Per usual, some clubs were more active that others when it came to adding veteran talent. Which was the top pick-up for each NFL team entering the draft?
We are less than a week away from the 2021 NFL Draft and the primary focus now is on the seven-round process. Franchises have spent the last few months refurbishing their roster and all but one of the 32 teams has added at least one veteran performer via free agency or trade.
Of course, some organizations have been busier than others while a few have been limited dramatically by a lack of finances (via Spotrac). In any case, here’s a look at the best acquisition by each NFL team prior to this year’s draft. We’re talking players here…with one notable exception.
Arizona Cardinals: DE J.J. Watt
The club slumped after a 6-3 start a year ago. General manager Steve Keim went out and added share of big names this offseason, including wide receiver A.J. Green while trading for center Rodney Hudson.
Ten-year pro J.J. Watt doesn’t have the resume recently that the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year did early in his career. But he adds to an improving defense and brings leadership to a club that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2015.
Atlanta Falcons: S Duron Harmon
There’s a new sheriff in town and head coach Arthur Smith and brought along defensive coordinator Dean Pees, back in the NFL after a year of retirement. No team in the league gave up more passing yards a year ago than the Falcons and the secondary is in the midst of an overhaul.
Veteran Duron Harmon brings a lot to the table including Super Bowl experience with the Patriots and 22 takeaways in eight seasons with New England and Detroit.
Baltimore Ravens: G Kevin Zeitler
John Harbaugh’s club has led the NFL in rushing two straight years. And now guard Kevin Zeitler is back in the AFC North for the third time and with his third different club. The 27th-overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, he spent five seasons with that club before signing with Cleveland. He was dealt by the Browns to Big Blue and is now in Baltimore after being released by New York. He upgrades a unit that had its share of injuries in 2020.
Buffalo Bills: WR Emmanuel Sanders
The reigning AFC East champions got a big year from quarterback Josh Allen and he was a huge reason the club reached the AFC title game for the first time since 1993.
General manager Brandon Beane acquired wideout Stefon Diggs from the Vikings and he responded by leading the NFL in catches and receiving yards. Speedy John Brown was injured much of last season and was let go. Adding Emmanuel Sanders makes this offense even more potent.
Carolina Panthers: QB Sam Darnold
After giving quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a sizable contract last offseason, the club went out this year looking for more quarterback help and were able to pry Sam Darnold away from the Jets for a relatively reasonable price (see Spotrac). The three-year signal-caller has played and started in 38 games and has more turnovers (46) than touchdown passes (45). But a change of scenery could be quite good for the third-overall pick in the 2018 draft.
Chicago Bears: CB Desmond Trufant
You could argue that quarterback Andy Dalton or perhaps wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (who opted out for 2020) would be better choices here, especially the former as the Bears allowed Mitch Trubisky to test free agency. But the club will miss certainly miss standout cornerback Kyle Fuller in numerous ways. The team has relied on its defense during Matt Nagy’s tenure and Desmond Trufant, released by Detroit, has some very big shoes to fill.
Cincinnati Bengals: DE Trey Hendrickson
It’s been a rough five- year stretch for the team from the Queen City. And much of the issues have had to do with the defensive side of the ball. Last April, the Bengals used the first overall pick on quarterback Joe Burrow and he showed plenty of promise before going down with a knee injury. This club spent most of free agency trying to fix a unit that managed an NFL-low 17 sacks – a total Trey Hendrickson (13.5) nearly reached with the Saints in 2020.
Cleveland Browns: S John Johnson III
Kevin Stefanski was the 2020 NFL Coach of the Year and the Browns were in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. They stunned the Steelers in the wild card round and gave the Chiefs a run for their money. But the defense struggled to slow down opposing passing games, hence general manager Andrew Berry focusing on that side of the ball in free agency. John Johnson III was a big reason the Rams allowed the fewest yards and points in the NFL this past year.
Dallas Cowboys: S/LB Keanu Neal
New coordinator Dan Quinn, late the head coach of the Falcons, obviously recruited a pair of his pupils in safeties Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee. But the former will line up at weakside linebacker and brings a much-needed physicality to a unit that fell off badly this past season.
The Cowboys have up 473 points, 152 more than the previous season (321), and only the Houston Texans allowed more yards per game on the ground this past year.
Denver Broncos: CB Kyle Fuller
Four consecutive losing seasons as well as a combined 32-48 mark since the franchise captured Super Bowl 50. And the Broncos are not only coming off a last-place finish in the AFC West but managed a 1-5 record vs. its divisional foes. There’s plenty of blame to go around for a team that committed an NFL-high 32 turnovers and allowed 43 offensive touchdowns. Now two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller is reunited with Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell.
