1. Titans resist Eagles’ trade overtures, select Marcus Mariota
The Titans are not one player away, but they are one player closer after stonewalling Chip Kelly’s frenzied pursuit of his college quarterback. The Titans didn’t seem sold on Mariota right up until the moment they drafted him, but he’s the organization’s first real hope at quarterback since Vince Young came off the board at No. 3 overall in 2006. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt is not a great fit for the Oregon product. Mariota is coming from a hyper spread, and Whiz has always done his best work with statuesque pocket passers. But Mariota was the right pick, one who can turn around a franchise coming off its worst ever season in Tennessee.
2. Seahawks acquire Jimmy Graham
The Seahawks came within one play of winning a Super Bowl with someone named Chris Matthews as their leading receiver. Seattle’s rise to the top of the NFL hasn’t featured much “skill” at the skill positions, but acquiring Graham is a giant leap toward changing that. Coming off four-straight 85-catch seasons, Graham remains in his prime at age 28 and will be, by far, the most talented target of Russell Wilson’s career. Acquiring Graham was the kind of bold move that Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have made their signature and should ensure they remain at the top of the NFC for yet another season.
3. Bills acquire LeSean McCoy
McCoy’s “down” 2014? Third in the NFL in rushing (1,319 yards). He’s a home-run addition for Rex Ryan, the coach who made “ground-and-pound” famous, and a massive upgrade on the duo of an aging Fred Jackson and inconsistent C.J. Spiller. McCoy’s age (27) is not yet a concern, while his 1,761 career touches aren’t near the trouble point (typically 3,000). Why Chip Kelly couldn’t work with McCoy remains a bit of a mystery, but Shady’s job in Buffalo isn’t: Work horse in charge of putting the offense on his back.
You can question the wisdom of trading LeSean McCoy, but you can’t question his replacements. Murray was arguably the league MVP last season, while Mathews has starting-caliber talent as a two-down back. Health has been a bug-a-boo for both, but Murray is coming off a 16-game season where he led the league in rushing while averaging 4.7 yards per carry (He also caught 57 passes). Now running behind one of the only offensive lines that can compare to Dallas’, Murray provides foundation skills for a coach in Chip Kelly who wasn’t afraid to utilize them with McCoy in 2013. Murray and Kelly’s path to each was circuitous, but it will be a match made in heaven for as long as Murray can remain on the field.
5. Eagles acquire Sam Bradford
Chip Kelly had a quarterback problem. It’s up for debate whether he fixed it, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. In Bradford, Kelly has taken a chance on a golden arm that’s been undone by legs failing to stay healthy. On paper, Bradford is an extremely shaky fit for Kelly’s offense. He lacks the “repetitive accuracy” Kelly is known to crave, and boasts zero rushing threat. Kelly is counting on Bradford rediscovering his college mindset, where he didn’t think so much as react in Oklahoma’s fast-paced spread. Kelly is gambling a better coaching staff and supporting cast will bring out the form Bradford rarely displayed in five years in St. Louis.
Although the Colts’ resurgence has been built on the back of a young offensive core, there’s been no shortage of veterans to help steady the ship. But Reggie Wayne has aged out while Ahmad Bradshaw has limped off, leaving holes at two key cogs in the Colts’ offensive machine. In step Gore and Johnson, two All-Decade talents who both appeared to have plenty left in the tank last season. Johnson offers a massive upgrade on Wayne, while Gore will help erase any memories of Trent Richardson. The Colts are going for it, and Johnson and Gore are two talents who have been there before.
7. Rams acquire Nick Foles
The Rams haven’t had a great quarterback since Kurt Warner. They’re hoping Foles is their first good one since Marc Bulger. Foles’ Eagles career was the tale of two seasons, with a backup caliber 2014 following up his ridiculous 2013. The Rams have their fingers crossed that Foles can discover the middle ground of his disparate Chip Kelly campaigns.
8. Chiefs sign Jeremy Maclin
Chiefs receivers scored zero touchdowns last season. That’s eight fewer than Maclin has averaged over his past four healthy campaigns. Alex Smith will constrict Maclin’s scoring upside, but he’s the touchdown threat the Chiefs have been seeking for three years under head coach Andy Reid. It was Reid who drafted Maclin in Philadelphia and Reid who should be able to further unlock the potential of a player who exploded under Chip Kelly in 2014. The Chiefs’ receiver corps remains far from perfect, but Maclin has made it a whole heck of a lot better.
9. Rams make Todd Gurley the first running back off the board
Another year, another attempt at finding a foundation back for head coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher’s fliers have gotten better every season, from Daryl Richardson to Zac Stacy to Tre Mason. Gurley has the best amateur résumé of them all and is arguably the league’s top running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. Before anything else, Gurley needs to get his knee back to 100 percent health. Once he does, he’ll be the funnel through which the Rams’ offense is filtered.
10. Jaguars sign Julius Thomas
Already loaded with young receivers, the Jags hope Thomas is the missing piece to their pass-catching puzzle. Thomas is a touchdown-scoring force when healthy, but there’s that pesky phrase: “When healthy.” He’ll also be going from Peyton Manning to Blake Bortles, which is a bit like trading in your 747 for a Cessna. The hope, of course, is that weapons like Thomas can help Bortles earn his wings.
11. Dolphins acquire Kenny Stills
Stills is 23, coming off a breakout year and is due just $1.26 million over the next two seasons. He is not the kind of player who usually gets traded. The Dolphins were right to pounce, and for just the cost of a third-round pick (and Dannell Ellerbe) they got a versatile up-and-comer. Stills offers long speed in the vein of Mike Wallace, but is also an excellent route runner at the short-to-intermediate levels. That’s where Ryan Tannehill thrives and where he’ll undoubtedly pepper his new weapon with targets. Stills could prove to be the steal of the offseason.
