It’s an understatement to say that even for teams with the 1st overall pick, that it’s difficult to get the NFL draft right. There are so many prospects, so many skill sets to evaluate, and while this means that there’s plenty of opportunity to grab a franchise player with the 1st overall pick, there’s also a good chance that the selection will turn out to be underwhelming. It’s difficult to get a complete read on any player trying to make the jump from the college game, and most teams just need to hold their breath, and hope that they’ve made the right decision.
Over the last 20 years, we’ve certainly seen our share of hits and misses. While some of these teams wish they could have their 1st overall pick back, others didn’t squander the opportunity, and were able to land a difference maker. If we could do it all over again, let’s take a look at which teams would have altered their selection, and which ones would have stayed put with what they originally decided on.
Ranked below is a re-draft of the last 20 NFL 1st overall draft picks.
20. 1997: St. Louis Rams – Orlando Pace
Original Pick: Orlando Pace
The Rams ended up getting one of the best offensive linemen of all-time in Pace, and also the cornerstone of their offensive line during the days of “The Greatest Show On Turf”. Pace was simply a monster tackle, and truly one of the best overall players of his era. He dominated for over a decade in the league, and was an important piece to numerous winning Rams teams over the years.
There were some nice players available in the 1st round that year, namely Tony Gonzalez, but Pace was the best selection for the Rams in order to anchor their offensive line, which set up success for their great skill players like Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce.
19. 1998: Indianapolis Colts – Peyton Manning
Original Pick: Peyton Manning
This is another no-brainer, and maybe the biggest one on this entire list. Nobody needs to be reminded that Manning was a generational talent at quarterback, and that he changed the position. His ability to diagnose a defense, seemingly being able to determine what the coverage would be on any given play, simply from seeing it at the line of scrimmage, was truly an amazing feat.
Needless to say, he dominated for years with the Colts, and led them to a Super Bowl victory. Can’t really ask much more from a 1st-overall pick than that, even if he came under fire for his playoff performances at times. Anyway, this was a clear-cut great selection from day one, and much better than what the Chargers got with the very next pick; the disaster that was Ryan Leaf.
18. 1999: Cleveland Browns – Edgerrin James
Original Pick: Tim Couch
While the experiment with Couch as the new franchise quarterback was a bust, it’s difficult to say the direction that they would have gone in if he hadn’t been on the radar. The 1999 draft had an impressive amount of talent in the 1st round, and the Browns could have upgraded their team with just about any of them. So, which position should have been on the horizon for Cleveland?
Of all of them, James would have given them a confirmed threat out of the backfield, that could have made them a dangerous run-first team. Over his career with the Colts, James demonstrated the kind of longevity that most running backs lack, and put up some amazing statistical seasons along the way. He would have done far more for the Browns’ offense than Couch did, who was a disappointment almost from the very beginning.
17. 2000: Cleveland Browns – Brian Urlacher
Original Pick: Courtney Brown
Another Cleveland 1st overall pick, and another bust who got originally selected. Brown was an impressive pass-rusher at Penn State, but struggled to adapt at the pro level, and had a limited career that never fully got going. A much better selection for the defense would have been Urlacher, who proved to be a perennially great middle linebacker during his time with the Bears.
A force like this in the middle of the field would have given the Browns an anchor that couldn’t be ignored like Brown was as an underwhelming edge rusher. Urlacher was also a top-10 pick, so he must have been on Cleveland’s radar during the draft, but they elected to get a pass rusher instead. Yet another Browns draft mistake, which was a scenario that would continue over the years in various forms.
16. 2001: Atlanta Falcons – Drew Brees
Original Pick: Michael Vick
There’s no doubt that Vick was one of the most dynamic players of his era, and the greatest dual-threat quarterback that the league has ever seen. If he had to strictly rely on his throwing ability he would have been mediocre, but with his speed and running ability, Vick was able to carve out a style that worked for him, and found him some success.
Still, with a long-term franchise option like Brees available in this draft, the Falcons would have been better off with him. Not only did he not get suspended for 2 seasons in the prime of his career, but he’s been by far the more consistent player and passer, which is of paramount importance for any quarterback. Vick may have been more fun to watch, but Brees is an all-time great, and could have brought a Super Bowl to the Falcons.
15. 2002: Houston Texans – Julius Peppers
Original Pick: David Carr
While selecting a quarterback for the first year of a new franchise is a logical move, selecting one with no semblance of an offensive line is a questionable one. The Texans wanted Carr, which was fine, but they had no plan to protect him, and the amount of sacks he took early on probably ruined his career.
Peppers was taken with the next selection by the Panthers, and has proven to be one of the greatest pass-rushers in NFL history. Such a player would have given Houston a defensive anchor for years. Carr may have felt like the right pick at the time, trying to establish a franchise quarterback first to build around, but Peppers was unquestionably the best player in this draft, and in hindsight was the far better pick.
