Traded players impacted the 2020 season in a major way. Stefon Diggs helped push the Bills to new offensive heights. DeAndre Hopkins gave Kyler Murray a premium target to throw to in Arizona. DeForest Buckner solidified the Colts' defensive front.
Which of the players traded this offseason will have a similar impact in 2021? Below, I've ranked the top 10 traded players heading into the 2021 NFL season:
The two-time first-team All-Pro will be a definite upgrade over Corey Davis as a complementary receiver opposite emerging star A.J. Brown. Jones should flourish as a deep threat in Tennessee's play-action passing game working with Ryan Tannehill, one of just seven quarterbacks to post a passer rating on throws of 20-plus air yards of 100 or better in each of the past two seasons, per Next Gen Stats. The 32-year-old Jones will be highly motivated to show how much he has left coming off his final season in Atlanta, when he was limited by injury.
As surprising as it was to see the Chiefs part ways with veteran left tackle Eric Fisher, Brown is poised to really impact Kansas City's offense in a positive way. The 30-year-old Fisher missed nine games over the past two seasons, including -- crucially -- the Chiefs' loss to Tampa in Super Bowl LV. Brown is younger (25) and has appeared in all 16 games in each of his three pro seasons thus far. Switching out Fisher for Brown also allowed for greater salary cap flexibility in the immediate future, given that Brown's current cap figure for 2021 is $3.4 million, while cutting Fisher saved the team $11.96 million. Though he began his career as a standout right tackle in Baltimore, Brown has always wanted to play on the left side, and he got a taste while filling in for the injured Ronnie Stanley last season. Heading into the final year of his rookie deal, Brown should be motivated to prove he belongs there -- and that he's worth the kind of big-money extensions typically given to elite blind-side protectors.
The Colts haven't fielded the same starting quarterback in consecutive Week 1s since Andrew Luck did it in 2015 and '16. Since then, the task has passed from Luck to Scott Tolzien, then back to Luck, then to Jacoby Brissett, then to Philip Rivers. The Colts are hoping Wentz can stop the merry-go-round under center -- which is really the only major question mark remaining on one of the NFL's most complete teams -- by proving he is still a top-tier quarterback after a disastrous 2020 with the Eagles. Working in Wentz's favor is a superior supporting cast, especially at running back and receiver and on the offensive line, to what he had in Philly. Plus, there's the advantage he'll gain from being reunited with Frank Reich, who helped Wentz put up an MVP-caliber season in 2017.
I am high on Stafford for the same reasons I enumerated when I included him in last week's look at guys guaranteed to play better in 2021: Not only will he get to throw to a better pass-catching corps than he's had in recent years in Detroit, but he'll also potentially get to work with a true bell-cow back for the first time in his NFL career, given that Cam Akers is poised to have a monster season in the mold of peak-era Todd Gurley. The Rams appeared to have gone as far as they could go with Jared Goff at quarterback, and Stafford figures to provide an instant boost to Sean McVay's offense.
When word got out that the Raiders were planning to part ways with Hudson, Arizona swooped in, snagging him to shore up a spot on the Cardinals' roster that needed to be upgraded. Hudson turns 32 in July but has shown no signs of slipping. According to Pro Football Focus, the sack Hudson allowed in Week 17 of 2020 was his first since Week 17 of 2017. Arizona's starting center in 2020, Mason Cole, allowed two sacks last season while garnering a pass-blocking grade from PFF that ranked 38th among centers with 100-plus pass-blocking snaps. Hudson should help make life a little easier for Kyler Murray in the quarterback's pivotal third pro year.
Jackson, who didn't allow a single sack in his last season with the Raiders, is a solid player. But just as important as his on-field performance: The role his addition played in answering Russell Wilson's public complaints about a lack of protection. If he can help the offensive line step it up in 2021, that could make a big difference in the Seahawks' ability to keep the quarterback happy long-term.
After three tough years with the Jets, Darnold gets a chance to reinvent himself in Carolina -- and he'll do so knowing the Panthers have made a significant investment in him. Not only did they pick up Darnold's fifth-year option for 2022, which will pay him $18.858 million, but they also declined to add another quarterback to compete with him in either free agency or the draft, even making his path a bit easier by trading away Teddy Bridgewater. I think Darnold is going to have a good year.
Three seasons ago, Goff was one of the NFL's most promising young quarterbacks, making his second consecutive Pro Bowl team and helping the Rams reach the Super Bowl. This offseason, he was discarded by the very team that gave him a monster extension in 2019, and now he'll try to reverse his career fortunes in Detroit. On the positive side, his new offensive coordinator, Anthony Lynn, is coming off a stint as Chargers head coach in which he helped Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert excel. On the, uh, less positive side, Goff will not be working with the same level of proven talent at the skill positions that he enjoyed with the Rams. If he can elevate the players around him, he can re-establish himself as a franchise QB with the Lions; if not, Detroit will have the flexibility to move on from him as soon as 2023.
Brown missed most of last season in Las Vegas, but it wasn't that long ago he was helping the Patriots win Super Bowl LIII with solid play at left tackle. New England brought him back to strengthen the right tackle spot opposite Isaiah Wynn. It's notable that Brown's contract was adjusted to provide him with a chance to test the free agency waters one year early, in 2022. That carrot should only provide further incentives for Brown to bounce back from an injury-riddled stint with the Raiders.
The Broncos have not been shy about their interest in upgrading at quarterback, with new general manager George Paton trying to land Matthew Stafford and Denver being linked to Aaron Rodgers. As of now, the team has been limited to acquiring Bridgewater to push incumbent Drew Lock for the starting job. But Bridgewater's presence won't keep the Broncos from pursuing Rodgers or Deshaun Watson if either quarterback ends up available.