Bengals: Drafting Ja’Marr Chase
There was much debate over whether Cincinnati should draft left tackle Penei Sewell or Chase, the wide receiver out of LSU. Many thought the Bengals would pick Sewell, given the weakness of their offensive line and the need to protect quarterback Joe Burrow, whose rookie season was cut short by a serious knee injury.
But the Bengals went with Chase, who played with Burrow in college, and through seven weeks of the NFL season, that looks like the best move of the draft. Chase has 754 receiving yards, more than any rookie has ever posted in his first seven games. He has six touchdown catches and is averaging 21.5 yards per reception. The Burrow-Chase connection has helped Cincinnati go 5-2, which is tied for the best record in the AFC.
Rams: Trading for Matthew Stafford
The move to upgrade at quarterback was costly, but so far it looks like a no-brainer. Los Angeles is a Super Bowl contender at 6-1, and Stafford has been great. He is completing 69.3 percent of his passes, has 19 touchdown throws and is averaging 310.3 yards per game.
It’s possible that the Rams’ willingness to trade their first-round draft picks — including giving up two, along with Jared Goff, to land Stafford — catches up to them. But the early returns on this trade are excellent.
Cardinals: Signing J.J. Watt
Watt has had a big impact in Arizona, even if that doesn’t show up in his stats. His leadership has helped the defense, which appeared flawed last season, come together.
The Cardinals (7-0) are the league’s last undefeated team. Quarterback Kyler Murray has been great in leading their high-powered offense, but the defense deserves a lot of credit, too.
Patriots: Signing Matthew Judon and drafting Mac Jones
Judon has been a wrecking ball for New England, posting 6.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits. He has been a great leader and the most productive of New England’s many free agent additions.
Jones was the last of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round, but so far he has performed the best. He’s completing 70.4 percent of his throws and has nine touchdowns. The great part for the Patriots is that they didn’t have to trade up from the 15th pick to get him. They’re 3-4 but would be in worse shape without Judon and Jones.
Raiders: Signing Yannick Ngakoue
Las Vegas has gotten more from Ngakoue than the $13 million per year it is paying him. The Raiders’ defense was horrible last year, and Ngakoue has helped make it legit. He has four sacks and 10 quarterback hits, and he has reestablished himself as one of the better edge rushers in the league.
It’s also worth noting that, despite a poor track record of drafting during Jon Gruden’s tenure, the Raiders came away with a couple of good values in this year’s class: fifth-round cornerback Nate Hobbs and second-round safety Trevon Moehrig.
Bears: Letting their starting tackles go
This one is simple. Chicago didn’t re-sign right tackle Bobby Massie and then cut left tackle Charles Leno Jr., and the result is one of the worst offensive lines the league has seen in years. That has largely ruined the chances for rookie quarterback Justin Fields — who had to replace an injured Andy Dalton — to succeed. Fields has been sacked 22 times and is averaging just 6.2 yards per pass attempt.
The Bears gave up next year’s first-round pick to move from No. 20 to No. 11 and select Fields. If this doesn’t get fixed soon, it could cost General Manager Ryan Pace and Coach Matt Nagy their jobs.
Texans: Just about everything
The Houston brain trust is largely to blame for making this one of the worst teams in football. The legal situation involving star quarterback Deshaun Watson is out of their control, but there’s a strong argument to be made that the Texans’ decision-makers should have traded him before the draft, when he said he would no longer play for the team. It’s possible they will get a deal done before the trade deadline Tuesday, but it’s hard to imagine them getting a better return than if they had made a move before the draft.
But they also unloaded so many players, including Watt, wide receivers Will Fuller V and Randall Cobb, center Nick Martin and pass rusher Whitney Mercilus. The result is a 1-6 season, about $36 million in dead money under the salary cap and no improvement in sight.
Dolphins: Trading away a valuable first-round pick
After winning 10 games last year, Miami is 1-6 and tied for last in the AFC. The Dolphins might be ready to give up on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa; they’ve been involved in trade talks for Watson.
We’ll see if a deal comes to fruition, but this roster isn’t just one player away. Miami got rid of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson and defensive back Bobby McCain, and it didn’t do enough to replace them.
The Dolphins also sent their 2022 first-rounder to Philadelphia to move from No. 12 to No. 6 in this year’s draft and select wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. He has been good, but that’s a tough deal to justify in retrospect, knowing it could be a top-10 or even a top-five selection.
Panthers: Trading for Sam Darnold
Darnold started off well, leading the Panthers to a 3-0 record. But he has gone on a four-game losing streak since, and Sunday he was benched.
Coach Matt Rhule said Darnold is still the starter, but it’s not looking good for his long-term prospects with Carolina. It’s possible the Panthers will enter the Watson trade discussions, or they could pursue a different option in the offseason. Either way, they probably wish they could get back the second- and fourth-round picks in next year’s draft that now belong to the New York Jets.
Lions: Decimating their receiving corps
The plan was to break down the roster and build it back up, and Detroit certainly accomplished the first part. It’s hard to knock the trade for Goff, given that the Lions knew they had to deal Stafford and got lots of draft capital in return. But by letting wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. walk, they left Goff without any legitimate weapons on the outside, and the offense has struggled during an 0-7 start.
Drafting Sewell was a good move, but this rebuild could take a while.