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  • If the NFL decided to expand, what might the team look like? SI's Chris Burke first examines potential locations, head coaches, coordinators and GMs. Then he breaks down the players each team would protect, and then drafts the complete expansion team.
By Chris Burke
August 22, 2017

The last time the NFL held an expansion draft, for the Texans’ inception in 2002, very little talent made its way onto the board. The rest of the league’s teams had to expose just five players of their respective rosters, with minimal restrictions (no impending free agents, one player with 10-plus years experience, no kickers or punters, etc.) The results were unfortunate for a league that prides itself on parity—Houston did not finish above .500 until its eighth season, did not make the playoffs until year 10, and the career of QB David Carr (No. 1 overall draft pick in 2002) imploded behind an awful supporting cast.

Is there a way to put a more competitive product on the field, should the NFL go the expansion route again?

That was one of the driving questions behind our NFL expansion project, which includes a series of challenges: narrowing down the potential host cities to a handful of viable options, establishing “keeper” lists for each of the league’s 32 current rosters, conducting an expansion “draft” and finally, laying the foundation for a front office and coaching staff.

The rules for our draft tossed aside the NFL’s ’02 model and stole a page instead from the NHL’s recent expansion draft, involving the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In this exercise, each team was permitted to select one of two protection options: 1) Six offensive players, six defensive players plus a kicker/punter for a total of 13 on the keeper list; 2) A keeper list of 10 players, without any positional restrictions. The latter came into play for a couple of rosters.

(The ’02 Texans also were required to fill a set percentage of the overall salary cap via the expansion draft. No such requirement was made here, nor were players on the final year of their contract blocked from being exposed to the draft.)

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An additional piece of help for the current 32 teams: Any player taken in the past two drafts, and still on his original roster, was automatically protected. So, teams did not have to spend a keeper spot on rookies or second-year players, provided they used a draft pick on said players.

Our expansion franchise had to pick at least one player, but no more than two, off each current NFL roster. If the franchise selected two players off the same roster, they had to come from different sides of the ball—one defense, one offense (or special teams); it could not, for example, select two Seattle wide receivers. 

The post-draft roster includes 42 players, of varying contracts and NFL experience. It is, at first blush, a stronger outfit, on paper, than the Texans cobbled together.

Got all that? Well, then, here we go ...

The NBA's Trail Blazers play out of the Moda Center in Portland, Ore.
Getty Images

I asked, you answered: If the NFL were to expand again, which city should be first to claim a team?

Many of the responses made a point to note that the NFL does not need to, and should not, expand. Expanding by one team alone would cause a vast array of scheduling and divisional headaches, so the league likely would have to increase its stock to at least 34 (and probably 36) teams. That would be stretching the talent pool rather thin, but the NFL’s grip on the sports culture could encourage such growth.

And were the NFL to add, these are the areas they likely would begin their search:

Portland, Ore.

The city of Portland is no rookie when it comes to expansion/relocation buzz, residing on the short list of possibilities should the MLB or NHL ever need a new locale—the Arizona Coyotes still could wind up there in the near future, if they can’t strike an arena deal to stay put. So, there is obvious appeal to the area, and no doubt a decent amount of legwork has gone on behind the scenes to gauge the viability.

The 2016-17 Nielsen ratings data listed Portland as the country’s 25th-largest TV market, ahead of NFL host areas like Baltimore, Indianapolis, Nashville, Kansas City, Cincinnati and (coming soon) Las Vegas. That’s a critical element to keep in mind, of which the NFL is always mindful—Los Angeles’s rank as the No. 2 market was a driving force behind the league’s ceaseless desire to return there.

There’s no questioning the passion of the Portland fan base, which provides rabid support for the NBA’s Blazers and the MLS’s Timbers. The proximity to Nike is an intriguing subplot, although Nike and the NFL already have a contract in place that runs through 2019. An NFL team in Portland might make it easier for Nike to secure its place as the league’s sponsor moving forward.

Pete Christopher of OregonLive.com covered some of the possible NFL-to-Portland pitfalls in a 2015 article, including that Portalnd “lacks a potential base of corporate sponsors, where the biggest money comes from” and “taxpayers would surely fight any stadium funding plan that would stick them with the bulk of the bill.”

Still, this is a strong contender.

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San Antonio

We’re but a few months removed from San Antonio emerging as a potential temporary home for the Raiders, as they awaited their Oakland-to-Las Vegas transition, and it’s still possible that arrangement could come to be for the 2019 season. The Alamodome seats 65,000, and the city just invested $50 million to upgrade it. The NFL loves shiny, new arenas, but San Antonio would be far ahead of the curve when it came to securing a venue.

Market size? Check. San Antonio was among the 10 most populous in the country, according to 2016 census estimates, and it ranked 31st on the Nielsen list.

Better yet, it’s a short hop, skip and jump from the border—the NFL’s (and Roger Goodell’s) desire to expand the league footprint in Mexico has been no secret. A third team within the ‘Texas Triangle’ (San Antonio, Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston) would open up even more doors. The NBA also has thrived within that area, thanks to the Rockets, Mavericks and Spurs.

Would the current NFL teams within the so-called triangle be willing to share, though? Doubt it. The biggest obstacle for San Antonio in pursuing a team might be the pushback it would receive from Houston owner Bob McNair and Dallas owner Jerry Jones (especially the latter).

Mexico City

If the NFL wants in on the massive Mexico City market (and the Mexican fan base as a whole), why not go directly to the source? The league is in the midst of a three-year run of regular-season games there, and it consistently has packed crowds into Estadio Azteca, including 103K-plus for a 49ers-Cardinals clash in 2005. More than 73,000 fans witnessed the Raiders-Texans game at a renovated Azteca last year.

Adding an international team would come with its own, unique set of challenges, ranging from how the exchange rate impacts business (the NHL hit a rough patch in 2015 when the loonie’s value fell) to the political fallout.

But with the NFL now playing games in Mexico City, placing a team there would be the next logical step.

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San Diego/St. Louis/Oakland

Grouping these three spots together because the NFL has, on several occasions, returned to places where teams previously resided. It just happened (twice) in Los Angeles, but St. Louis, Houston and Baltimore have witnessed similar developments. Not every relocation scenario has been a carbon copy.

