What Would An NFL Expansion Draft Look Like?

Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What’s Kraken?

In case you weren’t aware, the NHL’s newest team—the Seattle Kraken—is having their expansion draft this Wednesday, with the event causing plenty of excitement and discussion in the hockey world.

Now, how does this relate to football? Well, it technically doesn’t. However, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see what an NFL expansion would look like in this day and age.

Rules

The current NHL expansion has rules in place that allow teams to keep seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie (as well as players on rookie contracts). There are a few other complications involved, but that’s basically the gist of it. Teams can (and will) also unload salaries to new teams along with assets to entice them, but moves like this are much more common in hockey and basketball than football.

All in all, an NFL expansion draft is much trickier to design, mostly because of the number of players on a roster (53) and the important and irreplaceable nature of the QB position.

The sheer quantity of athletes on rookie contracts is also something that needs to be considered. All NFL draft picks have to play right away, whereas the majority of NHL players stay in developmental leagues in their early careers. With this being the case, we can’t just say that every player on a rookie deal would be protected in expansion—it would be unfair to the new team.

With all these factors, I came up with the following rules for my imaginary draft: 

  • 7 offensive players (Up to 1 QB)
  • 8 defensive players (Including K/P)
  • First-year players are exempt (Rookies)

Expansion team

  • Draft 1 offensive player from each current NFL team
  • Draft 1 defensive player (or K/P) from each current NFL team
  • Need to fit under salary cap ($182.5 million)

Keep in Mind

Assembling a functional roster isn’t as easy as simply taking the best player(s) from every team. You need a combination of veterans, developmental players, youthful assets, and versatile depth pieces. You also need to account for positional value (it probably won’t be very beneficial to protect many running backs, etc.)

The Results

Here are my protection and selection picks for all 32 franchises. Given the depth and talent on certain rosters, choosing certain protections was truly a toss-up, particularly on the defensive end. Let’s just say that the coin I use to make tough decisions got a solid workout in.

NFC West

Seahawks

Protected Offense: Russell Wilson, D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Duane Brown, Chris Carson, Damien Lewis, Gabe Jackson

Protected Defense: Poona Ford, Jamal Adams, Marquise Blair, Bobby Wagner, Jordyn Brooks, Quandre Diggs, Akhello Witherspoon, D.J. Reed

Expansion Draft Options: Rashaad Penny, Ethan Pocic, Rasheem Green, Cody Barton, Darrell Taylor, Josh Myers, Michael Dickson

Selections: Ethan Pocic, Darrell Taylor

Rams

Protected Offense: Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Rob Havenstein, Cam Akers, Andrew Whitworth, David Edwards

Protected Defense: Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Floyd, Darious Williams, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Jordan Fuller, Micah Kiser, Johnny Hekker

Expansion Draft Options: Van Jefferson, Austin Corbett, Tyler Higbee, Taylor Rapp, Terrell Burgess, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, David Long, A’Shawn Robinson

Selections: Tyler Higbee, Taylor Rapp

Cardinals

Protected Offense: Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, D.J. Humphries, Chase Edmonds, Rodney Hudson, Justin Pugh

Protected Defense: Isaiah Simmons, Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt, Byron Murphy, Zach Allen, Malcolm Butler, Budda Baker, Markus Golden

Expansion Draft Options: Josh Jones, Andy Isabella, James Conner, A.J. Green, Jordan Hicks, Leki Fotu, Robert Alford, Matt Prater, Jordan Phillips

Selections: Josh Jones, Matt Prater

49ers

Protected Offense: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Trent Williams, Mike McGlinchey, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, Alex Mack

Protected Defense: Fred Warner, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Nick Bosa, D.J. Jones, Dre Greenlaw, Jason Verrett, Jimmie Ward

Expansion Draft Options: Jimmy Garoppolo, Daniel Brunskill, Laken Tomlinson, Raheem Mostert, Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams, Dee Ford

Selections: Laken Tomlinson, K’Waun Williams

NFC North

Vikings

Protected Offense: Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Brian O’Neill, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland

Protected Defense: Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, Michael Pierce, Cameron Dantzler, Patrick Peterson

Expansion Draft Options: Mason Cole, Dakota Dozier, Alexander Mattison, Bashaud Breeland, Sheldon Richardson, Mackenzie Alexander

Selections: Alexander Mattison, Sheldon Richardson

Packers

Protected Offense: Aaron Rodgers, David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones, Elgton Jenkins, Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, Robert Tonyan Jr.

