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Presenting The Ringer’s NFL Nucleus Draft

What’s the best five-man core you could assemble with the goal of winning this season’s Super Bowl? And what does the pecking order tell us about the state of the league at large?

Sean McVay, Patrick Mahomes II, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Todd Gurley Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NFL in 2018 is almost unrecognizable from the league it was a few years ago. Quarterbacks have become more efficient than ever, and offenses are lighting up scoreboards at an unprecedented pace. Running back value is a source of ceaseless debate, and the position’s heyday has emerged as an unlikely source of nostalgia. Defenses are being rendered meaningless, and the brightest coaching star in the sport is 32 years old. The only constant is that the Patriots remain contenders—although it’s unclear to what extent.

To make sense of what matters most in a rapidly evolving landscape, The Ringer held a midseason NFL Nucleus Draft. The concept was simple: If you had to build a five-person core to serve as the foundation of a team competing to win Super Bowl LIII, who would you pick? Perhaps more tellingly: In a league that emphasizes roster construction more than ever, which types of players and coaches would you target?

Eight staffers participated in this draft. The guidelines were as follows:

  • Each nucleus had to include one head coach, one quarterback, one running back, one wide receiver, and one wild card. These five spots all had to be filled, in any order.
  • Any player who is not a quarterback, running back, or receiver was eligible to be selected as a wild card.
  • The teams were assembled with the goal of winning a championship this season. The directive was to triumph in February 2019, not 2021.
  • Salary cap was a factor. Any players drafted would theoretically carry their 2018 cap hit as part of this exercise.

So which 40 figures did our staff deem most valuable? What did the draft reveal about the hierarchy of NFL head coaches and skill-position stars? And which roster-building strategy was the most successful?

Below are all eight nucleus teams, plus accompanying videos of our staffers defending their selections. Whose team is best?

Robert Mays

Coach: Ron Rivera (pick no. 33)
QB: Aaron Rodgers (pick no. 1)
RB: Saquon Barkley (pick no. 16)
WR: Antonio Brown (pick no. 17)
Wild Card: Fletcher Cox (pick no. 32)

Danny Heifetz

Coach: Bill Belichick (pick no. 2)
QB: Cam Newton (pick no. 18)
RB: Melvin Gordon (pick no. 31)
WR: Mike Evans (pick no. 34)
Wild Card: Myles Garrett (pick no. 15)

Rodger Sherman

Coach: Doug Pederson (pick no. 14)
QB: Patrick Mahomes II (pick no. 3)
RB: Le’Veon Bell (pick no. 30)
WR: Keenan Allen (pick no. 35)
Wild Card: Khalil Mack (pick no. 19)

Riley McAtee

Coach: Sean McVay (pick no. 4)
QB: Andrew Luck (pick no. 36)
RB: Alvin Kamara (pick no. 20)
WR: Adam Thielen (pick no. 29)
Wild Card: J.J. Watt (pick no. 13)

Kevin Clark

Coach: Pete Carroll (pick no. 28)
QB: Tom Brady (pick no. 5)
RB: Christian McCaffrey (pick no. 37)
WR: DeAndre Hopkins (pick no. 21)
Wild Card: Aaron Donald (pick no. 12)

Mallory Rubin

Coach: Sean Payton (pick no. 11)
QB: Russell Wilson (pick no. 38)
RB: Todd Gurley (pick no. 6)
WR: Odell Beckham Jr. (pick no. 27)
Wild Card: Von Miller (pick no. 22)

Danny Kelly

Coach: Kyle Shanahan (pick no. 10)
QB: Drew Brees (pick no. 7)
RB: David Johnson (pick no. 23)
WR: Michael Thomas (pick no. 26)
Wild Card: Joey Bosa (pick no. 39)

Megan Schuster

Coach: Andy Reid (pick no. 8)
QB: Matt Ryan (pick no. 25)
RB: Kareem Hunt (pick no. 9)
WR: Julio Jones (pick no. 24)
Wild Card: Danielle Hunter (pick no. 40)


Who Won The Ringer’s 2018 NFL Nucleus Draft?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Robert Mays
    (1081 votes)
  • 4%
    Danny Heifetz
    (303 votes)
  • 12%
    Rodger Sherman
    (824 votes)
  • 25%
    Riley McAtee
    (1728 votes)
  • 14%
    Kevin Clark
    (974 votes)
  • 17%
    Mallory Rubin
    (1204 votes)
  • 7%
    Danny Kelly
    (523 votes)
  • 3%
    Megan Schuster
    (224 votes)
6861 votes total Vote Now