The issue for all three of the recently hit cities, of course, is that they need to provide the league reason to return. These are all sizable markets, but not to the extent of L.A. (Oakland is grouped in with San Jose and San Francisco, so the league is somewhat covered there regardless). They would require new stadiums, which has been a sticking point behind the Chargers, Raiders and Rams’ moves in the first place.

Oklahoma City

About three hours north of Dallas and five south of Kansas City, OKC should be just enough clear of another NFL franchise to make this work. (Jerry Jones, no doubt, again would protest.) This is a passionate football state, and the fans there have had no trouble adopting the Thunder as their NBA franchise.

It’s not a massive TV market, as far as the NFL would be concerned: 41st, just behind Las Vegas but ahead of Jacksonville, New Orleans, Buffalo and Green Bay. Oklahoma City ranked 45th among the country’s top 56 markets in Super Bowl LI ratings. A solid enough presence that it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

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Birmingham, Ala.

The 45th-largest TV market, as it includes the Tuscaloosa and Anniston areas. Therein lies a bit of the problem. It’s the same issue that a city like Columbus would face: the pro franchise probably would play second fiddle to the nearby college team. Obviously, there are current NFL cities in close proximity to very popular college football teams, but breaking into the market would be a different challenge.

Birmingham is one of several cities on our list (Oakland, Portland and San Antonio the others) that hosted a USFL team in the ’80s.

Salt Lake City

If the NFL wants to fill gaps in its map, Salt Lake City certainly makes a lot of sense, because the Utah state capital is several hours removed from any of the nearest, current franchises. It also ranked 10th on Forbes’ 2017 list of the fastest-growing American cities and is No. 31 in Nielsen’s metrics. All positives. So, too, is the sports fan base there, which has loyally supported the NBA’s Jazz and the University of Utah.

One potentially tricky aspect of any NFL-to-Salt Lake City discussion: the NFL’s Sunday schedule. Convincing a Mormon-heavy fan base to turn out on those afternoons could be a tough sell; the NCAA schedules BYU around Sundays, even in the case of big-ticket events like March Madness.

Toronto

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver estimated back in 2014 that Toronto already had in place approximately one million NFL fans. The NFL has tapped into that base in the past, taking a Bills regular-season game to Rogers Centre every season from 2008-13.

One issue with that: attendance dwindled over the course of that arrangement, from 52K for the ’08 game down to just 38K in ’13. The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur also wrote recently about issues the city’s CFL team, the Argonauts, has had drawing a crowd (just 13,583 at last week’s opener).

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Other international options

London is the no-brainer option, since the NFL has expanded its presence there—four regular-season games will be played in London this year, split between Wembley and Twickenham Stadiums.

The travel grind is a significant hurdle. Last year, the Colts became the first team forced to play the week after a London trip, and Albert Breer of The MMQB reported then that the league would “survey Colts players and coaches about how coming back [without] a bye went.” The Colts did win the following week, 29-23 over Chicago.

The Montreal metropolitan area now has a population standing upwards of four million, as of 2016—Toronto is the lone Canadian city with more people. How many of them could be convinced to love the NFL? The CFL’s Alouettes averaged 20,377 fans per home game last year, via CFLdb.

If the NFL does go international, Mexico City, Toronto and London would be the three favorites, by a sizable margin.

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Head coach candidates

1. Matt Patricia (Patriots defensive coordinator): Is Patricia being groomed as the Patriots’ coach-in-waiting for whenever Bill Belichick retires, or does that honor belong to Josh McDaniels? Whatever the answer, both Patricia and McDaniels figure to be in charge somewhere in the near future. The Pats’ defensive coordinator since 2012, Patricia’s intelligence, personality and defensive know-ho would give him a chance at expansion success.

2. Dave Toub (Chiefs special teams coordinator): We often think of offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators as the obvious head-coaching candidates, but the special teams route is not unprecedented—John Harbaugh long held that role in Philadelphia before a brief promotion to DBs coach. And Toub just interviewed for multiple openings during the past hiring cycle. He’s as well-respected an assistant as there is in the league.

3. Teryl Austin (Lions defensive coordinator): Teams have reached out to Austin each of the past three offseasons, only to bypass him for other options. Lions players were thrilled, if surprised, that Austin did not land a job last year. He’s overdue for an opportunity.

Wild card: Jon Gruden (ex-Bucs/Raiders coach, current TV analyst): He always seems to be the “wild card” option when a team needs a head coach these days. But Gruden has been off the sidelines since the ’08 season ended, so convincing him to give up a cushy ESPN gig would be tough. Getting him to do so for an expansion club might be a non-starter.

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Offensive coordinator candidates

1. Bill Musgrave (Broncos QB coach): Would an expansion club be better off bringing in an established coordinator or rolling the dice on a promising, unproven name? Musgrave falls in the former category—he’s been the O.C. in Carolina, Jacksonville, Minnesota and, most recently, Oakland. He is not the most aggressive or creative coordinator, but Musgrave was vital in Derek Carr’s development.

2. Alex Van Pelt (Packers QB coach): Aaron Rodgers said in January that Van Pelt should be a coordinator candidate, and that’s good enough for Team To Be Named Later. Van Pelt did spend one disappointing season (2009) as the Bills’ O.C., but he did not inherit that post until Sept. 4 and Buffalo’s head coach, Dick Jauron, was fired mid-year.

3. Wade Wilson (Cowboys QB coach): An NFL QB himself for nearly two decades, Wilson has served as Dallas’s QB coach since 2007. (He also held that role from 2000-02, before a stop in Chicago.) Tony Romo’s stunning rise from UDFA to Pro Bowl quarterback was not enough to land Wilson a coordinator shot. Dak Prescott’s rapid emergence could do so.

Wild card: Chip Kelly (ex-Eagles/49ers coach): Would The Chipper give it a go as an NFL coordinator, after busting as a head coach? Probably not, but it would be worth calling to find out.

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Defensive coordinator

1. John Butler (Texans DBs coach): Mike Vrabel’s promotion to defensive coordinator could put Butler next on the list of coordinators-to-be in Houston. Bill O’Brien said last year that Butler has a future as both a coordinator and, eventually, a head coach in the NFL.

