Every NFL general manager looks back on some of their past draft picks with longing and regret as they come to the moment when they release or trade one of their own picks who just didn’t cut it, while watching the guy they passed over lead other teams to the playoffs. This is especially true for first overall draft picks, as it means the GM had a chance to take ANYONE else, so when their pick flops, or a later pick becomes a potential Hall of Famer, it is extra painful. Since 2000 there have been 17 number one picks. Some of them were actually good picks, and teams got great players who helped the team for a long time. Some teams got good players who maybe stuck around and were dependable for a few years but never became stars. And of course, some teams got duds. They chose the guy who never developed into what they hoped, or the guy who was nagged by injuries throughout his time with the team, or even the guy who just sucked and never played. Looking back to 2000, we take a look at how each team might choose to re-draft their first overall selections if they had it to do all over again.
17 Cleveland Browns (2000): LaVar Arrington
Original Pick: Courtney Brown
In what seems to be some sort of mistake, it appears that the Cleveland Browns have not had a single number one overall pick in the draft since 2000. Hard to believe but it is true, for as terrible as they have been for many years, they have still not been terrible enough to grab the number one pick. But when they did have the number one in 2000, their draft luck remained much the same as it has been since. Their selection of Courtney Brown looked good initially as he had a solid rookie season, but injuries limited him for most of his five years with the Browns. If they had a chance to do it again, the best bet for Cleveland would have been to go with Brown’s Penn State teammate, LaVar Arrington, who went number two and was selected to three Pro-Bowls in his career.
16 Atlanta Falcons (2001): LaDainian Tomlinson
Original Pick: Michael Vick
The original team with the number one pick in the 2001 NFL Draft was the San Diego Chargers. They also wanted to select Michael Vick, but they could not agree to a contract with him so they traded their pick to the Falcons in return for the fifth overall pick and the Falcons’ 2001 third rounder and 2002 second rounder. Ultimately the Chargers made the better move, ending up with LaDainian Tomlinson and two extra picks. If the Falcons had to do it again, their best bet would be to stand pat at number five and either grab Vick there or take Tomlinson. If the Chargers were to re-draft they could have taken Tomlinson with that number one selection anyway but then they would not have acquired two additional valuable picks.
15 Houston Texans (2002): Ed Reed
Original Pick: David Carr
The 2002 NFL Draft was not a quarterback draft. David Carr went to the Texans with the first overall pick, Joey Harrington went number three, and David Garrard, who was drafted in the fourth round, was the only QB drafted that ever made a Pro Bowl. Needless to say, a non-QB would have been a better option. If the Texans wanted to go for a pass rusher, Julius Peppers, who went with the second pick, could have been had. Bryant McKinnie could have bolstered the offensive line. The best choice would probably have been to go for the defensive backfield, specifically, a free safety. Ed Reed went to the Ravens with the 24th overall pick. The Texans could have had the probable future Hall of Famer for his first 11 seasons rather than just signing him as a free agent for part of his final season.
14 Cincinnati Bengals (2003): Terrell Suggs
Original Pick: Carson Palmer
Another very solid decision that might make it hard to convince a team to re-draft someone else, was the Bengals number one choice in the 2003 NFL Draft. Carson Palmer did not see the field in his first season but once he had enjoyed a year to learn and develop, the Bengals put him in the starting lineup and he quickly proved he was a legitimate NFL quarterback. Despite missing a year with an injury, Palmer made two Pro Bowls and lead the Bengals to the playoffs twice, before he requested a trade after the team went 4-12 in 2010. If the Bengals were to re-draft 2003 they would not find a better quarterback available, but there were two probable Hall of Famers who went to two of their division rivals, which could have been good options. The Ravens drafted Terrell Suggs, and the Steelers grabbed Troy Polamalu. Suggs has lasted a little longer in the league so if the Bengals were to pick someone other than Palmer, he would probably be the better choice.
13 San Diego Chargers (2004): Eli Manning
Original Pick: Eli Manning
The 2004 draft saw another San Diego Chargers number one overall pick, and another highly touted QB that didn’t want to play for them. Fortunately for San Diego, everything worked out pretty well when the Chargers selected Eli Manning in the 2004 NFL Draft. Now it was a little messy and awkward with Eli making it known that he did not want to play for the Chargers, but when all was said and done they did come away with a legitimate franchise quarterback. One could argue that San Diego could have avoided all the drama and just taken Philip Rivers number one anyway, but one big advantage of grabbing Eli and trading him was that they acquired additional picks in the deal which got them Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman the following year. Ultimately the Chargers ended up with a franchise QB and an All-Pro linebacker all from one pick so they would not want to change anything they did.