14. 2003: Cincinnati Bengals – Andre Johnson
Original Pick: Carson Palmer
Palmer definitely had some notable seasons with the Bengals, but he was far from the long-term success that they had hoped for when they took him 1st-overall. It wasn’t an egregious bust in any way, but the Bengals would have been better off with another player when it came down to it. Johnson was one of the best receivers of his era, and would have fit the bill perfectly for a longer amount of time.
The sheer fact that they could have paired Johnson with Chad Johnson on the outside of the field would have been really something to witness. That duo could have succeeded no matter who was playing quarterback for Cincinnati. Overall, this would have been a better pick.
13. 2004: San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers
Original Pick: Eli Manning (Traded For Philip Rivers)
This was the infamous draft where Eli Manning essentially refused to play for the Chargers, and demanded a trade immediately. As a result, the Chargers ended up with Rivers, and they shouldn’t want to trade a thing from that scenario. Rivers has been one of of the top quarterbacks in the league for years now, and is still going strong to this day. Even though he’s been surrounded by a wide array of supporting casts over the years, he’s remained a constant on the Chargers’ offense, and has lived up to the hype.
While some other playmakers were available in the 2004 1st round such as Larry Fitzgerald and DeAngelo Hall, the fact that Rivers was able to perform as a franchise quarterback is worth everything to the Chargers. Easily the best pick on the board for them.
12. 2005: San Francisco 49ers – Aaron Rodgers
Original Pick: Alex Smith
Alex Smith may have been the most boring 1st-overall selection at the quarterback position in the history of the game. It’s one thing when a quarterback flat-out busts, and it’s obvious that they can’t play in the league. It’s another when a quarterback is so mediocre and uninspiring (but still not “terrible) that a team is forced to hang on to them. The 49ers tied themselves to Smith for 7 years, and he never improved.
The obvious choice here is Rodgers, who was taken later in the 1st round by the Packers. It’s not difficult to see why this would have been the better pick, as Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback of the last 20 years. No doubt that the Niners would have a Super Bowl if Rodgers had been under center for the last decade.
11. 2006: Houston Texans – Tamba Hali
Original Pick: Mario Williams
If it was defensive help the Texans’ desired in the 2006 draft, they would have been better off going with Hali. This wasn’t a notable draft, with many players turning out to be underwhelming compared to their projections, but Hali was an exception, and has proven that during his stellar career with Kansas City, where he’s been one of the best pass-rushers in the game.
Williams has had a decent career, but his effort has been questionable at times, along with his attitude. He would eventually leave the Texans mid-way through his career, and just wasn’t the kind of hallmark player that a 1st-overall pick should be. The better option would have been Hali, giving maximum effort and really good production for over a decade.
10. 2007: Oakland Raiders – Adrian Peterson
Original Pick: JaMarcus Russell
The consensus pick for the most botched 1st overall selection in the history of the NFL, Russell was simply a disaster as the Raiders’ starting quarterback. It was one of the most egregiously bad picks in league history, especially considering the amount of elite talent that was available in the 2007 1st round. The Raiders could have gone in a multitude of other directions, but the surefire bet would have been to take Peterson.
AP may go down as the best running back of his generation, and definitely would have succeeded wherever he ended up getting drafted. Whether the Vikings had a contending team or not during his time there, he always produced without exception, and produced better than just about any other running back in the league. Peterson was dominant, and could have given the Raiders a fearsome running game.
9. 2008: Miami Dolphins – Matt Ryan
Original Pick: Jake Long
Long may have had a few good seasons as a tackle for the Dolphins, but it was hardly worth the 1st-round investment. He petered out after a few seasons, and the Dolphins were left with the same hole on the offensive line that they had previously. Finding a quarterback has always been a tougher task for Miami, and with Ryan on the board in 2008 they should have taken him.
While he’s only gained national prominence in the last season, which culminated in a Super Bowl appearance, Ryan has actually been a very good quarterback for his entire career with the Falcons. Having such stability at the most important position in football would have given he Dolphins a leg up when they needed it most. As it stands, Ryan Tannehill is far from a guarantee as a franchise quarterback.
8. 2009: Detroit Lions – Matthew Stafford
Original Pick: Matthew Stafford
While he may not be perfect, Stafford has proven that he’s a legitimate franchise quarterback in the NFL, and that’s a good return on a 1st overall pick. The Lions haven’t had the most stable team over the years, but having Stafford under center will always give them a chance to be good.
It was a fairly underwhelming 1st round in 2009, and Detroit clearly made the best pick of the bunch. Whether or not Stafford is ever able to bring them a Super Bowl is immaterial here. He’s been a franchise quarterback for a long time, and has solidified the position. Definitely the best selection possible for the Lions this year, no two ways about it.
7. 2010: St. Louis Rams – Ndamukong Suh
Original Pick: Sam Bradford
One of the most limp-wristed 1st overall picks in NFL history, Bradford proved early on that he wasn’t the quarterback as advertised at Oklahoma. Beyond the obvious injury history, he wasn’t able to take over a game, and had a painful risk-averse style of play that has frustrated fanbases wherever he’s gone. The Rams certainly wouldn’t have made the same pick twice.