Detroit Lions: DT Michael Brockers
They allowed the most total yards in the league in 2020 and the second-most points in a season (519) in NFL history. The Lions dealt veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams and got back Jared Goff and some picks.
However, the team also traded for quality defensive lineman Michael Brockers and new coordinator Aaron Glenn is certainly hoping his arrival benefits end Trey Flowers, who has disappointed as a pass rusher to date.
Green Bay Packers: Defensive coordinator Joe Barry
Here is the one exception when it comes to a player acquisition and that’s because general manager Brian Gutekunst, who made a splash during the 2019 offseason, has not added a veteran from another team to this roster…at least not yet.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers comes off his third NFL MVP season but the defense wasn’t always reliable. It’s up to new coordinator Joe Barry, who’s worked with Matt LaFleur, to cure what ails this unit.
Houston Texans: CB Desmond King
It takes some time to go through the list of offseason additions by a franchise with a first-time NFL head coach and minus first- and second-round draft choices this year. New general manager Nick Caserio’s biggest task is rebuilding a defense that has slumped in recent years and fell to 30th in the league in total yards allowed, 27th in the NFL in points surrendered and dead last in the league vs. the run. Desmond King helps a team that allowed 30 TD passes in 2020.
Indianapolis Colts: QB Carson Wentz
For the fourth consecutive year, the franchise will have a new starting quarterback. And for the second straight offseason, general manager Chris Ballard has dealt for a player selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
A year ago, the Colts gave up a first-round pick for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and he enjoyed an All-Pro season. Now Frank Reich is reunited with talented Carson Wentz and hopes to fix what has troubled him recently.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Marvin Jones
Urban Meyer’s first venture into the NFL begins with a team riding a 15-game losing streak. The Jaguars are less than a week away from making the expected move to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The club has a dynamite young receiving tandem in D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. But veteran Marvin Jones Jr. nine years of NFL experience to Jacksonville, along with 423 catches for 6,025 yards and 51 scores with Cincinnati and Detroit.
Kansas City Chiefs: G Joe Thuney
Those viewing Super Bowl LV saw how injuries along the offensive line, in particular tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, made Patrick Mahomes look ordinary. Both were released and the team just traded for Orlando Brown (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter). He’ll team up with standout guard Joe Thuney – late of the Patriots and a starter in each of the club’s 90 total games (including playoffs) since being selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Las Vegas Raiders: DE Yannick Ngakoue
A team that has made one playoff appearance since 2003 has collapsed on defense down the stretch each of the past two years is remaking itself in the trenches. On that side of the ball, Maurice Hurst and Arden Key were let go (both signed with the 49ers) while the Raiders signed Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson. Yannick Ngakoue split time with the Vikings and Ravens in 2020 but the former Jaguars’ Pro Bowler has 46.5 sacks in five seasons.
NASHVILLE, TN – DECEMBER 15: Benardrick McKinney #55 of the Houston Texans looks over the offense during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Texans defeated the Titans 24-21. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Chargers: C Corey Linsley
First-time NFL head coach Brandon Staley – late of the Rams – takes over a team that won its final four games this past season following a 3-9 start. But there are obviously holes to fill here in the club picked up one of the best centers in the league and Corey Linsley, who the salary-cap Packers couldn’t afford. He hopes to bring stability to a unit that has had issues in recent years and make 2020 NFL Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert a better quarterback.
Los Angeles Rams: QB Matthew Stafford
Sean McVay welcomes back old friend DeSean Jackson, who he worked with in Washington. But the obvious headliner here is quarterback Matthew Stafford, now with a different team after a dozen seasons in Detroit. He’s surrounded by a slew of weapons and a very respectable offensive line. But it will be interesting to see if he is forced to put up big numbers while the Rams’ defense – now led by Raheem Morris – undergoes a transition.
Miami Dolphins: ILB Benardrick McKinney
From one of the worst defenses in the league in 2019 to a club that made mass improvement on this side of the ball and led the NFL in takeaways, Brian Flores has the Dolphins headed in the right direction. While much of the discussion last year and already in 2021 has been about quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, GM Chris Grier went out and addressed the interior of its linebacking corps by swapping end Shaq Lawson for Houston’s Benardrick McKinney.
Minnesota Vikings: DT Dalvin Tomlinson
Youth was served in the Twin Cities a year ago as general manager Rick Spielman made a record 15 selections in a seven-round draft. Nine of those picks were on the defensive side and Mike Zimmer’s team took its lumps. Many of those choices got their share of experience and now the team adds a very underrated interior presence Dalvin Tomlinson – a big part of the Giants’ defensive revival in 2020 and one that could help the Vikings stop the run.
