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Ten traded players who will have biggest impact on 2024 NFL season

Over the past three offseasons, the NFL trade market has included movement by at least one marquee quarterback. That wasn't true this year -- but the list of traded players with the best chance to impact the upcoming season is still heavily influenced by the position.

The top three players in my list below are there not just because they are good players, but because they can help their quarterbacks play better, thus having a big effect on the fate of their franchises and, basically, the league. Only one person who actually throws the ball for a living made the cut, but as is true of everything in the NFL, QB loomed large in my mind when I was going through this exercise.

This is a good place to explain briefly that I wasn't just trying to predict which traded player would perform best on an individual level during the 2024 NFL season, but rather who has the chance to really change how things play out going forward. I also factored in some projection here, thinking about what could happen, in addition to what seems most likely -- because that just feels like the right thing to do in May.

Stefon Diggs
Houston Texans · WR
  • TRADED BY: Buffalo Bills
  • TRADED FOR: 2025 second-round pick (with Houston receiving a 2024 sixth-round pick and 2025 fifth-round pick)

So, you're an aspiring AFC power and you want to help your young QB cement his place among the NFL's A-listers? Get Diggs. His name might not carry as much of a kick as it did in 2020, when he joined the Bills via trade to supercharge their offense. He'll turn 31 in November, and toward the end of his Bills tenure, it seemed like he generated nearly as much drama as he did production (42.2 receiving yards per game over his final 10 games, including playoffs). But he still ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in catches (107, seventh) and receiving scores (eight, tied for eighth), and he won't have to shoulder the load in Houston, where Nico Collins, Tank Dell and tight end Dalton Schultz helped drive a top-10 passing game last season (and where new running back Joe Mixon could angle for retrospective inclusion on this list). In other words, when Diggs doesn't get the ball, his presence should create opportunities for others. When he does get the ball, he should be able to do more with it than he did in 2023, when he put up the third-lowest per-catch mark (11.1 yards) of his career. The messiness in Buffalo aside, Diggs accelerated Josh Allen's journey into stardom. If he can help reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud take another step, he'll have played a role in shaping the landscape of NFL contenders for a second time.  

Keenan Allen
Chicago Bears · WR
  • TRADED BY: Los Angeles Chargers
  • TRADED FOR: 2024 fourth-round pick

Let's forget about typical metrics of production for a second and think about Allen's most important job, a duty that he'll share with basically everyone in Chicago (including fellow trade acquisition Ryan Bates): helping Caleb Williams end decades of quarterbacking futility for the Bears. Allen is the most veteran member of Williams' stacked supporting cast, and as one of just six NFL players to log 150-plus receptions and a catch rate of 72% or better over the past two seasons, he's a very dependable target. I didn't love seeing an anonymous executive muse in "The Athletic" about how Williams' playing style might not allow him to operate quickly enough for Allen's liking. Allen's age (32) and injury history (he's missed 11 games over the past two years) also give me pause. Still, it's possible to envision a scenario where he's one of Williams' safest security blankets in this critical season. Allen could help change the story of pro football in Chicago forever -- and that's good enough for at least a top-two spot in this ranking.

Jerry Jeudy
Cleveland Browns · WR
  • TRADED BY: Denver Broncos
  • TRADED FOR: 2024 fifth- and sixth-round picks

The Browns need Deshaun Watson to play like one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, and that is more likely to happen if they can establish another legitimate pass-catching option beyond Amari Cooper and tight end David Njoku. Given their longstanding difficulty drafting receivers -- Josh Gordon, Braylon Edwards and Kevin Johnson are the only homegrown receivers to crack 1,000 yards for Cleveland in a season since 1999 -- it made sense to return to the trade market, which netted them Cooper two years ago. I'm sure Cleveland would love for Jeudy to finally, truly break out after handing him a three-year extension worth up to $58 million this offseason. But he doesn't have to do it in 2024. He just has to bring enough big-play ability (he's averaged 14.5 yards per catch in his four-year career) for the Browns' offense to be viable, as they attempt to make back-to-back trips to the playoffs for the first time since 1989.

Brian Burns
New York Giants · DE
  • TRADED BY: Carolina Panthers
  • TRADED FOR: 2024 second- and fifth-round picks, 2025 conditional fifth-round pick (with Carolina receiving a 2024 fifth-round pick)

I thought about slotting Burns at the top of this list, and maybe I should have. Of everyone in my top 10, he seems like the safest lock to play like a star for his new team in 2024. Unlike Allen and Diggs, the 26-year-old is still squarely in his prime, and unlike Jeudy, he's a proven entity with a high floor. Burns has had a double-digit pressure rate every year of his career, per Next Gen Stats, and he should team with Kayvon Thibodeaux to boost a defense that finished 30th in pressure rate last season. The problem is, I could see Burns wrecking opponents this season and the Giants still stumbling because of offensive limitations. So, perhaps unfairly, he lands here, capped, in a way, by the lingering uncertainty around what Daniel Jones will bring to the table.