2. Perry Fewell (Jaguars DBs coach): He took his knocks as the Giants’ defensive coordinator and eventually was dismissed, but he also helped bring a Super Bowl title back to the Big Apple. While Fewell wouldn’t be a sexy hire for an expansion club, there is something to be said for finding a steady hand to help a new franchise.

3. Adam Zimmer (Vikings linebackers coach): Zimmer is just 33 years old, so he’s a bit of a “wild card” in his own right. That said, he’s been an assistant in the league since 2006 and has spent the past four years on his dad’s staff, where he’s helped oversee impressive development from the likes of Anthony Barr.

Wild card: Mike Pettine (ex-Browns head coach, Bills/Jets coordinator): Pettine’s defenses ranked top 10 in yards allowed all five seasons he served as a defensive coordinator. He’s bound to get another shot to run a defense in the league.

GM

1. Nick Caserio (Patriots director of player personnel): A similar conversation to the earlier one involving Matt Patricia, in that it might be impossible to swipe Caserio from the Patriots. If it were possible, he’d be the prime candidate.

2. George Paton (Vikings assistant GM): The Chiefs recently took a run at Paton, only to be rebuffed. The odd timing of that job coming open could have a played a role; Paton should hear his phone ring again next offseason. Paton has been with the Vikings for upwards of a decade now.

3. Ryan Cowden (Titans director of player personnel): A rising star in the future-GM ranks, Cowden did interview with the Chiefs earlier this summer. Cowden was a scout in the Panthers’ system for 16 years before the Titans came calling. He should receive another upgrade before long.

Wild card: Louis Riddick (ex-Redskins/Eagles director of player personnel, current TV analyst): Far from a Matt Millen-level situation because of Riddick’s extensive experience within NFL front offices. He was rumored to be a Chiefs candidate, too, although he denied those reports. 

George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (Martin), Bob Levey/Getty Images (Brady), Streeter Lecka/Getty Images (Jones)

The rules for this expansion draft tossed aside the NFL’s model used in 2002 and stole a page instead from the NHL’s recent expansion draft, involving the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In this exercise, each team was permitted to select one of two protection options: 1. Six offensive players, six defensive players plus a kicker/punter for a total of 13 on the keeper list; 2. A keeper list of 10 players, without any positional restrictions. The latter came into play for a couple of rosters.

(The ’02 Texans also were required to fill a set percentage of the overall salary cap via the expansion draft. No such requirement was made here, nor were players on the final year of their contract blocked from being exposed to the draft.)

An additional piece of help for the current 32 teams: Any player taken in the past two drafts, and still on his original roster, was automatically protected. So, teams did not have to spend a keeper spot on rookies or second-year players, provided they used a draft pick on said players.

Here’s who we imagine each franchise would choose to protect.

Arizona Cardinals

2016-17 draft picks: DE Robert Nkemdiche, CB Brandon Williams, OL Evan Boehm, C Cole Toner, CB Harlan Miller, LB Haason Reddick, S Budda Baker, WR Chad Williams, G Dorian Johnson, OT Will Holden, RB T.J. Logan, S Rudy Ford

Keepers (offense): QB Carson Palmer, RB David Johnson, OT Jared Veldheer, OT D.J. Humphries, G Mike Iupati, WR J.J. Nelson
Keepers (defense): CB Patrick Peterson, S Tyrann Mathieu, LB Deone Bucannon, OLB Chandler Jones, OLB Markus Golden, DL Rodney Gunter
Keeper (special teams): K Phil Dawson

Atlanta Falcons

2016-17 draft picks: S Keanu Neal, LB Deion Jones, TE Austin Hooper, LB De'Vondre Campbell, G Wes Schweitzer, DE Takk McKinley, LB Duke Riley, G Sean Harlow, CB Damontee Kazee, RB Brian Hill, TE Eric Sauber

Keepers (10-player option): WR Julio Jones, QB Matt Ryan, RB Devonta Freeman, C Alex Mack, OT Jake Matthews, OT Ryan Schraeder, RB Tevin Coleman, DT Grady Jarrett, CB Desmond Trufant, CB Robert Alford

Baltimore Ravens

2016-17 draft picks: OT Ronnie Stanley, LB Kamalei Correa, DE Bronson Kafusi, CB Tavon Young, WR Chris Moore, DT Willie Henry, RB Kenneth Dixon, G Alex Lewis, OLB Matt Judon, WR Keenan Reynolds, CB Maurice Canady, CB Marlon Humphrey, OLB Tyus Bowser, DE Chris Wormley, OLB Tim Williams, G Nico Siragusa, OT Jermaine Eluemunor, S Chuck Clark

Keepers (offense): G Marshal Yanda, QB Joe Flacco, WR Jeremy Maclin, WR Breshad Perriman, RB Terrance West, OT James Hurst
Keepers (defense): NT Brandon Williams, LB C.J. Mosley, S Eric Weddle, S Tony Jefferson, OLB Terrell Suggs, CB Brandon Carr
Keeper (special teams): K Justin Tucker

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Buffalo Bills

2016-17 draft picks: DE Shaq Lawson, LB Reggie Ragland, DT Adolphus Washington, RB Jonathan Williams, CB Kevon Seymour, CB Tre'Davious White, WR Zay Jones, G Dion Dawkins, LB Matt Milano, QB Nathan Peterman, OLB Tanner Vallejo

Keepers (offense): RB LeSean McCoy, QB Tyrod Taylor, OT Cordy Glenn, G Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, WR Jordan Matthews
Keepers (defense): DT Marcell Dareus, DE Jerry Hughes, CB Ronald Darby, S Micah Hyde, LB Preston Brown, DT Kyle Williams
Keeper (special teams): K Steven Hauschka

Carolina Panthers

2016-17 draft picks: DT Vernon Butler, CB James Bradberry, CB Daryl Worley, CB Zack Sanchez, RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Curtis Samuel, OT Taylor Moton, DE Daeshon Hall, CB Corn Elder, FB Alex Armah, K Harrison Butker