Suh is one of the best interior defensive lineman in the game, and while he has a reputation for being a dirty player, it’s a small price to pay for a talent like this. Pairing him and Aaron Donald on the defensive line would be simply unstoppable, and the Rams would have one of the best pass rushes in the league. As the 2nd overall pick by the Lions, Suh should have been on the Rams’ radar, but they elected to pass on him.
6. 2011: Carolina Panthers – Von Miller
Original Pick: Cam Newton
It may be tempting to think that the Panthers would take Newton all over again. He did have an impressive 2015 season, leading Carolina to the Super Bowl, coming up just short of a title. He may have had a career year then, but besides that, Newton has by and large been an up-and-down player. A 1st-overall pick should be more consistent, and he just hasn’t been, struggling with accuracy and poise along the way.
Miller, on the other hand, has shown that he’s a generational pass-rushing talent, and most certainly would have succeeded wherever he went. This kind of player is worth more than a borderline franchise quarterback. Edge rushing is paramount to a successful defense these days, and Miller is the best in the game at it.
5. 2012: Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck
Original Pick: Andrew Luck
Much the same as Matt Stafford, Luck has proven that he’s one of the most consistent franchise quarterbacks in the game. In fact, he’s even better than that, and has proven dominance on occasion throughout his career. Luck has been hindered by a terrible front office in Indy, though that does look to be turning around.
He’s taken some pretty mediocre teams to the playoffs, and has made it as far as the AFC Title game. That’s very impressive for a quarterback with no offensive line, and a shoddy defense playing alongside him. Luck is easily one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and there really was no other option available that looks better in hindsight. He’ll continue to be one of the league’s best for years to come.
4. 2013: Kansas City Chiefs – Lane Johnson
Original Pick: Eric Fisher
The 2013 draft may have been a clunker as a whole, but the Chiefs really missed the boat with their 1st overall pick. They took an offensive tackle in Fisher who has only struggled since coming into the league, and passed on Johnson, who is one of the best tackles in the league, taken three spots later by the Eagles.
Needless to say, if the Chiefs were after an anchor to their offensive line, then they couldn’t have messed up this pick any more. Fisher has been dead weight since entering the league, and a couple of suspensions aside, Johnson has been elite when he’s been on the field. The disparity between the two is huge, and Kansas City should have reconsidered this 1st overall selection.
3. 2014: Houston Texans – Aaron Donald
Original Pick: Jadeveon Clowney
In fairness, Clowney has been able to turn his career around recently, finally overcoming the injury bug, and turning into the upper-tier pass-rusher that everyone thought he could be coming out of South Carolina. That doesn’t make him worth the 1st-overall selection, however, and the Texans managed to miss the boat on another of these picks.
Donald, on the other hand has been perhaps the best interior defensive lineman in the league, and a decided step-up from Clowney right now. He ended up going 13th to the Rams in this draft, and wasn’t really a consensus top-5 pick, but if Houston could have it all over again, there’s little doubt that they would go in this direction instead. Clowney has turned into a productive player, but still isn’t worth of the highest selection available.
2. 2015: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Jameis Winston
Original Pick: Jameis Winston
The Bucs needed a franchise quarterback to get over the hump in 2015, and that’s exactly what they received in Winston, who has lived up to his billing so far. They’re a team on the rise who is currently establishing their identity as a dynamic offense, and it all starts with Winton’s presence. Though a few may be in favor of Mariota as the better pick, Winston has shown more throughout his first 2 seasons in the league.
For Tampa Bay, who was relying on Mike Glennon for the 2014 season, drafting a quarterback was a necessity, and they ended up getting one of the rising starts in the game. While a pass-rushing option like Vic Beasley, a bell-cow running back like Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, or an elite receiver like Amari Cooper would have been an interesting choice here, Winston remains the most logical pick. It looks like the Bucs hit with this one.
1. 2016: Los Angeles Rams – Carson Wentz
Original Pick: Jared Goff
It was a roller coaster rookie season for Goff, who after being selected 1st overall wasn’t even named the Week 1 starter for the Rams. He had to sit the bench for a while, and when he finally did get in to game action, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Goff clearly hasn’t picked up on the game speed and intricacies of the NFL, and that is going to create real questions as to whether he was worth the highest investment possible in the draft.
As of right now, it looks like the Rams should have taken Wentz. While he had his share of rookie bumps in the road, Wentz at least proved that he could start an entire season, show real promise, and the ability to read NFL defenses pre-snap with consistency. That’s worlds better than anything Goff was able to muster up. While this remains inconclusive because of each player’s youth, Wentz is trending upward, and Goff is doing the opposite.
Of course, Dak Prescott would be the other logical option, but given the fact that he was inserted into an ideal offensive situation for his rookie year, the impressive bulk statistics may not be transferrable to a mediocre offense like the Rams’. Even with him factored into the decision, Wentz was still easily the best quarterback option for the Rams in the 2016 class.
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