Best draft move for every NFL team since 2011

J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson both ended up being franchise-changers for their respective teams. Getty Images

We hear it every year: The best teams are built through the draft. So who are considered the best draft selections by all 32 teams over the past five years? NFL Nation delves into each roster.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West


Buffalo Bills

The Bills weren't considered to be in the market for a cornerback when they selected Ronald Darby in the second round in 2015, nor were they in need of a running back when they took Karlos Williams in the fifth round. But following a setback in Leodis McKelvin's recovery from a broken ankle and the surprise release of Fred Jackson, Darby and Williams became immediate contributors for Buffalo and were among the NFL's best rookies last season. The Bills view both selections as a validation of their philosophy to pick the best players available instead of simply addressing positional needs. -- Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins didn't need receivers in 2014, when they drafted Jarvis Landry in the second round. Starters Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline were already on board and under contract. However, the team stuck to its best-player-available philosophy and selected Landry, who formed a dynamic duo with friend Odell Beckham Jr. at LSU. Landry set a rookie record with 84 receptions and then broke the team record the following year with 110 receptions last season to become a major building block for the future. -- James Walker

New England Patriots

The Patriots' trade out of the first round of the 2013 draft with the Vikings -- in which they shipped the No. 29 pick to Minnesota for a second-round pick (LB Jamie Collins), third-round pick (CB Logan Ryan), fourth-round pick (WR Josh Boyce) and seventh-round pick (traded for RB LeGarrette Blount) -- was especially strong. The Vikings picked WR Cordarrelle Patterson. So the trade ended up being Collins, Ryan, Boyce (no longer on team) and Blount for Patterson. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets

The Jets have made only two stellar moves since 2011: picking DE Muhammad Wilkerson at No. 30 overall in 2011 and DE Sheldon Richardson at No. 13 in 2013. We'll give the nod to Richardson, who was drafted with the pick acquired in the Darrelle Revis trade. There was talk about how Richardson didn't fit Rex Ryan's 3-4 scheme. They weighed talent over scheme fit, and it turned out to be an excellent choice. The team also considered QB Geno Smith, but wound up taking him in the second round. -- Rich Cimini


Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens whiffed mightily in 2013, when they selected safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown in the first two rounds. But Baltimore's 2013 draft class was saved by NT Brandon Williams, who has gone from a third-round pick to one of the top interior linemen in the league. The Ravens took a gamble on Williams because he was coming from FCS Missouri Southern State. A couple of seasons later, he was one of four defensive tackles with at least 30 solo tackles, two sacks and two passes defensed. The Ravens are looking to sign Williams to an extension to keep him from becoming a sought-after free agent in 2017. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Five straight Pro Bowl nods means a player is pretty good, right? Because of how dominant A.J. Green has been from the moment he entered the league -- during the lockout year, no less -- we have to consider his selection in 2011 as the Bengals' best draft move of the past five years. Green was taken fourth overall that year. Thirty-one picks later, Cincinnati doubled up on a strong start to that draft by selecting his quarterback, Andy Dalton. The two have formed a tandem that has helped take the Bengals to five straight playoffs. -- Coley Harvey

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have drafted so poorly and let so many young free agents depart that there are few options here. The best? Guard Joel Bitonio, a second-round pick in 2014. Bitonio was a natural from Day 1, and should have a long career in Cleveland. -- Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have made several successful draft picks since 2011, including All-Pro guard David DeCastro in the late first round of 2012. But the selection of Le'Veon Bell with the 48th overall pick in 2013 was their most forward-thinking. Running backs weren't trendy that year. No tailbacks went in the first round. Bell wasn't considered a blazer coming out of Michigan State, which played in the Big Ten, home of the so-called plodding running back. None of that mattered to Pittsburgh, which jumped at the chance to select the top tailback on its board that year. Bell rewarded that faith by slimming down slightly from his 230-pound college weight and becoming a quick-twitch force as a rusher and receiver. -- Jeremy Fowler


Houston Texans

In 2011, there was a debate in the building about whether Aldon Smith or J.J. Watt would be the right fit, but when the 11th pick came around, Smith was already gone, the Texans didn't trade up for him and instead took Watt. In the years since, Wade Phillips, who was then the Texans' defensive coordinator, credited Bobby Grier, now the Texans' senior personnel adviser, for advocating for Watt. He has already won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and is easily the best defensive player in franchise history -- perhaps the best player in franchise history. -- Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts

This is a no-brainer: selecting quarterback Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. Luck has already led the Colts to back-to-back AFC South titles in 2013 and 2014, going undefeated in the division those two years. He also led the Colts to the AFC Championship in just his third NFL season. -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars jumped at the chance to take WR Marqise Lee near the top of the second round in 2014 because they didn't think he'd be available. They really liked another receiver, which they had planned on taking with the pick they used on Lee. General manager Dave Caldwell didn't want to take a chance that the player wouldn't be available in the third round, so he traded the team's third- and fifth-round picks to San Francisco to move back into the second round to take Allen Robinson. The WR set a franchise record with 14 TD catches last season, in addition to catching 80 passes for 1,400 yards and making the Pro Bowl. -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