Keepers (offense): QB Cam Newton, TE Greg Olsen, G Trai Turner, C Ryan Kalil, OT Matt Kalil, WR Kelvin Benjamin
Keepers (defense): LB Luke Kuechly, DT Kawann Short, LB Shaq Thompson, LB Thomas Davis, CB Captain Munnerlyn, DE Charles Johnson
Keeper (special teams): P Andy Lee

Chicago Bears

2016-17 draft picks: OLB Leonard Floyd, OL Cody Whitehair, DL Jonathan Bullard, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, S Deon Bush, CB Deiondre' Hall, RB Jordan Howard, DB Deandre Houston-Carson, WR Daniel Braverman, QB Mitchell Trubisky, TE Adam Shaheen, S Eddie Jackson, RB Tarik Cohen, G Jordan Morgan

Keepers (offense): G Kyle Long, G Josh Sitton, WR Cameron Meredith, WR Kevin White, QB Mike Glennon, OT Charles Leno
Keepers (defense): OLB Pernell McPhee, LB Jerrell Freeman, CB Prince Amukamara, S Quintin Demps, DT Eddie Goldman, DE Akiem Hicks
Keeper (special teams): K Connor Barth

Cincinnati Bengals

2016-17 draft picks: CB William Jackson, WR Tyler Boyd, LB Nick Vigil, DT Andrew Billings, G Christian Westerman, WR Cody Core, S Clayton Fejedelem, WR John Ross, RB Joe Mixon, DE Jordan Willis, DE Carl Lawson, WR Josh Malone, DT Ryan Glasgow, K Jake Elliott, C J.J. Dielman, LB Jordan Evans, CB Brandon Wilson, TE Mason Schreck

Keepers (offense): WR A.J. Green, QB Andy Dalton, OT Jake Fisher, TE Tyler Eifert, QB A.J. McCarron, RB Gio Bernard
Keepers (defense): DT Geno Atkins, DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Vontaze Burfict, S George Iloka, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S Shawn Williams
Keeper (special teams): P Kevin Huber

Cleveland Browns

2016-17 draft picks: WR Corey Coleman, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Carl Nassib, OT Shon Coleman, QB Cody Kessler, LB Joe Schobert, WR Ricardo Louis, S Derrick Kindred, TE Seth DeValve, WR Jordan Payton, OT Spencer Drango, WR Rashard Higgins, DE Myles Garrett, S Jabrill Peppers, TE David Njoku, QB DeShone Kizer, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Howard Wilson, OT Roderick Johnson, DT Caleb Brantley, K Zane Gonzalez, RB Matthew Dayes

Keepers (offense): OT Joe Thomas, G Joel Bitonio, G Kevin Zeitler, C J.C. Tretter, WR Kenny Britt, RB Isaiah Crowell
Keepers (defense): OLB Jamie Collins, DT Danny Shelton, CB Joe Haden, LB Christian Kirksey, DE Xavier Cooper, CB Jamar Taylor
Keeper (special teams): P Briton Colquitt

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Dallas Cowboys

2016-17 draft picks: RB Ezekiel Elliott, LB Jaylon Smith, DT Maliek Collins, DE Charles Tapper, QB Dak Prescott, CB Anthony Brown, S Kavon Frazier, TE Rico Gathers, DE Taco Charlton, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, WR Ryan Switzer, S Xavier Woods, CB Marquez White, DT Joey Ivie, WR Noah Brown, DT Jordan Carrell

Keepers (offense): OT Tyron Smith, G Zack Martin, C Travis Frederick, WR Dez Bryant, TE Jason Witten, OT La'el Collins
Keepers (defense): LB Sean Lee, DE Demarcus Lawrence, DT Cedric Thornton, S Byron Jones, DE David Irving, CB Orlando Scandrick
Keeper (special teams): K Dan Bailey

Denver Broncos

2016-17 draft picks: QB Paxton Lynch, DL Adam Gotsis, S Justin Simmons, RB Devontae Booker, OL Connor McGovern, FB Andy Janovich, S Will Parks, P Riley Dixon, OT Garrett Bolles, DE Demarcus Walker, WR Carlos Henderson, CB Brendan Langley, TE Jake Butt, WR Isaiah McKenzie, RB DeAngelo Henderson, QB Chad Kelly

Keepers (offense): WR Demaryius Thomas, WR Emmanuel Sanders, QB Trevor Siemian, RB C.J. Anderson, C Matt Paradis, G Ronald Leary
Keepers (defense): OLB Von Miller, CB Chris Harris, CB Aqib Talib, OLB Shane Ray, CB Bradley Roby, LB Brandon Marshall
Keeper (special teams): K Brandon McManus

Detroit Lions

2016-17 draft picks: OT Taylor Decker, DT A'Shawn Robinson, OL Graham Glasgow, S Miles Killebrew, OL Joe Dahl, LB Antwione Williams, QB Jake Rudock, DT Anthony Zettel, RB Dwayne Washington, LB Jarrad Davis, CB Teez Tabor, WR Kenny Golladay, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, TE Michael Roberts, CB Jamal Agnew, DT Jeremiah Ledbetter, QB Brad Kaaya, DE Pat O'Connor

Keepers (offense): QB Matthew Stafford, WR Golden Tate, RB Ameer Abdullah, G T.J. Lang, OT Ricky Wagner, WR Marvin Jones
Keepers (defense): DE Ziggy Ansah, CB Darius Slay, S Glover Quin, CB Nevin Lawson, DE Kerry Hyder, DT Haloti Ngata
Keeper (special teams): K Matt Prater

Green Bay Packers

2016-17 draft picks: DT Kenny Clark, OT Jason Spriggs, OLB Kyler Fackrell, LB Blake Martinez, DE Dean Lowry, WR Trevor Davis, OT Kyle Murphy, CB Kevin King, S Josh Jones, DT Montravius Adams, OLB Vince Biegel, RB Jamaal Williams, WR DeAngelo Yancey, RB Aaron Jones, OL Kofi Amichia, RB Devante Mays, WR Malachi Dupre

Keepers (offense): QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Jordy Nelson, OT David Bakhtiari, RB/WR Ty Montgomery, C Corey Linsley, WR Davante Adams
Keepers (defense):  OLB Clay Matthews, DT Mike Daniels, S Morgan Burnett, S HaHa Clinton-Dix, CB Damarious Randall, OLB Nick Perry
Keeper (special teams): K Mason Crosby