Protected Defense: Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage, Adrian Amos, Za’Darius Smith, J.K. Scott, Rashan Gary, Preston Smith

Expansion Draft Options: Jordan Love, A.J. Dillon, Mason Crosby, Oren Burks, De’Vondre Campbell, Kevin King, Kamal Martin, Dean Lowry, Kevin King

Selections: Jordan Love, Kevin King

Lions

Protected Offense: Jared Goff, D’Andre Swift, Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker, T.J. Hockenson, Quintez Cephus, Jonah Jackson

Protected Defense: Trey Flowers, Michael Brockers, Jeff Okudah, Romeo Okwara, Tracy Walker, Amani Oruwariye, Jahlani Tavai, Jamie Collins

Expansion Draft Options: Jamaal Williams, Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Crosby, Da’Shawn Hand, John Penisini, Will Harris, Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Selections: Tyrell Crosby, Da’Shawn Hand

Bears

Protected Offense: Andy Dalton, Allen Robinson, David Montgomery, Darnell Mooney, Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Cole Kmet

Protected Defense: Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Robert Quinn, Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Goldman

Expansion Draft Options: Tarik Cohen, Germain Ifedi, Nick Foles, Tashaun Gipson, Desmond Trufant, Mario Edwards Jr., Bilal Nichols

Selections: Tarik Cohen, Tashaun Gipson

NFC East

Washington Football Team

Protected Offense: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Antonio Gibson, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, Logan Thomas

Protected Defense: Chase Young, Da’Ron Payne, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, William Jackson III, Jimmy Moreland, Landon Collins, Matt Ioannidis

Expansion Draft Options: J.D. McKissic, Taylor Heinicke, Ereck Flowers, Kendall Fuller, Kamren Curl, Cole Holcomb, Tress Way

Selections: J.D. McKissic, Kamren Curl

Cowboys

Protected Offense: Dak Prescott, Zack Martin, Ceedee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Tyler Biadasz

Protected Defense: Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Trevon Diggs, Leighton Vander Esch, Neville Gallimore, Jourdan Lewis, Keanu Neal

Expansion Draft Options: Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Dalton Schultz, Jaylon Smith, Brent Urban, Trysten Hill, Carlos Watkins, Greg Zuerlein

Selections: Michael Gallup, Trysten Hill

Giants

Protected Offense: Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Andrew Thomas, Will Hernandez, Sterling Shepard

Protected Defense: Dexter Lawrence, James Bradberry, Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Leonard Williams, Darnay Holmes, Blake Martinez, Xavier McKinney

Expansion Draft Options: Shane Lemieux, Evan Engram, Matt Peart, Nick Gates, Adoree’ Jackson, Lorenzo Carter, Julian Love

Selections: Shane Lemieux, Adoree’ Jackson

Eagles

Protected Offense: Jalen Hurts, Jalen Reagor, Dallas Goedert, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Miles Sanders

Protected Defense: Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Anthony Harris, Darius Slay, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, Avonte Maddox

Expansion Draft Options: Andre Dillard, Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumelo, Boston Scott, Rodney McLeod, Ryan Kerrigan, Marcus Epps, T.J. Edwards

Selections: Andre Dillard, Ryan Kerrigan

NFC South

Saints

Protected Offense: Jameis Winston, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Ryan Ramczyk, Terron Armstead, Erik McCoy, Cesar Ruiz

Protected Defense: Demario Davis, Marcus Williams, Cameron Jordan, Marcus Lattimore, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, Wil Lutz

Expansion Draft Options: Taysom Hill, Andrus Peat, Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Zack Baun, P.J. Williams, Malcolm Jenkins

Selections: Deonte Harris, Zack Baun

Falcons

Protected Offense: Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, Jake Matthews, Matt Hennessy, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, Hayden Hurst

Protected Defense: A.J. Terrell, Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, Mykal Walker, Younghoe Koo, Kendall Scheffield, Foyesade Oluokun, Dante Fowler Jr.

Expansion Draft Options: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Erik Harris, Isaiah Oliver, Marlon Davidson, Tyeler Davidson

Selections: Mike Davis, Marlon Davidson

Panthers

Protected Offense: Sam Darnold, Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Taylor Moton, Ian Thomas, Matt Paradis

Protected Defense: Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos, Jeremy Chinn, Donte Jackson, Shaq Thompson, Haason Reddick, Troy Pride Jr.

Expansion Draft Options: David Moore, Trenton Cannon, Pat Elflein, Cameron Erving, Denzel Perryman, Juston Burris, Brayvion Roy, Delano Hill, Morgan Fox

Selections: David Moore, Morgan Fox

Buccaneers

Protected Offense: Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Tristan Wirfs, Chris Godwin, Ali Marpet, Alex Cappa, Ryan Jensen

Protected Defense: Vita Vea, Devin White, Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Antoine Winfield Jr.