In 2011, the Titans hit a third-round home run when they selected defensive lineman Jurrell Casey out of USC with the 77th pick in the draft. Casey is a disruptive pass-rusher who thrived in a 4-3 and now does the same in a 3-4, playing end in base and moving inside in nickel. He's a smart, relentless football player who sets a tone for the defense. Casey has 28 sacks and missed only one game. -- Paul Kuharsky


Denver Broncos

The Broncos had the No. 2 pick overall in the 2011 draft -- a rare spot for a team that has more Super Bowl trips than losing seasons in Pat Bowlen's tenure as the team's owner. John Elway went with an edge rusher, selecting linebacker Von Miller. The Broncos had a pile of quality picks in that draft and the ones that followed, but Miller has turned into an elite player on the league's best defense. And while things looked dicey in 2013, when Miller was suspended to open the season and suffered a torn ACL to close that year, his Super Bowl 50 MVP award showed how far he has come. And now the Broncos are trying to complete a long-term deal with Miller to keep him in Denver for the foreseeable future. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith hasn't been a franchise quarterback for the Chiefs in the true meaning of the phrase, but he has brought stability to a most important position. Smith, acquired in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, cost the Chiefs their second-round draft picks in 2013 and 2014. Kansas City's other options for finding a quarterback were unappetizing. -- Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders

In 2014, the Raiders had been linked to receiver Sammy Watkins, but when the Bills selected the WR at No. 4 overall, Oakland made the smart choice to draft Khalil Mack one pick later. Mack has started all 32 games his first two seasons, and he made history last season by being selected first-team All Pro at two positions -- outside linebacker and defensive end. -- Paul Gutierrez

San Diego Chargers

Despite a knee injury and a slow 40-yard time, the Chargers selected Cal product Keenan Allen in the third round of the 2013 draft. And they have been rewarded with a talented, productive receiver. Allen was on a historic pace statistically last year before suffering a lacerated kidney that cut short his 2015 campaign. Even though he has missed 11 games in three seasons, Allen has averaged 72 catches, 851 receiving yards and five touchdowns per season. -- Eric D. Williams


Dallas Cowboys

Before 2011, the Cowboys had not selected an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft in the Jerry Jones' era. Then Tyron Smith came along. It worked out so well the Cowboys picked center Travis Frederick in 2013 and guard Zack Martin in 2014 -- both in the first round. The Cowboys had a chance to trade down to accumulate picks, but they ended up taking Smith, who has developed into one of the best tackles in the game. After beginning as a right tackle, Smith moved to left tackle in 2012 and has missed just one game in his career. He has been named to the Pro Bowl the past three seasons and is a two-time All Pro. Even better for the Cowboys, Frederick and Martin have joined Smith at the Pro Bowl the past two seasons. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants

Sometimes the obvious is obvious for a reason: Odell Beckham Jr. Sure, you can get picky and say Devon Kennard could be a fifth-round steal (if he can get healthy), but the best draft move the Giants have made in the past five years is selecting Beckham with the 12th overall pick in 2014. They kind of couldn't miss there, since they were torn between Beckham and eventual All-Pro offensive lineman Zack Martin. And Aaron Donald was there for them if they wanted him, too. The middle of the 2014 first round was a real sweet spot. But the Giants came out of it with a true No. 1 receiver who has electrified the league and become an instant superstar during an otherwise moribund time in Giants franchise history. -- Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles

In 2012, the Eagles traded up from the No. 15 pick to draft defensive lineman Fletcher Cox with Seattle's No. 12 pick. The deal cost the Eagles fourth- and sixth-round picks and netted them a versatile, talented Pro Bowler. Cox had 5.5 sacks as a rookie defensive tackle, then spent three years as a DE in a 3-4 scheme. It will be interesting to see how Cox (still only 25 years old) is deployed in coordinator Jim Schwartz's scheme. -- Phil Sheridan

Washington Redskins

Drafting Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft worked out pretty well. There have been other good moves -- taking Ryan Kerrigan in the first round in 2011; drafting tight end Jordan Reed, their best offensive player, in the third round of 2013. But the Redskins hedged their bet on Robert Griffin III by selecting Cousins in the same draft, adding depth if nothing else. Instead, they may have found their long-term starter at the game's most important position. Now he just has to follow up on a strong 2015 season. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears

This one is easy: Kyle Long at No. 20 overall in 2013. The remarkable part of the Long pick is that he started only five career games at Oregon before entering the draft. Still, ex-Bears general manager Phil Emery thought Long had enough raw talent and athleticism to warrant going in the first round. Long rewarded the Bears' faith. He has made three straight Pro Bowls, and is expected to slide back to his natural right guard position in 2016. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions

Ezekiel Ansah was a raw prospect in 2013. But the Lions saw potential in a freak athlete who grew up playing soccer, went to BYU to try and play basketball, ended up running track and walked on to the football team. Ansah, the No. 5 pick in 2013, has become one of the best defensive ends in the league, making the Pro Bowl last season and being named a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He has become a premier pass-rusher. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers

Fourth-round picks are supposed to be solid players who eventually turn into serviceable starters. They're not supposed to be Mike Daniels. Undersized by NFL defensive line standards, Daniels has become the Packers' best overall lineman since he was taken at No. 132 overall in 2012. The Packers rewarded Daniels with a four-year, $41 million contract extension in December, making him among the highest-paid 3-4 defensive linemen in the league. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

Vikings GM Rick Spielman has made a habit of trading back into the first round in recent years, moving up to grab a player he liked at a spot in which the Vikings could get an extra year of control. The first of three such trades might have been Spielman's best. The Vikings sent the 35th and 98th picks to the Baltimore Ravens so they could trade back up to No. 29 and select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. In four years, Smith has become one of the best safeties in the league, unleashing his versatile skill set in Mike Zimmer's defense and reaching his first Pro Bowl after the 2015 season. -- Ben Goessling


Atlanta Falcons

It might be debated for years because of how much was surrendered in that process, but the Falcons giving up five draft picks to move up for Julio Jones in 2011 is still the Falcons' best draft move in the past five years. Jones is a dynamic, game-changing receiver who is arguably the best in the game at his position. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has had issues with making terrible draft selections, but he can always put Jones on his rèsumè as one he got right. -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers

General manager Dave Gettleman received some criticism for selecting defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in the first two rounds of the 2013 draft. There was the feeling the team could have gone for a bigger need in the second round. But Gettleman believes big men give you a chance to win, and the tackles have made others believers, too. Short had a team-best 11 sacks this past season and made his first Pro Bowl. He and Lotulelei anchored the defense that helped Carolina reach the Super Bowl. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints

The Saints got a steal in the 2013 third round when they drafted offensive tackle Terron Armstead out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. A terrific athlete for his size, Armstead has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle for the Saints. Sean Payton said last year he wouldn't trade him for any other left tackle in the league. The Saints have also fared pretty well in the first round since 2011 (Cameron Jordan, Mark Ingram, Kenny Vaccaro, Brandin Cooks, Andrus Peat, Stephone Anthony). But they've struggled mightily in later rounds, which is one of the big reasons why they've slipped out of playoff contention. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs had to choose between Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston in 2015, and GM Jason Licht went with the former Florida State standout. It was the correct choice. Winston became the third rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards. He had the Bucs at 6-6 and in the playoff race in early December before a four-game losing streak to close the season. Mariota didn't have a bad rookie season, but the Bucs appear to have landed a franchise quarterback. -- Mike DiRocco


Arizona Cardinals

Most of the Cardinals' draft picks since general manager Steve Keim was hired in 2013 could be considered here, but one stands out as the best decision: The Honey Badger. Taking a risk on safety Tyrann Mathieu has paid off beyond what nearly everyone expected. Despite two major knee injuries in three seasons, Mathieu was named an All-Pro this year and has established himself as one of the NFL's top defensive backs -- not just safeties -- all while staying out of the kind of trouble that erased the 2012 season for him at LSU. -- Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

When the Rams took DT Aaron Donald with the 13th pick in the 2014 draft, they had more pressing needs at wide receiver, quarterback, safety and on the offensive line. But there was no greater need than finding more legitimate blue-chip players, regardless of position. The Rams stuck to their board instead of reaching for need and chose Donald, who had surprisingly slipped out of the top 10. Donald is already the team's best player and one of the best young defensive players in football. -- Nick Wagoner

San Francisco 49ers

Let's go with longevity and success here and look at the 2011 draft. Sure, Aldon Smith was a first-round gamble that paid off immediately with 42 sacks in his first 43 games, but he's no longer with the team. And second-round pick Colin Kaepernick burst upon the scene the next year, but his play has fallen off and he now wants out of Santa Clara. Fullback Bruce Miller, though, was taken in the seventh round and the converted fullback -- he was a defensive end in college -- has been a mainstay, appearing in 77 of 80 games. -- Paul Gutierrez

Seattle Seahawks

There are a lot of good options, but it's impossible to go against Russell Wilson here. The Seahawks got him in the third round (75th overall) back in 2012. Wilson hasn't missed a game -- or a practice -- in four NFL seasons, and the Seahawks have gone 46-18 since he joined the team. It's easy to forget, but in two seasons under Pete Carroll without Wilson, the team was just 14-18. In a league where teams are constantly searching for franchise quarterbacks, Wilson was passed over 74 times. He led the NFL in passer rating in 2015 and is in position to keep the Seahawks in contention for years to come. -- Sheil Kapadia