Houston Texans

2016-17 draft picks: WR Will Fuller, C Nick Martin, WR Braxton Miller, RB Tyler Ervin, S K.J. Dillon, DT D.J. Reader, QB DeShaun Watson, LB Zach Cunningham, RB D'Onta Foreman, OT Julien Davenport, DT Carlos Watkins, CB Treston Decoud, C Kyle Fuller

Keepers (offense): WR DeAndre Hopkins, OT Duane Brown, RB Lamar Miller, QB Tom Savage, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, G Jeff Allen
Keepers (defense): DE J.J. Watt, DE Jadeveon Clowney, OLB Whitney Mercilus, LB Benardrick McKinney, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Kareem Jackson
Keeper (special teams): P Shane Lechler

Indianapolis Colts

2016-17 draft picks: C Ryan Kelly, CB T.J. Green, OT Le'Raven Clark, DL Hassan Ridgeway, LB Antonio Morrison, OL Joe Haeg, S Malik Hooker, CB Quincy Wilson, DE Tarell Basham, OL Zach Banner, RB Marlon Mack, DT Grover Stewart, CB Nate Hairston, LB Anthony Walker

Keepers (offense): QB Andrew Luck, WR T.Y. Hilton, OT Anthony Castonzo, G Jack Mewhort, TE Jack Doyle, WR Donte Moncrief
Keepers (defense): DT Johnathan Hankins, OLB Jabaal Sheard, CB Vontae Davis, DL Henry Anderson, DB Darius Butler, OLB John Simon
Keeper (special teams): K Adam Vinatieri

Jacksonville Jaguars

2016-17 draft picks: CB Jalen Ramsey, LB Myles Jack, DE Yannick Ngakoue, DT Sheldon Day, QB Brandon Allen, DE Jonathan Woodard, RB Leonard Fournette, OT Cam Robinson, DE Dawuane Smoot, WR Dede Westbrook, LB Blair Brown, CB Jalen Myrick, FB Marquez Williams

Keepers (10-player option): WR Allen Robinson, WR Marqise Lee, OL Brandon Lindor, DE Calais Campbell, DT Malik Jackson, DE Dante Fowler, LB Telvin Smith, CB A.J. Bouye, S Barry Church, S Tashaun Gipson
Keeper (special teams): P Brad Nortman

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Kansas City Chiefs

2016-17 draft picks: DT Chris Jones, G Parker Ehinger, DB Eric Murray, WR Demarcus Robinson, WR Tyreek Hill, CB D.J. White, OLB Dadi Nicolas, QB Patrick Mahomes, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, RB Kareem Hunt, WR Jehu Chesson, LB Ukeme Eligwe, S Leon McQuay

Keepers (offense): C Mitch Morse, OT Eric Fisher, QB Alex Smith, TE Travis Kelce, OT Mitchell Schwartz, G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
Keepers (defense): S Eric Berry, CB Marcus Peters, OLB Justin Houston, S Ron Parker, DT Bennie Logan, LB Ramik Wilson
Keeper (special teams): K Cairo Santos

Los Angeles Chargers

2016-17 draft picks: TE Hunter Henry, C Max Tuerk, LB Joshua Perry, LB Jatavis Brown, P Drew Kaser, FB Derek Watt, G Donovan Clark, WR Mike Williams, OL Forrest Lamp, G Dan Feeney, S Rayshawn Jenkins, CB Desmond King, OT Sam Tevi, DE Isaac Rochell

Keepers (offense): QB Philip Rivers, WR Keenan Allen, RB Melvin Gordon, OT Russell Okung, OL Matt Slauson, WR Tyrell Williams
Keepers (defense): OLB Melvin Ingram, CB Casey Heyward, CB Jason Verrett, S Jahleel Addae, DE Corey Liuget, LB Denzel Perryman
Keeper (special teams): K Josh Lambo

Los Angeles Rams

2016-17 draft picks: QB Jared Goff, TE Tyler Higbee, WR Pharoh Cooper, TE Temarrick Hemingway, LB Josh Forrest, WR Mike Thomas, TE Gerald Everett, WR Cooper Kupp, S Josh Johnson, WR Josh Reynolds, LB Samson Ebukam, DT Tanzel Smart, FB Sam Rogers, OLB Ejuan Price

Keepers (offense): OT Andrew Whitworth, OL Rob Havenstein, RB Todd Gurley, OT Jamon Brown, C John Sullivan, WR Sammy Watkins
Keepers (defense): DT Aaron Donald, OLB Robert Quinn, CB Trumaine Johnson, DT Michael Brockers, LB Mark Barron, LB Alec Ogletree
Keeper (special teams): P Johnny Hekker

Miami Dolphins

2016-17 draft picks: OT Laremy Tunsil, CB Xavien Howard, RB Kenyan Drake, WR Leontee Carroo, WR Jakeem Grant, S Jordan Lucas, QB Brandon Doughty, TE Thomas Duarte, DE Charles Harris, LB Raekwon McMillan, CB Cordrea Tankersley, G Isaac Asiata, DT Davon Godchaux, DT Vincent Taylor, WR Isaiah Ford

Keepers (offense): QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Jay Ajayi, C Mike Pouncey, OT Ja'waun James, WR DeVante Parker, WR Jarvis Landry
Keepers (defense): DT Ndamukong Suh, DE Cameron Wake, S Reshad Jones, LB Kiko Alonso, CB Tony Lippett, CB Byron Maxwell
Keeper (special teams): P Matt Darr

Minnesota Vikings

2016-17 draft picks: WR Laquon Treadwell, CB Mackensie Alexander, OL Willie Beavers, LB Kentrell Brothers, WR Moritz Boehringer, TE David Morgan, LB Stephen Weatherley, S Jayron Kearse, RB Dalvin Cook, OL Pat Elflein, DT Jaleel Johnson, LB Ben Gedeon, WR Rodney Adams, G Danny Isadora, TE Bucky Hodges, WR Stacy Coley, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, OLB Elijah Lee, CB Jack Tocho