Expansion Draft Options: O.J. Howard, Antonio Brown, Donovan Smith, Ronald Jones II, Leonard Fournette, Ndamukong Suh, Jamel Dean, Jordan Whitehead, William Gholston

Selections: O.J. Howard, Ndamukong Suh

AFC East

Bills

Protected Offense: Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Dion Dawkins, Mitch Morse, Cody Ford, Daryl Williams, Cole Beasley

Protected Defense: Ed Oliver, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Mario Addison, Jerry Hughes

Expansion Draft Options: Gabriel Davis, Jon Feliciano, Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox, Zack Moss, A.J. Epenesa, Levi Wallace, Vernon Butler, Star Lotulelei

Draft Picks: Gabriel Davis, A.J. Epenesa

Patriots

Protected Offense: Jonnu Smith, Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Hunter Henry

Protected Defense: Matt Judon, Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, Chase Winovich, Kyle Dugger, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux

Expansion Draft Options: Cam Newton, Damien Harris, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Deatrich Wise Jr.

Selections: Cam Newton, Josh Uche

Dolphins

Protected Offense: Tua Tagovailoa, Will Fuller, Austin Jackson, DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, Robert Hunt, Solomon Kindley

Protected Defense: Raekwon Davis, Xavier Howard, Byron Jones, Eric Rowe, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jerome Baker, Andrew Van Ginkel, Noah Igbinoghene

Expansion Draft Options: Matt Skura, Preston Williams, Myles Gaskin, Jacoby Brissett, Christian Wilkins, Benardrick McKinney, Justin Coleman, Jason Sanders

Draft Picks: Preston Williams, Christian Wilkins

Jets

Protected Offense: Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Mekhi Becton, Jamison Crowder, Morgan Moses, Connor McGovern, George Fant

Protected Defense: Carl Lawson, Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, Blake Cashman, C.J. Mosley, Ashtyn Davis, Marcus Maye, Bryce Hall,

Expansion Draft Options: Chris Herndon, Keenan Cole, Chuma Edoga, Lamical Perine,, Blessaun Austin, Lamarcus Joyner, Nathan Shepard, Jabari Zuniga

Selections: Keenan Cole, Lamarcus Joyner

AFC West

Chargers

Protected Offense: Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Corey Linsley, Bryan Bulaga, Jalen Guyton

Protected Defense: Joey Bosa, Linval Joseph, Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, Kenneth Murray, Michael Davis, Jerry Tillery, Uchenna Nwosu

Expansion Draft Options: Oday Aboushi, Matt Feiler, Tyron Johnson, Trey Pipkins, Justin Jackson, Justin Jones, Kyzir White, Chris Harris Jr.

Selections: Oday Aboushi, Chris Harris Jr.

Broncos

Protected Offense: Drew Lock, Jerry Jeudy, Cortland Sutton, Noah Fant, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Graham Glasgow, Dalton Risner

Protected Defense: Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, Kyle Fuller, Malik Reed, Josey Jewell, Shelby Harris

Expansion Draft Options: Melvin Gordon, K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick, Garett Bolles, Bryce Callahan, McTelvin Agim, Alexander Johnson, Ronald Darby

Selections: Garett Bolles, Bryce Callahan

Raiders

Protected Offense: Derek Carr, Henry Ruggs III, Hunter Renfrow, Darren Waller, Kolton Miller, Richie Incognito, Joshua Jacobs

Protected Defense: Trayvon Mullen, Corey Littleton, Yannick Ngakoue, Maxx Crosby, Johnathan Abram, Nicholas Morrow, Damon Arnette, Jonathan Hankins

Expansion Draft Options: Marcus Mariota, Kenyan Drake, Denzelle Good, Bryan Edwards, John Brown, Clelin Ferrell, Nick Kwiatkowski, Quinton Jefferson, Karl Joseph

Selections: Denzelle Good, Quinton Jefferson

Chiefs

Protected Offense: Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Joe Thuney, Orlando Brown

Protected Defense: Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones, L’Jarius Sneed, Juan Thornhill, Derrick Nnadi, Daniel Sorensen, Jarran Reed, Willie Gay Jr.

Expansion Draft Options: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Mecole Hardman, Austin Blythe, Lucas Niang, Anthony Hitchens, Mike Hughes, Taco Charlton, Charvarius Ward

Selections: Lucas Niang, Anthony Hitchens

AFC South

Texans

Protected Offense: Deshaun Watson*, Brandin Cooks, Laremy Tunsil, Keke Coutee, Max Scharping, Tytus Howard, Marcus Cannon

Protected Defense: Charles Omenihu, Ross Blacklock, Whitney Mercilus, Zach Cunningham, Shaq Lawson, Justin Reid, Bradley Roby, John Reid

Expansion Draft Options: Tyrod Taylor, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Justin Britt, Lane Taylor, Lonnie Johnson Jr., Desmond King, Jonathan Greenard, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Christian Kirksey

Selections: Tyrod Taylor, Jonathan Greenard

Colts

Protected Offense: Carson Wentz, Jack Doyle, Michael Pittman Jr., Jonathan Taylor, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith

Protected Defense: DeForest Buckner, Kenny Moore II, Darius Leonard, Julian Blackmon, Khari Willis, Kemoko Turay, Rock Ya-Sin, Bobby Okereke

Expansion Draft Options: Mark Glowinski, T.Y. Hilton, Nyheim Hines, Parris Campbell, Grover Stewart, George Odum, Tyquan Lewis, Xavier Rhodes

Selections: Mark Glowinski, Grover Stewart

Jaguars

Protected Offense: James Robinson, D.J. Chark, Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann, Laviska Shenault Jr.

