers. Playing eight games a year in a dome should give him a chance to put up some big numbers and win a lot of games. At this point, he’s still a better bet than any non-quarterback offensive player, although not by much.
15. Washington Redskins – Saquon Barkley, RB
When all of the established, high-upside quarterbacks are gone, getting a playmaker like Barkley is Washington’s best bet. There was a little skepticism surrounding Barkley before his rookie season, but he averaged five yards per carry and accumulated over 2,000 all-purpose yards, putting to bed any concerns about how his game would translate to the NFL.
Of course, the most important factor is that Barkley is only 22 years old. That’s a huge factor, especially at the running back position. Regardless of who’s playing quarterback, Barkley will be an elite playmaker and the focal point of an offense for at least five years, possibly longer, and that’s worth the 15th overall pick.
16. Carolina Panthers – Ezekiel Elliott, RB
If you put the contract demands and holdout aside, Elliott is essentially a slightly less-enticing version of Barkley. He’s two years older than Barkley, which is the biggest reason why the Panthers get him one pick after Washington picks up Barkley. Elliott is also a little less productive as a pass-catcher, which is an important distinction.
That being said, Elliott is more than capable of being the focal point of an offense. He’s rushed for at least 1,400 yards in two of his three seasons. More importantly, Elliott should have a few more years before he starts to decline, making him a better option than any other running back outside of Barkley and every quarterback still available.