When it comes to the best draft classes of the past quarter century, the 2004 NFL Draft is certainly up there. It seems that only the 2001, 2007 and 1996 draft classes can even be talked about in the same breath, and there are a lot of notable players that are still in the league today. There are also some guys that appear to be heading to Canton when their careers are over.
The 2004 NFL Draft was also filled with a lot of drama at the top when Eli Manning was able to get a trade to New York after being selected first overall by San Diego while Philip Rivers was shipped from New York to San Diego. If all of the teams knew what they know now, what would have changed in that draft? Would Rivers or Manning even go first overall to San Diego? And where would guys like Sean Taylor, Jared Allen and Steven Jackson end up?
It’s time to take a look back at each of the draft positions and see what players could have ended up with different teams as we re-draft the legendary 2004 NFL Draft.
1. San Diego Chargers – Ben Roethlisberger
Original Pick: Eli Manning
After trading away Eli Manning to the Giants for Philip Rivers, the Chargers have gotten some good quarterback play. However, a lot of people would argue that Ben Roethlisberger was actually the best quarterback in the draft. Big Ben has four Pro Bowl appearances and has been to three Super Bowls, winning two of them while becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the storied franchise of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of the first three QBs taken, Rivers is the only one to not win any Super Bowls and Roethlisberger has been more consistent throughout his career than Manning.
2. Oakland Raiders – Philip Rivers
Original Pick: Robert Gallery
Eli Manning didn’t want to play in San Diego, so there was probably no way that he would want to play in Oakland, either. With that in mind, the Raiders wouldn’t be too upset if they had a re-do and ended up with Philip Rivers instead. Robert Gallery did stick around for six years with the Raiders, but he wasn’t the can’t miss prospect that they thought he would be. Gallery played for one season with the Seahawks in 2011 and then was on the Patriots off-season roster for about two weeks before he decided to retire in 2012.
3. Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald
Original Pick: Larry Fitzgerald
There is no doubt that the Cardinals would take Larry Fitzgerald all over again as he has been one of the best players in franchise history (if not the best). Fitzgerald is still on the team that drafted him, which is something that a lot of the 2004 NFL Draft picks can’t say. While Eli Manning is tempting here, Fitzgerald almost single-handedly won them their first Super Bowl along with veteran gunslinger Kurt Warner. The duo was the best one that the Cardinals have had in their long history.
4. New York Giants – Eli Manning
Original Pick: Philip Rivers
Speaking of Kurt Warner, he was on the Giants roster in 2004 when they drafted Philip Rivers and traded him for Eli Manning. This time around, the Giants don’t have to give up anything in a trade as Eli falls right into their laps. After winning two Super Bowls with the younger Manning brother, the Giants and their fans would not pass on him if given another chance. Manning appears to be a future Hall of Fame player as he now has 44,191 passing yards to go along with 294 touchdowns and 199 interceptions.
5. Washington Redskins – Jared Allen
Original Pick: Sean Taylor
Any Redskins fan would probably be willing to draft Sean Taylor all over again and he would be the obvious pick if not for his tragic death in 2007. It would be a sentimental pick, though, as Jared Allen would give much more long-term value at the fifth overall pick. Allen was originally drafted in the fourth round out of Idaho State and has been to five Pro Bowls while collecting 136 sacks in his career. In two of his seasons, Allen led the NFL in sacks and he has been a four-time first-team All Pro selection.
6. Cleveland Browns (From Detroit)- Steven Jackson
Original Pick: Kellen Winslow II
Kellen Winslow II wasn’t an awful pick out of Miami, especially when he became a Pro Bowl caliber tight end for a brief period of time before fading away. Steven Jackson could have given the Browns more offensive firepower over a longer period of time as he was running strong through the 2012 season, racking up three Pro Bowls and 11,438 rushing yards along the way. Jackson played for the Atlanta Falcons for two seasons in 2013 and 2014 before becoming a mid-season addition to the Patriots in 2015 and is still signed with the team for 2016.