Protected Defense: K’Lavon Chaisson, C.J. Henderson, Josh Allen, Shaquill Griffin, Myles Jack, Joe Schobert, Dawaune Smoot, Davon Hamilton

Expansion Draft Options: Gardner Minshew II, Jawaan Taylor, Marvin Jones Jr., Andrew Wingard, Sidney Jones IV, Tre Herndon, Taven Bryan

Selections: Jawaan Taylor, Sidney Jones IV

Titans

Protected Offense: Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Taylor Lewan, Nate Davis, Rodger Saffold

Protected Defense: Jeffery Simmons, Kevin Byard, Bud Dupree, Rashaan Evans, Harold Landry, Amani Hooker, Jayon Brown, Denico Autry

Expansion Draft Options: Josh Reynolds, Ben Jones, Anthony Firkser, Larrell Murchison, Kristian Fulton, Janoris Jenkins, Dane Cruickshank

Selections: Ben Jones, Kristian Fulton

AFC North

Browns

Protected Offense: Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb, Wyatt Teller, Joel Bitonio, Jedrick Wills Jr., J.C. Tretter

Protected Defense: Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, John Johnson III, Grant Delpit, Andrew Billings, Ronnie Harrison, Greedy Williams, Jadeveon Clowney

Expansion Draft Options: Kareem Hunt, Jack Conklin, Jarvis Landry, Chris Hubbard, Austin Hooper, Jacob Phillips, Anthony Walker, Mack Wilson

Selections: Jack Conklin, Jacob Phillips

Ravens

Protected Offense: Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Ronnie Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, Mark Andrews, Kevin Zeitler, Alejandro Villaneuva

Protected Defense: Calais Campbell, Marlon Humphrey, Patrick Queen, Marcus Peters, Brandon Williams, Deshon Elliott, Justin Tucker, Tyus Bowser

Expansion Draft Options: Marquise Brown, Nick Boyle, Ben Powers, Gus Edwards, Sammy Watkins, Derek Wolfe, Chuck Clark, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Anthony Averett

Selections: Marquise Brown, Chuck Clark

Steelers

Protected Offense: Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, Chukwuma Okorafor, Trai Turner, Kevin Dotson, Juju Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron

Protected Defense: T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Devin Bush Jr., Minkah Fitzpatrick, Stephon Tuitt, Vince Williams, Terrell Edmunds, Cameron Sutton

Expansion Draft Options: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, B.J. Finney, Zach Banner, James Washington,  Joe Haden, Alex Highsmith, Tyson Alualu, Robert Spillane

Selections: James Washington, Alex Highsmith

Bengals

Protected Offense: Joe Burrow, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Jonah Williams, Trey Hopkins, Riley Reiff

Protected Defense: Trey Hendrickson, Jessie Bates III, Larry Ogunjobi, D.J. Reader, Sam Hubbard, Trae Waynes, Von Bell, Mike Hilton

Expansion Draft Options: Drew Sample, Auden Tate, Quinton Spain, Brandon Allen, Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt, Darius Phillips, Mike Daniels, Chidobe Awuzie

Selections: Drew Sample, Germaine Pratt

Projected Depth Chart

Final Thoughts

No, this team isn’t a world-beater, but it’s a roster that can win about five to six games in a best-case scenario. Given the nature of the NFL and the fairly strict rules attached to this mock exercise, that’s a victory.

After all, this isn’t the NHL where depth can be more valuable than star power, or where goalies across the league are incredibly similar in overall play. It’s a league that relies on its franchise passers, stud wide receivers, and lockdown corners.

Depth is still very important of course—particularly on the offensive and defensive lines—and I tried to address that in this mock. I also tried to strike a balance by drafting certain players with an eye toward the future and certain players that can hold down the fort for now. But in the end, assembling a 33rd team to compete is tough. Among many other reasons, it’s why an expansion team won’t be coming to the NFL anytime soon.

Still, it’s a fun exercise and something to think about when your favorite team hits the field this year.

Written By:

Carter Donnick

Publications Intern

Publications Intern at The Draft Network. Very Canadian.

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