Perfect 53 Man Roster

For the second year in a row, Bill Barnwell has released his perfect 53-man roster. The idea is, following certain criteria, to build the best team you can fit under the NFL’s 177.2 million dollar cap. This is my version of the team. Below are the criteria in Barnwell’s own words.

QB Carson Wentz PHI $7,275,365 2016 1st
QB Dak Prescott DAL $725,848 2016 4th

Barnwell has Wentz and Prescott too, but they’re really the obvious choices here, so I’m not switching anything up here. 23 quarterbacks have cap numbers of 10+ million. Wentz and Prescott do not even combine to take up 10 million on the cap. Wentz could have another MVP caliber season in 2018 if he’s healthy and Prescott gives good insurance in case he’s not. The one difference between my team and Barnwell’s is that I didn’t see the need to have a 3rd quarterback behind these two. Why waste a roster spot on a 3rd string quarterback like Brandon Weeden when you can use it to fill out your special teams?

RB Rex Burkhead NE $2,312,500 Veteran
RB David Johnson ARZ $2,066,844 2015 3rd
RB Alvin Kamara NO $878,193 2017 3rd
RB Aaron Ripkowski GB $731,599 2015 6th
RB Raheem Mostert SF $705,000 2015 undrafted

Johnson and Kamara are on Barnwell’s team as well, but they form a deadly one-two punch at running back for less than 3 million combined and they are both the best draft pick from their respective rounds, so they’re no brainer additions to this team. Where I differed from Barnwell is that I did not add a 3rd running back like Jordan Howard, opting instead to add a veteran jack of all trades like Rex Burkhead. Mostert plays special teams and fulfills my requirement for both a 2015 undrafted free agent and a San Francisco 49er, while Ripkowski is one of the better fullbacks in the league and is arguably the most accomplished player from the 2015 6th round.

WR Antonio Brown PIT $7,955,000 Veteran
WR Michael Thomas NO $1,396,083 2016 2nd
WR Tyreek Hill KC $704,996 2016 5th
WR Antonio Callaway CLE $659,463 2018 4th
WR Keelan Cole JAX $556,333 2017 undrafted

Passing on Jordan Howard allows me to use the 2016 5th round pick spot on Tyreek Hill, who can be a threat both on offense and in the return game. Hill combines with Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas, who finished 1st and 6th in receiving yardage last season, to form a deadly 3 wide receiver package. Brown signed a huge extension last off-season, but still has a manageable cap number after a restructure, while Thomas was a steal in the 2nd round in 2016 and could take another step forward in 2018, now in his 3rd season in the league. Callaway and Cole are young depth receivers who fill my requirements for a 2018 4th round pick and a 2017 undrafted free agent respectively. Cole finished 4th among rookies in receiving yards in 2017, despite going undrafted, while Callaway is a first round talent who fell for off-the-field reasons and can also contribute as a return man.

TE Travis Kelce KC $9,955,900 Veteran
TE Zach Ertz PHI $4,937,500 Veteran
TE David Morgan MIN $663,864 2016 6th

Kelce and Ertz make a dangerous veteran tight end duo, while Morgan has developed into one of the best run blocking tight ends in the league and can have a role on this team in short yardage situations. He also fulfills my requirement for a 2016 6th round pick.

OL David Bakhtiari GB $11,075,000 Veteran
OL Travis Frederick DAL $6,275,000 Veteran
OL Zack Martin DAL $6,000,000 Veteran
OL Ricky Wagner DET $5,900,000 Veteran
OL David DeCastro PIT $5,687,500 Veteran
OL Andrew Norwell JAX $5,000,000 Veteran
OL Trent Brown NE $1,907,000 2015 7th
OL Chase Roullier WAS $591,792 2017 6th

This is a veteran heavy line and where I spent the most money, but all of these players are great values. The top-6 are all among the best in the league at their position. From left to right I would start Bakhtiari, Norwell/DeCastro, Frederick, Martin, and Wagner. Brown is an above average starter as well and would be a very valuable swing tackle. He’s also easily the best player from the 2015 7th round. Rouillier made 7 starts at center for the Redskins in 2017 and is expected to remain the starter in 2018, making him the most accomplished player from the 2017 6th round pick. He also has the versatility to play guard, so he provides this line with valuable depth.

ID Aaron Donald LAR $6,892,000 2014 1st
ID Leonard Williams NYJ $5,928,003 2015 1st
ID Grady Jarrett ATL $1,968,964 2015 5th
ID Michael Pierce BAL $633,334 2016 undrafted
ID Maurice Hurst OAK $559,761 2018 5th

Unlike my offensive linemen, my interior defensive linemen are all still on their rookie deals. Donald is the most expensive of the bunch at 6.892 million, but that’s a bargain price for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and he’s the obvious choice among the 2014 1st round picks who are still on their 5th year option. Williams and Jarrett are talented every down interior defensive linemen too, while Pierce has developed into one of the better run stuffing defensive tackles in the league and is the easy choice among the 2016 undrafted free agents. Hurst is also an easy choice out of the 2018 5th round picks, as he has first round talent, but long-term health concerns. As stacked as the rest of this roster is, I’m willing to take the risk and he fills my requirement for an Oakland Raider.

