What if the NFL were to hit the reset button right now, wiping all 32 rosters and making everybody a free agent before holding an “ultimate draft” with every player available? Using the original 2018 NFL draft order (no trades included), here’s how we envision things would go down.
Oh, and keep in mind “team needs” don’t matter because in this parallel universe, nobody has any players on their roster.
1. Cleveland Browns: QB Aaron Rodgers — The highest-rated passer in NFL history is a no-brainer in his prime. With all due respect to reigning MVP Tom Brady, you can’t take a soon-to-be 41-year-old in the top spot.
2. New York Giants: QB Russell Wilson — In his prime at age 29, the league’s best improviser looks as though he’ll be a perennial MVP candidate for another decade.
3. Indianapolis Colts: QB Carson Wentz — The Colts pass on re-adding Andrew Luck and instead go with the 25-year-old Wentz after a breakout second season in which he was an MVP candidate before injuring his knee.
4. Houston Texans: QB Tom Brady — Somebody has to gamble on Brady playing another four or five years, and it makes sense that it would be a team that might be able to take another quarterback early in Round 2.
5. Denver Broncos: QB Drew Brees — Denver does the same with the 39-year-old Brees, who set a new NFL record with a completion percentage of 72.0 while leading the league with an 8.1 yards-per-attempt average last season.
6. New York Jets: QB Deshaun Watson — The 22-year-old started just six games as a rookie in Houston before suffering a torn ACL, but he tore apart the league as both a passer and a rusher during that span. Watson would have been the runaway offensive rookie of the year, and the future looks crazy-bright.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Matt Ryan — The 2016 MVP just became the highest-paid player in NFL history. The Bucs would love to steal Ryan from the division-rival Falcons in his prime.
8. Chicago Bears: QB Jared Goff — The 2016 No. 1 overall pick exploded with a triple-digit passer rating as a 23-year-old sophomore in 2017. The Bears would trade in Mitchell Trubisky for that.
9. San Francisco 49ers: QB Jimmy Garoppolo — The 49ers clearly believe Garoppolo is on the verge of superstardom after winning all six of his starts to close out the 2017 season.
10. Oakland Raiders: QB Derek Carr — The Raiders seem confident Carr can get back on an MVP-caliber track after a season that was burnt by injury.
11. Miami Dolphins: QB Cam Newton — The 2015 MVP has had an up-and-down career, but Newton is still one of the most uniquely talented players in the game. And the 2011 No. 1 overall pick is only 29 years old.
12. Cincinnati Bengals: QB Ben Roethlisberger — Roethlisberger has accomplished a hell of a lot more than the six quarterbacks selected ahead of him, but he’s publicly flirted with retirement and it’s unclear how much gas he has left in the tank.
13. Washington Redskins: QB Marcus Mariota — Mariota didn’t take off like many expected in his third season, but the future is still extremely bright for the versatile 24-year-old.
14. Green Bay Packers: QB Andrew Luck — It’s complicated, because Luck would have been a top-five pick in this draft just a couple years ago. And he’s still only 28-years-old with three Pro Bowl seasons under his belt. But that balky shoulder drops him below the elites and those with extremely high upsides.
15. Arizona Cardinals: QB Matthew Stafford — Stafford is still only 30 and could be in position to have a big back nine of his career. But he hasn’t won a playoff game in nine NFL seasons, which is why he drops to the middle of Round 1.
16. Baltimore Ravens: QB Kirk Cousins — Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Packers or Cardinals take Cousins, who has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league the last three years and should be entering his prime at age 29.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: QB Philip Rivers –The Chargers would be tempted to go with younger options, but Rivers is the local boy and he’s been to the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons.
18. Seattle Seahawks: QB Dak Prescott — With Wilson gone, the Seahawks would probably be thrilled to land a player like Prescott 18th overall. He struggled in 2017, but his 2016 campaign was one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history.