Keepers (offense): WR Stefon Diggs, QB Sam Bradford, OT Riley Reiff, TE Kyle Rudolph, G Alex Boone, OT Mike Remmers
Keepers (defense): LB Anthony Barr, S Harrison Smith, DE Danielle Hunter, CB Xavier Rhodes, DT Linval Joseph, DE Everson Griffen
Keeper (special teams): K Kai Forbath

New England Patriots

2016-17 draft picks: CB Cyrus Jones, G Joe Thuney, QB Jacoby Brissett, DT Vincent Valentine, WR Malcolm Mitchell, LB Elandon Roberts, G Ted Karras, DE Derek Rivers, OT Antonio Garcia, DE Deatrich Wise, OT Conor McDermott

Keepers (offense): QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Julian Edelman, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, OT Nate Solder, WR Brandin Cooks
Keepers (defense): LB Dont'a Hightower, DE Trey Flowers, S Devin McCourty, CB Malcolm Butler, CB Stephon Gilmore, S Patrick Chung
Keeper (special teams): K Stephen Gostkowski

New Orleans Saints

2016-17 draft picks: DT Sheldon Rankins, WR Michael Thomas, S Vonn Bell, DT David Onyemata, RB Daniel Lasco, CB Marshon Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk, S Marcus Williams, RB Alvin Kamara, LB Alex Anzalone, DE Trey Hendrickson, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad

Keepers (10-player option): QB Drew Brees, G Larry Warford, OL Andrus Peat, WR Willie Snead, OT Terron Armstead, RB Mark Ingram, C Max Unger, DE Cameron Jordan, S Kenny Vaccaro, OLB Alex Okafor

New York Giants

2016-17 draft picks: CB Eli Apple, WR Sterling Shepard, S Darian Thompson, LB B.J. Goodson, RB Paul Perkins, TE Jerell Adams, TE Evan Engram, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, QB Davis Webb, RB Wayne Gallman, DE Avery Moss, OT Adam Bisnowaty

Keepers (offense): QB Eli Manning, WR Odell Beckham Jr., G Justin Pugh, WR Brandon Marshall, C Weston Richburg, OT Ereck Flowers
Keepers (defense): DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Damon Harrison, DE Olivier Vernon, S Landon Collins, CB Janoris Jenkins, LB Devon Kennard
Keeper (special teams): P Brad Wing

New York Jets

2016-17 draft picks: LB Darron Lee, QB Christian Hackenberg, OLB Jordan Jenkins, CB Juston Burris, OT Brandon Shell, P Lachlan Edwards, WR Charone Peake, S Jamal Adams, S Marcus Maye, WR ArDarius Stewart, WR Chad Hansen, TE Jordan Leggett, DE Dylan Donahue, RB Elijah McGuire, CB Jeremy Clark, CB Derrick Jones

Keepers (offense): OT Kelvin Beachum, C Wesley Johnson, RB Bilal Powell, G Brian Winters, WR Robby Anderson, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Keepers (defense): DE Leonard Williams, DE Muhammad Wilkerson, OLB Sheldon Richardson, CB Morris Claiborne, DT Steve McLendon, OLB Lorenzo Mauldin
Keeper (special teams): K Chandler Catanzaro

Oakland Raiders

2016-17 draft picks: S Karl Joseph, DE Jihad Ward, DE Shilique Calhoun, QB Connor Cook, RB DeAndre Washington, LB Cory James, G Vadal Alexander, CB Gareon Conley, S Obi Melifonwu, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, OT David Sharpe, LB Marquel Lee, S Shalom Luani, OT Jylan Ware, RB Elijah Hood, DT Treyvon Hester

Keepers (offense): QB Derek Carr, WR Amari Cooper, G Gabe Jackson, OT Donald Penn, C Rodney Hudson, G Kelechi Osemele
Keepers (defense): DE Khalil Mack, OLB Bruce Irvin, CB David Amerson, S Reggie Nelson, DE Mario Edwards, DT Justin Ellis
Keeper (special teams): P Marquette King

Philadelphia Eagles

2016-17 draft picks: QB Carson Wentz, OL Isaac Seumalo, RB Wendell Smallwood, OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, CB Jalen Mills, DE Alex McCalister, LB Joe Walker, DE Derek Barnett, CB Sidney Jones, CB Rasul Douglas, WR Mack Hollins, RB Donnel Pumphrey, WR Shelton Gibson, S Nate Gerry, DT Elijah Qualls

Keepers (offense): C Jason Kelce, OT Jason Peters, WR Alshon Jeffrey, OT Lane Johnson, TE Zach Ertz, G Brandon Brooks
Keepers (defense): DT Fletcher Cox, DE Brandon Graham, LB Jordan Hicks, S Malcolm Jenkins, DT Timmy Jernigan, CB Ronald Darby
Keeper (special teams): P Donnie Jones

Pittsburgh Steelers

2016-17 draft picks: CB Artie Burns, S Sean Davis, DT Javon Hargrave, OL Jerald Hawkins, WR Demarcus Ayers, LB Tyler Matakevich, OLB T.J. Watt, WR Juju Smith-Schuster, CB Cameron Sutton, RB James Conner, QB Joshua Dobbs, CB Brian Allen, LS Colin Holba, OLB Keion Adams

Keepers (offense): WR Antonio Brown, RB Le'Veon Bell, QB Ben Roethlisberger, C Maurkice Pouncey, OT Alejandro Villanueva, G David DeCastro
Keepers (defense): DE Stephon Tuitt, LB Ryan Shazier, DE Cameron Heyward, OLB Bud Dupree, S Mike Mitchell, LB Vince Williams
Keeper (special teams): P Jordan Berry

San Francisco 49ers

2016-17 draft picks: DE DeForest Buckner, G Joshua Garnett, CB Will Redmond, CB Rashard Robinson, DE Ronald Blair, OT John Theus, WR Aaron Burbridge, CB Prince Charles Iworah, DE Solomon Thomas, LB Reuben Foster, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, QB C.J. Beathard, RB Joe Williams, TE George Kittle, WR Trent Taylor, DT D.J. Jones, DE Pita Taumoepenu, CB Adrian Colbert