ED Von Miller DEN $10,125,000 Veteran
ED Carlos Dunlap CIN $7,300,000 Veteran
ED Danielle Hunter MIN $5,063,806 Veteran
ED Trey Flowers NE $2,046,733 2015 4th
ED Carl Lawson CIN $718,153 2017 4th
ED Duke Ejiofor HOU $526,314 2018 6th

Von Miller is the highest paid defensive player in the league, but his cap number is manageable for 2018 and he’s one of the top players in the league, so he’s a no brainer addition to this team. Dunlap and Hunter are also great values, Dunlap because he’s been underpaid for years on 5-year, 39.37 million dollar deal and Hunter because he just signed a massive extension with bigger cap hits in later years. Flowers fills my requirement for a 2015 4th round pick, making the team just over his teammate Shaq Mason, who wouldn’t have filled as big of a role as a reserve guard. Flowers can line up both inside and outside in passing situations. Lawson is a pass rush specialist who had 8.5 sacks and 11 hits on 389 pass rush snaps as a 4th round rookie last season and can also line up at linebacker in base packages. Ejiofor can play special teams and fills my requirement for a 2018 6th round pick and a Houston Texan.

LB Bobby Wagner SEA $13,600,000 Veteran
LB Lavonte David TB $8,750,000 Veteran
LB Roquan Smith CHI $3,359,485 2018 1st
LB Nigel Bradham PHI $2,000,000 Veteran
LB Skai Moore IND $718,153 2018 undrafted
LB Tyler Matakevich PIT $645,762 2016 7th

Bobby Wagner has the highest cap number on this team and he and Lavonte David take up about an eighth of the cap between them, but they are arguably the top 4-3 outside linebacker and 4-3 inside linebacker in the NFL and will play every down on this defense. They also fill my requirement for a Buccaneer and a Seahawk. The Eagles had to get creative under the cap to keep Bradham, so he has a cap number of just 2 million, which is a bargain for a player of his caliber. He can play every down, but would only need to be the 3rd linebacker in base packages on this team. He may even face competition from Roquan Smith, who seemed like the best value of any of the 2018 1st round picks. None of the rookies would start on this team, but Smith can be a special teams demon and provide depth at all 3 spots and doesn’t cost nearly as much as the guys who went in the top-5. Moore and Matakevich are special teamers who fill my requirement for a 2018 undrafted free agent and a 2016 7th round pick.

CB Casey Hayward LAC $6,833,334 Veteran
CB Tre’Davious White BUF $2,293,434 2017 1st
CB Josh Jackson GB $1,137,473 2018 2nd
CB Desmond King LAC $624,998 2017 5th
CB Greg Stroman WAS $498,944 2018 7th

Hayward broke out as one of the top cornerbacks in the league after signing a 3-year, 15.3 million dollar deal with the Chargers two off-seasons ago and, even on his new 3-year, 33.25 million dollar extension, he is still a good value and his big cap numbers don’t come until after this season. White was just as good as Marshon Lattimore as a rookie, but because he went 27th rather than 11th his cap number is significantly less (Lattimore’s is $3,490,809) and he fills my requirement for a Buffalo Bill. Josh Jackson was PFF’s highest rated player to fall into the 2nd round this year and can immediately push Desmond King, a 2017 5th round pick who broke out as a slot cornerback as a rookie, for a role. Stroman is a developmental prospect who had the 2nd lowest QB rating allowed among draft eligible cornerbacks in 2018.

S Michael Thomas MIA $1,981,250 Veteran
S Landon Collins NYG $1,947,450 2015 2nd
S Budda Baker ARZ $1,552,274 2017 2nd
S Kevin Byard TEN $1,008,831 2016 3rd
S Ronnie Harrison JAX $680,758 2018 3rd

It’s weird seeing Michael Thomas as my highest paid safety, but he’s a great special teamer and fills my requirement for a Miami Dolphin, so I don’t mind paying him under 2 million, while the rest of the bunch are just incredible values. Collins and Byard are an All-Pro duo on rookie deals. Baker wouldn’t start ahead of them, but can line up on the slot and at linebacker and can play special teams. Harrison was considered a good value in the 3rd round of the 2018 NFL Draft and can also have an immediate special teams role.

K Harrison Butker KC $555,000 2017 7th
P Marquette King DEN $1,666,666 Veteran
LS JJ Jansen CAR $1,055,000 Veteran

Butker was one of the best kickers in the league as a 7th round rookie in 2017, nailing 38 of 42 field goals, including 4 of 5 from 50+ yards, and 28 of 28 extra points. King has averaged 46.8 yards per punt on 426 punts in 5 seasons in the league, tied for 3rd highest among active punters with at least 300 punts over that time period, but has just the 18th highest cap number among punters. I don’t think long snappers have stats, but Jansen has been the Panthers’ long snapper since 2009, so he has to be doing something right and he fills my requirement for a Panther.