With free agency mostly in the rearview mirror, the 2016 NFL Draft could still help shape rosters for the upcoming season. But teams could really change their outlook if given the opportunity to pillage a star from another club.
Given the chance to snag any player in the NFL, teams could be dramatically reshaped by turning a weakness into a strength in an instant. This mock draft gives each team the chance to steal any player from any team.
But first a couple notes:
A) Picks are made with the idea of helping a roster beyond just the 2016 season. That makes a player like Tom Brady, who turns 39 in August, not nearly as valuable as young quarterbacks who can lead a team for the next decade.
B) Previous selections don't alter a team's thinking, nor does the salary cap. So teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers don't have to worry about fixing a roster that was decimated earlier in the mock draft.
1. Tennessee Titans: Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
Is the Pittsburgh Steelers receiver the best player in the NFL? No, probably not. But he's my pick as the best receiver and that's a position where the Titans could desperately use a huge difference maker. Protecting Marcus Mariota is a priority, but nabbing an offensive tackle from another team won't help the young passer as much as adding a legitimate No. 1 receiver like Brown.
2. Cleveland Browns: Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Robert Griffin III could turn out to be a solid signing for the Browns, but how about taking the reigning NFL MVP away from the Carolina Panthers? The new regime in Cleveland led by Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta has some rebuilding to do, and adding the 26-year-old Newton would provide the cornerstone of a complete offense transformation.
3. San Diego Chargers: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Watt has as strong a case as any to be called the best player in the NFL, so adding him to maybe the worst defensive line in the league is an easy match. The Chargers were terrible against the run and didn't get much of a pass rush from their defensive linemen, with only Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu tallying sacks at linebacker. Watt is the rare defensive lineman who would make San Diego way better in both rush and pass defense.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Khalil Mack, DE, Raiders
Between Randy Gregory's off-field troubles and the distraction created by Greg Hardy, the Cowboys are back to square one at defensive end for now. With Mack, the Cowboys would get one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL and a versatile player who can do a lot more than just be a defensive end in Rod Marinelli's defense.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Richard Sherman, CB, Seahawks
Finding a pass rusher is the top priority for the Jaguars for 2016, but with Dante Fowler on the roster ready to develop, adding Sherman would be a move that would upgrade the secondary for the long-term and lock down half the field. While many would argue that Josh Norman is the best cornerback in the NFL (including Norman himself), Sherman has been at the top of the game for several seasons and is the long press cornerback that Gus Bradley's defense covets.
6. Baltimore Ravens: Von Miller, LB, Broncos
Terrell Suggs turns 34 this year and is coming off an Achilles tear, while Elvis Dumervil is 32 and finished 2015 with just six sacks. Snagging the Super Bowl MVP from the Broncos would give the Ravens a 27-year-old linebacker who is at the top of his game and able to do more than just pass rush, even if he's among the best in the NFL at it.
7. San Francisco 49ers: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
The 49ers insist they're keeping Colin Kaepernick and Chip Kelly talked up Blaine Gabbert, but come on ... adding an elite quarterback would be step one in getting the roster back to championship form. Wilson led the Seahawks to victory in the last five matchups against the 49ers, so San Francisco knows exactly what the 27-year-old passer offers. He led the NFL with a 110.1 passer rating in 2015, despite subpar protection in front of him.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Josh Norman, CB, Panthers
Trading away Byron Maxwell was a move that cleared a ton of space and distanced the Eagles from the Chip Kelly era, but it leaves the team with a hole in its defense opposite Eric Rowe. Norman gives the Eagles a top-notch cornerback on one side of the field, and as a bonus Norman in the NFC East means battles with Odell Beckham, Jr. twice a year.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Lions
Robert Ayers filled a need for the Buccaneers, but Ansah is a defense-changer. He would give the team a strong pass rusher who has steadily improved in his first three seasons in the NFL. Although Tampa Bay hasn't had a pass rusher finish with double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice a decade ago, Ansah could easily be able to hit that mark.
10. New York Giants: Earl Thomas, S, Seahawks
The Giants splurged in free agency and have a different-looking defensive front with Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Keenan Robinson all brought into the fold. Janoris Jenkins gives the team a top cornerback, too. But adding Thomas would seal the deal and give the Giants a centerfielder-type safety to complement Landon Collins, while serving as a huge upgrade over Nat Berhe.