Keepers (offense): QB Brian Hoyer, OT Joe Staley, WR Pierre Garcon, RB Carlos Hyde, FB Kyle Juszczyk, C Daniel Kilgore
Keepers (defense): DE Arik Armstead, LB NaVorro Bowman, S Eric Reid, DB Jimmie Ward, DE Elvis Dumervil, OLB Eli Harold
Keeper (special teams): P Bradley Pinion

Seattle Seahawks

2016-17 draft picks: OT Germain Ifedi, DT Jarran Reed, RB C.J. Prosise, TE Nick Vannett, OL Rees Odhiambo, DT Quinton Jefferson, RB Alex Collins, C Joey Hunt, DT Malik McDowell, C Ethan Pocic, CB Shaq Griffin, S Delano Hill, DT Nazair Jones, WR Amara Darboh, S Tedric Thompson, S Mike Tyson, OT Justin Senior, WR David Moore, RB Chris Carson

Keepers (10-player option): QB Russell Wilson, WR Doug Baldwin, C Justin Britt, DE Michael Bennett, CB Richard Sherman, S Earl Thomas, LB Bobby Wagner, LB K.J. Wright, DE Cliff Avril, S Kam Chancellor

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016-17 draft picks: CB Vernon Hargreaves, DE Noah Spence, K Robert Aguayo, DB Ryan Smith, OL Caleb Benenoch, LB Devante Bond, TE O.J. Howard, S Justin Evans, WR Chris Godwin, LB Kendell Beckwith, RB Jeremy McNichols, DT Stevie Tu'ikolovatu

Keepers (offense): QB Jameis Winston, WR Mike Evans, WR DeSean Jackson, OT Donovan Smith, G Ali Marpet, TE Cameron Brate
Keepers (defense): DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David, DE Robert Ayers, LB Kwon Alexander, S J.J. Wilcox, DE William Gholston
Keeper (special teams): P Bryan Anger

NFL
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Tennessee Titans

2016-17 draft picks: OT Jack Conklin, OLB Kevin Dodd, DT Austin Johnson, RB Derrick Henry, S Kevin Byard, RB Derrick Henry, WR Tajai Sharpe, CB LeShaun Sims, G Sebastian Tretola, OLB Aaron Wallace, CB Kalan Reed, WR Corey Davis, CB Adoree Jackson, WR Taywan Taylor, TE Jonnu Smith, LB Jayon Brown, G Corey Levin, OLB Josh Carraway, OT Brad Seaton, RB Khalfani Muhammad

Keepers (offense): QB Marcus Mariota, RB DeMarco Murray, OT Taylor Lewan, TE Delanie Walker, C Ben Jones, WR Eric Decker
Keepers (defense): CB Logan Ryan, DT Jurrell Casey, OLB Brian Orakpo, LB Wesley Woodyard, LB Avery Williamson, S Jonathan Cyprien
Keeper (special teams): K Ryan Succop

Washington Redskins

2016-17 draft picks: WR Josh Doctson, LB Su'a Cravens, CB Kendall Fuller, DL Matt Ioannidis, QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Keith Marshall, DT Jonathan Allen, OLB Ryan Anderson, CB Fabian Moreau, RB Samaje Perine, S Montae Nicholson, TE Jeremy Sprinkle, C Chase Roullier, WR Robert Davis, S Josh Harvey-Clemons, CB Joshua Holsey

Keepers (offense): QB Kirk Cousins, TE Jordan Reed, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, G Brandon Scherff, WR Terrelle Pryor
Keepers (defense): OLB Ryan Kerrigan, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Josh Norman, LB Preston Smith, S D.J. Swearinger, LB Zach Brown
Keeper (special teams): K Dustin Hopkins

Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (Hundley), Sam Greenwood/Getty Images Sport (Yeldon), Bob Levey/Getty Images Sport (Strong), Bob Leverone/AP (Lotulelei), Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (Kendricks), Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Our expansion franchise had to pick at least one player, but no more than two, off each current NFL roster (minus the keepers). If the franchise selected two players off the same roster, they had to come from different sides of the ball—one defense, one offense (or special teams); it could not, for example, select two Seattle wide receivers. 

The post-draft roster includes 42 players, of varying contracts and NFL experience. It is, at first blush, a stronger outfit, on paper, than what the Texans cobbled together.

QB: Brett Hundley (Green Bay)
QB: Chase Daniel (New Orleans)

With Cincinnati's A.J. McCarron and New England's Jimmy Garoppolo both landing on the "protected" list in this exercise, the expansion-draft options at QB were limited. Nab a retread like Nick Foles, Matt Barkley or Ryan Mallett? Or roll the dice on a young, developing arm with intriguing upside?

The result here: a little from column A and a little from column B. The Packers reportedly shopped Hundley at this year's draft, only to keep him in place as Aaron Rodgers's backup. He's blocked from ever seeing the field there (assuming Rodgers stays healthy), but he also could receive the same boost in NFL circles that Tom Brady's backups have in the past—i.e. that playing behind a great, in a high-powered system, naturally makes QB2 better. Whether or not that's true, Hundley moves the needle more than any other expansion-available quarterback.

Helping to hold the down fort as Hundley settles in is Daniel, who has just two career starts under his belt but has seven seasons of NFL experience. With 11 open spots on the roster post-expansion draft, there's room to add a third quarterback, be it via trade or by sifting through the dust of free agency.

RB: T.J. Yeldon (Jacksonville)
RB: Rob Kelley (Washington)
RB: Darren Sproles (Philadelphia)

The Jaguars never fully trusted Yeldon as their every-down back, spelling him in short yardage as a rookie, then reducing his snaps via the additions of Chris Ivory (2016 free agency) and Leonard Fournette (2017 draft). Perhaps it's time for a fresh start. Even with the tempered role, Yeldon averaged 43 receptions and nearly 900 yards from scrimmage over his first two NFL seasons.

His style should pair well with the 233-lb., thunder brought by Kelley. As an undrafted rookie in Washington, Kelley rushed for 704 yards and six TDs, but Washington's keeper-list focus on its passing game and O-line squeezed him out.