12. Chargers trade up for Melvin Gordon
Ryan Mathews preferred singles and doubles as the Chargers’ lead back. Just 24 of his 923 Bolts carries gained 20 or more yards (2.16 percent), while his career YPC of 4.4 is thoroughly average. Contrast that to Gordon, who averaged 7.79 yards per carry in the Big 10. That’s a shocking number, one indicative of Gordon’s elite burst. Gordon has holes in his game. He caught just 22 passes as a Badger. But that’s what Danny Woodhead is for. Gordon has the ability to slam dunk the mail as he carries it and could make Chargers fans forget about Mathews in a hurry.
13. Packers re-sign Randall Cobb
No general manager understands his in-house talent better than Ted Thompson. When he lets you walk — hello Greg Jennings — it’s usually not a great sign for your career. When he brings you back, it typically means good things for both sides. Still only 25 (in August), each of Cobb’s 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns were new career-highs last season. His potential has been realized, and he will continue to be a boon for both Aaron Rodgers and fantasy owners.
14. 49ers sign Torrey Smith
The 49ers have aged out of their championship window, but they at least injected some new blood on offense. Heading into his age-26 campaign, Smith can be a bit one-dimensional as a deep threat, but is darn good at his one dimension, averaging 16.9 yards on 213 career catches. He’s a strong match for the big-armed Colin Kaepernick and should prove to be a bright spot for the 49ers in a season that’s expected to be rough.
15. Saints sign C.J. Spiller
The Saints may be transforming their offense, but there’s still a pace to be changed behind early-down banger Mark Ingram. That’s something few do better than Spiller, even when he’s playing on one leg. Spiller is a home run waiting to happen on sweeps, screens and dump-offs, something head coach Sean Payton was positively giddy about this spring. Spiller hasn’t been utilized properly since the Bills fired Chan Gailey. Payton will be the man to change that in 2015 and to his own immense benefit.
16. Vikings acquire Mike Wallace
Wallace never gelled with Ryan Tannehill but is coming off a 10-touchdown season. That’s the kind of player you buy low on. Of course, Teddy Bridgewater’s hot zone — the short-to-intermediate area of the field — is the same as Tannehill’s, but the Vikes are gambling that a change of scenery will re-ignite a scoring threat who is still only 29 years old (in August). Together with Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson, Wallace is part of a receiver corps that could take a big step forward.
17. Giants sign Shane Vereen
Vereen was signed to catch passes, something he’s done 99 times over the past two seasons. He’s a perfect fit for the G-Men’s precision offense, one who should soak up targets underneath as defenses obsess over Odell Beckham. Vereen hasn’t always lived up to his PPR promise, but 2015 is not the year to give up on the ex-Pat.
18. Jets acquire Brandon Marshall
We don’t know how much Marshall has left in the tank. We do know he still has more than Jeremy Kerley ever did and is a massive upgrade for the Jets behind Eric Decker. Now 31, injuries and father time may be catching up to Marshall a little bit, but this is still a fearless player with a nose for contested passes. Whether it’s by catching touchdowns or bumping Kerley down the line, Marshall makes the Jets better.
19. Ravens trade up to make Maxx Williams the first tight end off the board
The Ravens are replacing Dennis Pitta with a player who plays like the tight end Pitta replaced. Williams is an updated version of Todd Heap, one with huge hands (10 3/8") and long arms (33 1/2"). Williams’ massive mitts help his cause as a blocker, though they’re also soft enough to catch passes with the best of them. Capable of winning with both power and finesse, Williams is poised to make a much bigger impact than the typical first-year tight end.
20. Bills sign Percy Harvin
Percy Harvin has had his ups and downs the past few seasons, but one thing we know for sure? He’s better than Marquise Goodwin. For a guy who has been around forever, Harvin is still only 27 and is still a special playmaker with the ball in his hands. If he can stay healthy, he’s a bounce-back candidate who could get paid big time in 2016.
21. Bills win tug of war for Charles Clay
The Bills don’t have a quarterback. They’re trying to make up for that fact by stockpiling as many weapons as possible. Clay didn’t come cheap, but the swiss-army H-Back is an upgrade on Scott Chandler in nearly every phase of the game. He’ll provide a soft pair of hands for whomever wins the Bills’ quarterback job and TE2 value for fantasy owners.
22. Colts stay put at No. 29 and select Phillip Dorsett
Dorsett’s selection was perhaps the most derided of the draft, but ask yourself this: Is it possible for Andrew Luck to have too many weapons? The Colts are trying to make their strength as strong as possible, and Dorsett is a born playmaker who should contribute from Day 1.
23. Jets acquire Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick was the best quarterback available this offseason. That’s an indictment of the quarterback pool more than anything else, but the Jets landed him, and he should prove a nice foil for third-year pro Geno Smith. Throw in the fact that Fitz’s greatest success has come with new Gang Green OC Chan Gailey, and you have a team that got better at a position it had to improve.
Fact 1: Bowe and Hartline are no longer impact players. Fact 2: They’re better than the outside receivers they’re replacing and will at least provide stable hands for an organization lacking stability just about everywhere else.
25. Chargers sign Stevie Johnson
One of the better route runners of his generation, Johnson still had plenty left in the tank for the 49ers last season; they just seemed unsure how to use it. Adept at getting open over the middle of the field, Johnson will be an upgrade over Eddie Royal and a sure-handed target for Philip Rivers.