11. Chicago Bears: Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Cardinals
Inside linebacker went from a giant weakness to a strength for the Bears in free agency, and the team kept its starting cornerbacks together by re-signing Tracy Porter. But in a defense that more often than not has three cornerbacks on the field, Mathieu is a defensive back who can do a little bit of everything for the Bears and help the defense improve in just about every area.
12. New Orleans Saints: Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers
No team allowed more points in 2015 than the Saints, so adding talent on the defense is a no-brainer. Putting a soon-to-be 25-year-old with three first-team All-Pro nods under his belt in the middle of the defense is a good place to start the rebuild.
13. Miami Dolphins: Patrick Peterson, CB, Cardinals
With Brent Grimes gone and replaced with Byron Maxwell, the Dolphins might have one solid cornerback, but are hoping that Jamar Taylor, Bobby McCain or Tony Lippett can develop into a starting-quality player on the other side. Things would be much more stable if the Dolphins could nab an elite starter like Peterson who turns 26 this summer and already has five Pro Bowls in his five NFL seasons.
14. Oakland Raiders: Eric Berry, S, Chiefs
The Raiders are a team on the rise and boast a promising young roster. But with the retirement of Charles Woodson, the Raiders reportedly toyed with the idea of adding Eric Weddle or Rashad Johnson. Snagging Eric Berry from their division rival would solve the position, as the 27-year-old safety brings the type of punch that the Raiders could continue to model their defense around.
15. Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Easily the oldest player in this mock draft, the Rams nab a quarterback who will see his 33rd birthday before the 2016 season finishes. But Rodgers didn't even start a game until he was 25 and there hasn't been much reason to believe he won't still be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL for a while longer. The two-time MVP is a team changer and would fit right in to the Hollywood scene.
16. Detroit Lions: Tyron Smith, OT, Cowboys
The Lions finished last in the NFL in rushing yards in 2015 and Matthew Stafford has been sacked 89 times in the last two years. While adding Marvin Jones slightly helps the Lions get over the retirement of Calvin Johnson, the team hasn't done anything to improve its offensive line. Grabbing Smith would give the Lions a reliable and powerful left tackle, allowing Riley Reiff to move to the right tackle spot and give Detroit two strong tackles to work with.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams
It feels silly to say that a team could get a steal in a hypothetical mock draft like this, but Donald falling to the latter half of the order qualifies as a steal for the Falcons. He's as dominant as any interior defensive lineman and would bring the type of pressure that makes everyone in the defense better.
18. Indianapolis Colts: Travis Frederick, C, Cowboys
Andrew Luck was obliterated behind the Colts offensive line in 2015 and the team couldn't run very well either. Still, the team has some young players they feel comfortable in with Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort. They could feel even better about the group in front of Luck by grabbing Frederick, arguably the best young center in the NFL after only three seasons.
19. Buffalo Bills: Harrison Smith, S, Vikings
Bacarri Rambo is a free agent, Corey Graham struggled in the starting lineup and Aaron Williams suffered a serious neck injury. Taking Smith from the Vikings would give the Bills one of the best young safeties in the NFL and help Rex Ryan in building an aggressive defense that capitalizes off of turnovers.
20. New York Jets: Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
There are plenty of good pieces in place for the Jets, but Ryan Fitzpatrick still isn't under contract and Geno Smith might be the man leading the Jets in 2016. While Andrew Luck took a step backwards during his injury-riddle 2015 season, that just means the Jets get an MVP candidate later in the order who is still just 26.
21. Washington: Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
With Alfred Morris gone, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson are the top options in the Washington backfield. Even Jay Gruden says the team is "taking a bit of a gamble" with its current running back depth, but Gurley removes the question marks at the position. Most running backs are relatively interchangeable but there are a few backs who are truly transformative for a team and Gurley looks like one of those players. Still just 21, the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year is one of the most exciting young players in the NFL and would be a welcomed addition to a relatively unproven group.