New England Patriots: TE Jonnu Smith
The dynasty in Foxborough hit a speed bump this past season and the club suffered through its first losing campaign since Bill Belichchick’s first campaign as head coach in 2000. Quarterback Cam Newton was re-signed for one year and the Patriots spent a lot of money in free agency upgrading both sides of the ball. There’s a new tight end combination in Hunter Henry (Chargers) and Jonnu Smith (Titans) and the latter has unlimited potential.
New Orleans Saints: TE Nick Vannett
It’s a team that has won the last four NFC South titles but failed to reach the Super Bowl over that stretch. Now it’s up to quarterback Jameis Winston and/or Taysom Hill to lead the offense after Drew Brees. The Saints also parted ways with tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill and both latched on with other clubs. Due to salary cap restrictions, the team hasn’t added a lot of veterans and is hoping well-travelled Nick Vannett can contribute immediately.
New York Giants: WR Kenny Golladay
General manager Dave Gettleman takes his share of criticism but the team appears to have made the right choice at head coach with Joe Judge. The team struggled on offense this past season and it overshadowed a defense that finished 12th in the league in fewest total yards allowed. That unit added speedy cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and he bolsters a strong secondary. But big-play wideout Kenny Golladay will make much easier for Daniel Jones.
New York Jets: LB Jarrad Davis
Former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is now at the helm of the Green and White, a team that owns the current longest playoff drought in the league. The Jets lost their first 13 games a year ago, dealt quarterback Sam Darnold to Carolina this year but owns plenty of draft choices – including the second-overall pick. The defense need some work as well and adding former Lions’ first-rounder Jarrad Davis was a wise choice.
Philadelphia Eagles: S Anthony Harris
Franchised by the Vikings a year ago, the new-look Eagles (now led by Nick Sirianni) scooped up a player that has totaled just nine interceptions and six of those picks came in 2019 when he tied for the NFL lead. Of course, general manager Howie Roseman hasn’t had a lot of money to play with. Still, the Philadelphia defense slumped badly after some solid years and surrendered 47 offensive touchdowns – including 27 through the air.
Pittsburgh Steelers: C/G B.J. Finney
From 11-0 to 1-5, the latter including a humbling home loss to the Cleveland Browns in the wild card round. The reigning AFC North champions were plagued by poor offensive line play and a lack of commitment to the running game. So one-time Steelers’ interior lineman/turned Bengals’ performer B.J. Finney is back in the Steel City after being released by Cincinnati and looks to be first up when it comes to taking over for retired Maurkice Pouncey.
San Francisco 49ers: C Alex Mack
Last year, the club dealt for perennial Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams and this offseason re-signed him for big money. He remains one of the best players in the league at his position and fit right in following last year’s retirement of Joe Staley. But now the 49ers may be even better when it comes to the interior of their offensive front with center Alex Smith, a 12-year veteran named to three Pro Bowls apiece with the Browns and Falcons.
Seattle Seahawks: DE Kerry Hyder
The reigning NFC West champions got off to a great start in 2020 thanks to quarterback Russell Wilson and an offense that put up big numbers. But the defense was a liability and though it got better as the season wore on, it was worth addressing this offseason. The club traded for Carlos Dunlap, released him and re-signed him. Seattle added Aldon Smith but there could be an issue. Unsung Kerry Hyde comes off 8.5 sacks with the 49ers a year ago.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB Giovani Bernard
The reigning Super Bowl champions did an excellent job of retaining their talent from a year ago and all 22 starters from the team that dethroned the Chiefs in Tampa in February are back. Giovani Bernard is a versatile performer who spent eight seasons with the Bengals and showed his running and receiving skills. The Buccaneers’ backfield is now deep with Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette and a veteran who may be the best pass-catcher of the three.
Tennessee Titans: DE Denico Autry
Mike Vrabel’s club finished fourth in the league in scoring this past season and the Titans won a division title for the first time since 2008. But they also allowed the most points by any of the 14 playoff teams and one reason was a pass rush that produced a paltry 19 sacks. The team inked former Steelers’ pass-rusher Bud Dupree to a big deal but he’s coming off a December knee injury. Denico Autry totaled 20 sacks in three seasons with the rival Colts.
Washington Football Team: WR Curtis Samuel
Only two teams in the league gained fewer total yards per game than the 2020 NFC East champions. Washington’s passing attack only managed 16 scores through the air and six of those came via tight end Logan Thomas. It will be interesting to see who Ron Rivera opts for at quarterback. But he’s more than familiar with versatile Curtis Samuel, who totaled 1,051 yards scrimmage, caught 77 passes and scored five TDs via the aerial game (3) and the run (2).