12 San Francisco 49ers (2005): Aaron Rodgers
Original Pick: Alex Smith
In the 2005 NFL Draft the San Francisco 49ers used their number one overall pick on a quarterback, Alex Smith. Smith has had a decent career, taking his team to the playoffs on multiple occasions and being a solid, dependable QB for the 49ers and the Chiefs. But as everyone knows, the 49ers could have had someone else that year. There was another QB prospect that some people thought could be pretty good and might be just as smart of a choice for the number one pick. That guy of course was Aaron Rodgers who has been, if not the absolute best QB of the past decade, then certainly the most unbelievable QB of the past decade. With an arm that some folks think is magic, the ability to come back from any deficit with any amount of time left, a knack for Hail Marys, and one Super Bowl under his championship belt already, everyone knows that the 49ers should have just taken the kid from across the bay in Berkeley and enjoyed the ensuing dynasty.
11 Houston Texans (2006): Haloti Ngata
Original Pick: Mario Williams
Another very solid selection was the Houston Texans first overall pick, Mario Williams in 2006. After a decent rookie season, William became a dominating defensive end in his second year and played in two Pro Bowls for the Texans. If you really want to nitpick however, Williams did start experiencing some injury issues in his fifth season and then departed Houston to sign as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills in 2012, so the Texans only had a full strength version of Williams for a little less than four seasons. A better, similar choice might have been to go after Haloti Ngata, who was selected with the 12th overall pick, and who has been to five Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl over his nine seasons with the Ravens.
10 Oakland Raiders (2007): Darrelle Revis
Original Pick: JaMarcus Russell
Oh boy, to say the Raiders should have taken someone else with this first overall pick in 2007 is an understatement. In addition to the 17 Pro Bowlers chosen in the first 32 picks there were also probably four future Hall of Famers selected in the first half of the 2007 NFL Draft first round. The fact is, almost any other player would have been a better choice for the Raiders than JaMarcus Russell. If they were looking to make an offensive splash, their best bets would be either Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson. Or they could have just gone with Joe Thomas and solidified their offensive line for a decade. But the most interesting option would have been to go for defense. If they had selected Darrelle Revis and combined him with Nnamdi Asomugha they would have instantly had one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL.
9 Miami Dolphins (2008): Matt Ryan
Original Pick: Jake Long
The Dolphins certainly got a solid player when they drafted Jake Long in the 2008 NFL Draft. Long became a four time Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the Dolphins before signing as a free agent with the St Louis Rams in 2012. Although that is a nice chunk of time to have one of the best linemen in the league, the Dolphins could have done better. The player that went at the number three spot might have been a better choice. That player is this year’s starting quarterback in the Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan. The Dolphins apparently were satisfied with their QBs at the time, Chad Henne, but grabbing Ryan would have set them up under center for the next decade and who knows, maybe it would be Miami in the Super Bowl this year.
8 Detroit Lions(2009): Clay Matthews
Original Pick: Matt Stafford
The Detroit Lions picked the wrong year to go 0-16 as the 2009 NFL Draft was one of the weaker drafts in quite a while. That said, the Lions probably got the best player they could have hoped for as Matt Stafford has proven to be a very capable pro quarterback and has even lead the Lions to the playoffs three times. Stafford has been selected to one Pro Bowl and was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2011 after a shoulder injury kept him out most of his second season. Stafford has thrown for over 30,000 yards in his eight year career. If one really wanted to try someone else for the Lions though, they could have selected Clay Matthews, who has been to six Pro Bowls and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
7 St Louis Rams (2010): Earl Thomas
Original Pick: Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford was another good choice, and has proven to be a competent NFL quarterback, but the Rams certainly could have gone another direction and come out satisfied with some other selection. For one, Bradford was among the last QBs chosen before the NFL instituted rookie salary limits, which means the Rams had to splurge on Bradford’s salary, which may have made it harder to acquire other talent over the next few years. When you look at the players who were drafted after Bradford, an alternative choice seems like it would have been an even better idea. Among the 16 Pro Bowlers selected following Bradford, Ndamukong Suh and Earl Thomas have probably been the most impactful players. With the way they chose to build their defensive front over the next few years, their best alternative would have been Earl Thomas to complement their strong front four by locking down the defensive backfield.