L'Jarius Sneed
Tennessee Titans · CB
  • TRADED BY: Kansas City Chiefs
  • TRADED FOR: 2024 seventh-round pick, 2025 third-round pick (with Kansas City receiving a 2024 seventh-round pick)

I like how aggressively GM Ran Carthon has attacked the Titans' roster. Even if the Texans run away with the AFC South (which is far from a sure thing), it's not outlandish to think Tennessee could hang with the Colts and Jaguars in the division and other bubble teams in the wild-card race, especially if free-agent swings on WR Calvin Ridley, RB Tony Pollard, WR Tyler Boyd, C Lloyd Cushenberry, LB Kenneth Murray and CB Chidobe Awuzie pay off. Tennessee's defense finished in the middle of the pack in 2023 (16th in points, 18th in yards allowed and 18th against the pass), and that was thanks in large part to previous Carthon imports Azeez Al-Shaair and Sean Murphy-Bunting, who contributed heavily on one-year deals before cashing in elsewhere this offseason. That said, the Titans tied for 27th in passer rating allowed (96.4) and registered the worst point differential (-62) in the division. If Sneed can help tighten those numbers at all, this team should be more competitive in more games, and that could put Tennessee on the fringes of contention.

Haason Reddick
New York Jets · OLB
  • TRADED BY: Philadelphia Eagles
  • TRADED FOR: 2026 conditional third-round pick

Let's not overcomplicate this one. Reddick is a pass-rushing mercenary, having compiled 50.5 sacks over the past four seasons while playing for three different teams (Arizona in 2020, Carolina in 2021, Philadelphia in 2022-23). The Jets needed a pass rusher after losing Bryce Huff, their sacks leader in 2023, to the Eagles in free agency. There's been plenty of turmoil in New York, but the defense -- which ranked third overall and fifth in pressure rate last season -- has been strong. It's in everyone's best interests for that to remain true as we wait to see if Aaron Rodgers, coming off an Achilles tear at age 40, can lift an offense that has finished 25th or worse in each of the past eight seasons. While another traded player, new offensive tackle Morgan Moses, will obviously have an important role there, plug-and-play sack production from Reddick should help keep things humming along on D.

Carlton Davis
Detroit Lions · CB
  • TRADED BY: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • TRADED FOR: 2024 third-round pick (with Tampa Bay receiving sixth-round picks in 2024 and 2025)

It was only two years ago that Davis commanded an extension from the Bucs. It's true that he failed to reach double digits in passes defensed last season (nine) for the first time since 2018, and Pro Football Focus gave him the worst defensive grade (58.2) of his career. He also missed significant time with injury. But Davis is still just 27, and it wouldn't be surprising if the self-described "lockdown corner" helped rookies Terrion Arnold and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. boost a Lions pass defense that ranked 27th in 2023. 

Maliek Collins
San Francisco 49ers · DT
  • TRADED BY: Houston Texans
  • TRADED FOR: 2024 seventh-round pick

Here's another relatively straightforward use of the trade market to fill a roster hole created by offseason player movement. San Francisco released defensive lineman Arik Armstead and allowed Sebastian Joseph and Javon Kinlaw to walk. In exchange for a seventh-round pick, the Niners scooped up Collins, who matched a career high last season with five sacks for Houston -- exactly the same number that Armstead put up in his final year with the Niners (albeit in 16 games, four more than Armstead's 12). If Collins provides strong value while counting for far less against the cap ($8.5 million) than Armstead was going to ($28.4 million) in 2024, and he helps a San Francisco defense that ranked eighth last season continue to play well, you can expect to hear plenty about the savviness of this move as the season wears on.

Diontae Johnson
Carolina Panthers · WR
  • TRADED BY: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • TRADED FOR: CB Donte Jackson, 2024 sixth-round pick (with Pittsburgh receiving a 2024 seventh-round pick)

Trading for Johnson was a reasonable dice roll for the Panthers, who need as much help as they can get for second-year quarterback Bryce Young. If the veteran flames out in the final year of his contract, then Carolina can move on (and I'll regret not using this spot on an offensive lineman like Morgan Moses or Ryan Bates). Perhaps, though, the Panthers can get more out of Johnson, whose unfortunate penchant for being in drama-tinged headlines shouldn’t obscure the respectable per-catch mark (14.1) he managed to put up while working with Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph and Mitchell Trubisky. In the best-case scenario, Johnson revitalizes his own prospects while playing a role in saving the career of a potential franchise quarterback.

Justin Fields
Pittsburgh Steelers · QB
  • TRADED BY: Chicago Bears
  • TRADED FOR: 2025 conditional Day 3 pick

None of the quarterbacks traded this offseason are guaranteed to start a single game in the near future, but I wanted to write about at least one of them. Fields seems like the one who is most likely to impact the 2024 season. Even if he doesn't get on the field, he could push Russell Wilson into playing like a winner again in Pittsburgh. And if Fields earns the QB1 job outright, he'll have a chance to show how his skill set translates to wins for a legitimate playoff contender, which he hasn't had the opportunity to do yet in the NFL.

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