22. Houston Texans: Weston Richburg, C, Giants
The Texans were proactive in upgrading the offense, but still have to fill the hole left by the departure of Ben Jones. While Tony Bergstrom could conceivably fill the spot, the Texans could grab Richburg to more naturally fill the role and allow Bergstrom to play at guard, solidifying the Houston offensive line. Richburg made huge strides in his second season in the NFL and has an argument for the league's best center. Even if you're not sold on Brock Osweiler, the Texans apparently are, and that means helping him out is the way to go.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants
Getting Teddy Bridgewater some help is a priority for the Vikings and Odell Beckham Jr. is a great place to start. The 23-year-old receiver has 2,755 yards and 25 touchdowns in only 27 NFL games and really never gets shut down. Pairing him with Stefon Diggs would give the Vikings more speed at receiver than opposing secondaries could ever know what to do with.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu were good options for Andy Dalton in the Bengals' offense, but A.J. Green is clearly the team's No. 1 receiver and Tyler Eifert offers another decent target. But by adding the other top receiver from the 2011 NFL Draft, the Bengals would have a pair of dominant receivers that would make Jones and Sanu easy to forget about.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Anthony Barr, OLB, Vikings
James Harrison came out of retirement to fill in for the Steelers and has helped the defense, but he turns 38 in April and Bud Dupree is still a project. Anthony Barr is one of the more exciting young players in the NFL who can do so many different things beyond rush the passer. Yes, he doesn't address the need in the secondary, but his versatility and athleticism paired with Ryan Shazier would dramatically help the Pittsburgh defense.
26. Seattle Seahawks: Terron Armstead, OT, Saints
It's kind of remarkable how well Wilson played behind an offensive line that didn't do him many favors. While Russell Okung left to join the Broncos, Armstead is an upgrade who turns 25 this summer. For now, left tackle is set to be a battle between Garry Gilliam, Bradley Sowell or J'Marcus Webb, which is far from encouraging for Wilson's sake.
27. Green Bay Packers: Jamie Collins, LB, Patriots
Moving Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker was a good call for the Packers, but still leaves the team without a solid option in the middle of the defense. Jamie Collins is a freakishly athletic player who has contributed all over the new England defense and primarily contributed as an inside linebacker in 2015. The pair of Collins and Matthews could both move all over the Green Bay defense and make it a difficult unit to work against.
28. Kansas City Chiefs: Ronald Darby, CB, Bills
Marcus Peters grabbed Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, but his counterpart, Sean Smith, left to join the Raiders in free agency. Pairing Peters with the other top rookie cornerback of 2015, Darby, would give the Chiefs a pair of cornerbacks that would be the envy of the league.
29. Arizona Cardinals: Malcolm Jenkins, S, Eagles
Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon and Tony Jefferson are all promising young defensive backs for the Cardinals, but bringing in Jenkins would give the Cardinals a top safety to fill the hole left by the departure of Rashad Johnson. With Mathieu recovering from another season-ending injury, Jenkins and Chandler Jones make an already scary defense scarier.
30. Carolina Panthers: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
The Cardinals put together a tremendous season, despite starting Ted Ginn, Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery at receiver. Getting Kelvin Benjamin back helps the problem a ton, but giving Newton a dominant young receiver like DeAndre Hopkins to work with would be a tremendous add to an already strong roster.
31. Denver Broncos: Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers
Following the retirement of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler's departure during free agency, the Broncos have a hole at the most important position. If Mark Sanchez can be a decent starter, Denver has a bridge to find a young player to eventually take over, but Winston could do the trick right away. Typically, rookie quarterbacks make a big jump in year two, and if that's the case with Winston, there's a superstar on the rise in Tampa Bay. He's already a respected leader for the Buccaneers and finished his rookie year with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
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Roger Goodell says the Patriots don't get to play this game, but I say they do.
New England Patriots: Cordy Glenn, OT, Bills
Everything that could go wrong at offensive tackle did go wrong for the Patriots in 2015. Maybe LaAdrian Waddle or Cameron Fleming develop into the eventual replacement for Sebastian Vollmer, but by stealing away Cordy Glenn, Tom Brady can breathe a little easier behind a 345-pound offensive tackle who has steadily improved in Buffalo.