6 Carolina Panthers (2011): Cam Newton
Original Pick: Cam Newton
When your number one overall draft pick wins the NFL MVP award and leads you to the Super Bowl in his fifth year in the league, you can be pretty confident that you made the right selection. After a Heisman Trophy and a record breaking rookie year, Cam Newton led the Panthers to the playoffs for the first time in 2013, and then had his breakout MVP season in 2015. It is hard to imagine that there would be anyone out there who would have been a better selection. Unless the next player chosen just in that draft just happens to be the guy who terrorized Newton in the same Super Bowl and won the game as the Super Bowl MVP for the other team. Would the Panthers really take Von Miller in a re-draft? Probably not, but any team would certainly have to consider it.
5 Indianapolis Colts (2012): Andrew Luck
Original Pick: Andrew Luck
Another first round pick that ended up being pretty much the best possible choice was when the Indianapolis Colts selected Andrew Luck in the 2012 NFL Draft. Much like their number one pick 14 years earlier, there was a pretty clear cut and obvious choice that seemed like a slam dunk. So far Andrew Luck looks like he is might be as good of a choice as Peyton Manning was. The one problem with this pick for the Colts has not been Luck, but has been every other draft pick they have used, or more specifically not used, to select anyone to protect Luck. If the Colts cannot find a way to keep Luck upright and safe behind the offensive line, then there is still a possibility that this draft pick could be wasted if Luck has another season of getting maimed like 2015. If that happens, Colts fans might start wondering if they should have just taken offensive tackle Matt Kalil instead.
4 Kansas City Chiefs (2013): Le’Veon Bell
Original Pick: Eric Fisher
Although he has been a solid mainstay on the Chiefs offensive line since he was drafted, Eric Fisher has not been selected to any Pro Bowls and has hovered in the above average tier of NFL lineman. He is also the reason that the Chiefs were unable to tie up this year’s Divisional Round Playoff game against the Steelers when he was called for holding and the Chiefs successful, game-tying two-point conversion in the final seconds was called back. If you were to re-draft 2013, it might be tough to find a first rounder that is really that much better than Fisher. There were a few other offensive linemen chosen, but they have all played around the same or worse level. If the Chiefs wanted the best player in the draft however, who is actually a player that could fit in perfectly in the run oriented Chiefs offense, that player would be Le’Veon Bell who fell to the second round but could have developed into a huge weapon for Kansas City.
3 Houston Texans (2014): Khalil Mack
Original Pick: Jadeveon Clowney
It may have taken a few years but it is beginning to look like Jadeveon Clowney might end up being worth the number one pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. During the 2016 season, with all-world defensive machine J.J. Watt out with an injury, Clowney took his place as the leader of the top rated Houston Texans defense. That said, even though Clowney looks like he is going to be the real deal, the Texans could have had someone else who might be an even realer deal and who became the real deal sooner than Clowney. Khalil Mack is already a two time All-Pro and this past year’s Defensive Player of the Year. As good as Clowney is, Khalil Mack is better. He might even be as good as, or better than J.J. Watt. If the Texans had an opportunity to re-draft their 2014 first overall pick, their defense could have had J.J. Watt AND Khalil Mack and quarterbacks everywhere would probably be looking into new careers as insurance salesmen.
2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2015): Marcus Mariota
Original Pick: Jameis Winston
The number one pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has looked legitimate in his first couple of seasons in the NFL. Although he has a little bit of that gunslinger tendency to force ill-advised throws that lead to interceptions, Jameis Winston has lead the Buccaneers to four, and three game improvements in each of his first two years, while winning the Rookie of the Year award and being named to the Pro Bowl in 2015. The alternative choice for a quarterback in 2015 would have been Marcus Mariota. Over the two seasons for each QB, Winston has thrown for more yards while Mariota has rushed for more yards. Winston has thrown five more TDs but also 14 more interceptions. Mariota also has the better QB rating over both seasons. Although it is probably too soon to say who will end up the more successful QB, if the Buccaneers were to re-draft their 2015 pick they might decide to go with Marcus Mariota.
1 Los Angeles Rams (2016): Jalen Ramsey
Original Pick: Jared Goff
Obviously the jury is still out on whether the Los Angeles Rams selection of Jared Goff with the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is going to be something they regret or something that will prove to be a solid choice in years to come. So far however, based on his position on the bench and minimal playing time this season, it appears that Goff needs a fair amount of development to become a solid NFL quarterback. The counter-point though, is that the last QB from Cal who was given time to develop turned out pretty good. Assuming Goff does not become Aaron Rodgers, there are a few players who already look like they could have been solid alternatives. The Rams have some decent pass rushers already so they could skip Joey Bosa but a good defensive back is always useful and Jalen Ramsey could have been a great addition to the already tough defense.