19. Dallas Cowboys: QB Alex Smith — With Prescott gone, the Cowboys settle for 2017’s highest-rated passer.
20. Detroit Lions: QB Jameis Winston — I’m personally beginning to doubt Winston, but there’s enough upside for the 24-year-old for Detroit to justify using the 20th selection on him as a replacement for Stafford.
21. Buffalo Bills: DT Aaron Donald — The run on quarterbacks finally ends with the best defensive player in the game. Just 26-years-old, Donald the defensive tackle has already been an All-Pro three times. The Bills wouldn’t be able to resist.
22. Kansas City Chiefs: DE Joey Bosa — Still 22, the 2016 defensive rookie of the year has 23 sacks in the first 28 games of his career.
23. Los Angeles Rams: LB Von Miller — Yup, those who missed out on the premier quarterbacks are chasing the guys who chase said quarterbacks. Miller is coming off four consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in which he recorded double-digit sacks.
24. Carolina Panthers: DE Khalil Mack — The 2016 defensive player of the year is coming off three straight double-digit sack seasons at the age of 27.
25. Tennessee Titans: RB Todd Gurley — It’d be tough to justify taking a running back in the first round of this draft, but Gurley is a major exception. Pro Football Reference determined that he and Tom Brady were the two most valuable players in the NFL in 2017. He was the offensive rookie of the year in 2015 and the offensive player of the year this past season.
26. Atlanta Falcons: WR Julio Jones — The Falcons lose Ryan but won’t let their most talented player go. Jones has gone over 1,400 yards in four consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, and he’s still only 29.
27. New Orleans Saints: RB Le’Veon Bell — The dual-threat two-time All-Pro is coming off a two-season stretch in which he accumulated a ridiculous 3,830 yards from scrimmage. The 26-year-old would also be a perfect fit in a place like New Orleans.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Antonio Brown — Brown drops a bit because he might start slowing down as he turns 30 after five heavy-duty seasons, but he’s been the most dominant receiver in the game during that stretch. The Steelers wouldn’t let him pass.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Odell Beckham Jr. — His 2017 injury was a freak incident, so there’s little reason to shy away from a 25-year-old who opened his career with three consecutive 90-plus-catch, 1,300-plus-yard, 10-plus-touchdown seasons. That is unless you’re concerned about his “behavior.” I’m docking him points for that here because NFL teams are weird, but Beckham could go as high as 25th.
30. Minnesota Vikings: LB Chandler Jones — The 28-year-old has rather quietly put together three straight double-digit-sack seasons and is coming off a campaign in which he led the league in that category with 17. He might be on the brink of joining that Bosa/Miller/Mack trio.
31. New England Patriots: CB Jalen Ramsey — With six picks and 31 passes defensed in two seasons, the 23-year-old 2016 No. 5 overall pick has already become the best all-around defensive back in football.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: OT David Bakhtiari — The first round wouldn’t make sense without a left tackle, and while there are few dominant blind-side-protecting stalwarts in the game right now, the 26-year-old Bakhtiari is coming off two fantastic seasons. We’ll give him to the Eagles, even though they’d probably pick Nick Foles or Case Keenum here.
Teams with more than one player selected: Steelers (3), Rams (3), Falcons (2), Raiders (2), Packers (2), Chargers (2).
On big-name players who weren’t picked…
J.J. Watt: Can’t pick a defensive player coming off two seasons derailed by injuries. There’s a chance Watt will never be the same. Too risky.
Rob Gronkowski: His NFL future is too uncertain.
Myles Garrett: Too soon.
Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, David Johnson: Too many players at a non-premium position. Gurley and Bell stand out, but the rest have issues.
Patrick Mahomes: Have to see a larger sample before he’s a first-rounder.
Mitchell Trubisky: He didn’t do enough as a rookie.
Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen: They’re all second-round picks until they’ve played an NFL snap.
Demarcus Lawrence, Cameron Jordan: Need to see another big year from both.
Eli Manning, Joe Flacco: No goddamn way.