Sproles is a wild-card selection, likely with but a year or two left in the tank. The choice for the third RB spot came down to he or Cincinnati's Gio Bernard, but adding the Bengals' Tyler Kroft at tight end eliminated the possibility of a Bernard selection. And despite his dwindling shelf life, Sproles remains a productive back, particularly as a pass catcher. The mix of backfield talent would allow our expansion team's offensive coordinator to play with combinations.

FB: Jalston Fowler (Tennessee)

The lone fullback on the roster, as the coaching staff figures out exactly what scheme it wants to employ. Fowler's a solid blocker, plus has the all-around game to be put to use in more ways than Tennessee saw fit.

WR: Chris Conley (Kansas City)
WR: John Brown (Arizona)
WR/KR: Deonte Thompson (Chicago)
WR: Jaelen Strong (Houston)
WR: Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta)

There are a handful of positions on this roster where the NFL's newest (imaginary) team appears quite competitive. There are others where it's obviously going to be a challenge to compete each week. The wide receivers fall under the latter category.

Talent exists here, of course, but who is the playmaker that really scares opposing defenses? Maybe Brown, if he's healthy, or Conley, if he breaks out free of Kansas City's attack. Strong has yet to emerge during his brief career, Sanu has proven himself to be a productive complementary receiver but no more, and Thompson's main role would be as a kick returner.

A note: Brown was chosen over current Cardinals teammate Larry Fitzgerald, whom the Arizona "front office" left exposed in a calculated gamble. Would Fitzgerald even continue playing if forced onto an expansion roster?  The threat of his retirement was enough to push the focus onto Brown instead.

TE: Dwayne Allen (New England)
TE: Vance McDonald (San Francisco)
TE: Tyler Kroft (Cincinnati)

The ceiling is not all that elevated at tight end, but the bottom isn't going to fall out on the floor either.

Jack Doyle stole TE1 duties from Allen in Indianapolis, and Rob Gronkowski stood in front of him in New England. Still, he's shown that he can be an effective NFL tight end, if only in somewhat frustrating spurts. Neither McDonald nor Kroft has reached the same status; at least Kroft could have such production in him, provided with opportunity.

OT: Ty Sambrailo (Denver)
OT: Marcus Gilbert (Pittsburgh)
G: Chaz Green (Dallas)
G: Andrew Norwell (Carolina)
OL: JC Tretter (Cleveland)
C: Travis Swanson (Detroit)
OL: Denzelle Good (Indianapolis)

This would be far from the worst O-line in the league, which has to qualify as a win for an expansion club. 

A plan to take George Fant (Seattle) fell apart when he injured his knee in preseason action—one could argue that shouldn't matter since this hypothetical draft would occur earlier in the calendar, but we have the luxury of a change here. So, it's Sambrailo as the initial starter on the left side, which isn't a great option but could buy time until the next full NFL draft. There is not another promising option for the blindside, although Tretter filled in for the Packers there a bit.

An interior of Green and Norwell at guard, with either Tretter or Swanson at center, certainly could hold its own. Norwell has been a very effective run blocker; Green is ticketed for a starting guard gig in Dallas' potent front.

DE: Owa Odighizuwa (NY Giants)
DE: Frank Clark (Seattle)
DT: Star Lotulelei (Carolina)
DT: Christian Covington (Houston)
DT: Chris Baker (Tampa Bay)
DE: Aaron Lynch (San Francisco)

Could have played this a lot safer, with more players of Baker's—weathered vets heavy on experience. What fun would that be? Baker, who will turn 30 this season, will have to serve as a father figure in the locker room.

He'll have a lot of promising talent there with him, led by Clark. Even with the Seahawks using the 10-player option in our draft, so they could protect seven defenders, Clark found himself squeezed out. Were this event to take place in reality, the Seahawks might look more aggressively at moving, for example, Richard Sherman so they could hang onto Clark. The young pass rusher isn't squeaky clean from a character perspective, but he did rack up 10.0 sacks a season ago.

Lynch notched 6.5 of his own during the 2015 campaign, before a suspension and then an injury cut into his '16. Our expansion club even could get Lynch, Clark and Odighizuwa on the field together, with Odighizuwa sliding inside on passing downs.

Would a Lotulelei-Baker-Covington rotation prove as fruitful as the regular tackles? The answer to that question would dictate how competitive this defense could be.

OLB: Shaq Barrett (Denver)
LB: Korey Toomer (LA Chargers)
LB: Eric Kendricks (Minnesota)
LB: Damario Davis (NY Jets)
LB: Ben Heeney (Oakland)

The challenge in trying to find viable, starter-caliber defenders through this expansion draft is that it's tough to piece them all together in a scheme, at least on paper. Davis is best suited for a 3–4 inside LB role, Barrett as a stand-up off the edge. Could the former play either the middle or weakside in a 4–3? Could the latter be an every-down LB or would he have to be saved for passing situations?

Kendricks would have to be the star of this group, likely slotting into the middle as he has with the Vikings. Pushing him out to a weakside role so Davis, Heeney or Toomer could plant inside could be an option, too. Both Toomer and Heeney have flashed against the run during their careers.

The front seven has a mix-and-match feel. Save for Kendricks, Clark and possibly Baker or Davis, there are no clear standouts.

CB: Darqueze Dennard (Cincinnati)
CB: PJ Williams (New Orleans)
CB: Brian Poole (Atlanta)
CB: Bobby McCain (Miami)
CB: Ladarius Gunter (Green Bay)

The slot should be under control—both Poole and McCain have done well there. It's outside, matched up against an opponent's top receivers, where this unit would have to prove its mettle. One of Dennard, Williams and Gunter would stand to be the No. 1 guy, and all three are at the stages of their careers where they're still fighting to prove they can be No. 2s.

S: Lamarcus Joyner (LA Rams)
S: Duron Harmon (New England)
S: Jordan Poyer (Buffalo)

Maybe the most solid of the defensive units. All three players have starting experience, and Joyner's ability in coverage might even allow this D to roll out a host of three-safety looks. This will have to be an area where depth is added post-draft, and there doesn't figure to be a whole lot available there.

K: Greg Zeuerlein (LA Rams)
P: Sam Koch (Baltimore)

Decent kicker. Good punter. Check.

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