7. Detroit Lions (From Cleveland) – Wes Welker
Original Pick: Roy Williams
Roy Williams seemed like he was going to be a solid receiver for the Lions, but it never actually came to fruition in the long haul. Wes Welker, who originally went undrafted, would have been a much better fit if the Lions were dead set on a wide receiver. Welker played for five teams in his career, making five Pro Bowls and leading the league in receptions in three different seasons. Welker had a total of 9,924 receiving yards while playing for the Patriots, Dolphins, Broncos, Chargers and Rams.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Vince Wilfork
Original Pick: DeAngelo Hall
DeAngelo Hall wasn’t necessarily a bad pick at all in this spot (especially since he is still playing), but Vince Wilfork proved to be more dynamic of a defensive player for the Patriots later in the first round. Wilfork is a five-time Pro Bowl player that has also been named to four All-Pro teams and won two Super Bowls with New England before shipping off to Houston. In his career, Wilfork has racked up 538 combined tackles and 16 quarterback sacks, and has a trio of hilarious interceptions.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Sean Taylor
Original Pick: Reggie Williams
Reggie Williams was an absolute bust, as he only had 2,322 receiving yards in his NFL career. Even though Sean Taylor only would have given the Jaguars three and a half seasons of play, it still would have been much more than what Williams gave them. Taylor also would have helped the Jaguars the next couple of seasons as they finished with a .500 or better record in each of Taylor’s years. While with the Redskins, Taylor was able to pick off a dozen passes and force eight fumbles and 238 tackles in just 55 games.
10. Houston Texans – DeAngelo Hall
Original Pick: Dunta Robinson
Dunta Robinson was a promising cornerback at the beginning of his career, but if the Texans wanted to keep their draft pick in the same position, having DeAngelo Hall would have been a much better outcome. Hall has made three Pro Bowls in his career with the Falcons, Raiders and Redskins. Hall has also been versatile and willing to change positions to keep playing. He has also made some game breaking plays as he has 43 interceptions in his career to go along with 10 touchdowns on the defensive side of the ball.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers – Karlos Dansby
Original Pick: Ben Roethlisberger
On every single day of the week, and twice on Sunday, the Steelers would take Ben Roethlisberger again if given the chance (and would probably trade a lot to move up for him). That’s not the case in this draft, though, as they have to settle for linebacker Karlos Dansby, who was originally taken in the second round. Dansby has had a fine career playing for three different teams and is now on the rival Bengals. Dansby’s highlights include 19 interceptions and 41 career sacks with more than 900 career tackles.
12. New York Jets – Jonathan Vilma
Original Pick: Jonathan Vilma
Jonathan Vilma had a very strange career as he made a Pro Bowl with the Jets, but then suffered an injury that led to him leaving New York for New Orleans. If the Jets would have known what Vilma was going to do with the Saints, they probably would have held on to him. Vilma made two Pro Bowls with New Orleans and was a big part of the team winning their first Super Bowl. Unfortunately, Vilma is not in the league anymore after playing just one game in the 2013 season and then retiring, but he still gave a lot of production to the Saints.
13. Buffalo Bills – Jason Peters
Original Pick: Lee Evans
For seven seasons, Lee Evans was that guy you kept on your fantasy football bench hoping that he would eventually break out, but it never happened. Evans played his last NFL game in 2011 with Baltimore, but Jason Peters is still playing. Peters has made eight Pro Bowls in his career, while being named to six All-Pro teams. The best part? He was originally undrafted by the Bills in 2004. They would have had to have drafted him this time around and he would have been worthy of a first round selection had they known what he was going to be capable of.
14. Chicago Bears – Randy Starks
Original Pick: Tommie Harris
While he might be a free agent now, Randy Starks has had a better career on the defensive line than Tommie Harris. Starks was drafted in the third round by the Titans, and spent his best years with the Dolphins from 2008 to 2014 when he made two Pro Bowl teams. Starks played with the Browns last season, and had his struggles, but Harris hasn’t played since the 2011 season. Starks has 42 career sacks and 292 tackles, along with four interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries, with his best season coming in 2009 with Miami when he had a career high in both sacks and tackles.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Will Smith
Original Pick: Michael Clayton
The first thing people might think about when they hear Michael Clayton is the movie of the same name. Clayton didn’t even have 3,000 receiving yards in his NFL career, and last played in 2011 with the Giants. As for Will Smith, he had a much longer career with more productivity, playing all of his games with the Saints. Smith made one Pro Bowl (in 2006), and registered 67.5 sacks to go along with 457 tackles. Sadly, Smith passed away due to a gunshot wound in New Orleans in April 2016, with an investigation still going on.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (From San Francisco) – Shawn Andrews
Original Pick: Shawn Andrews
Shawn Andrews might have still been playing at a high level today if it weren’t for the mounting injuries that he suffered after signing a big contract with the New York Giants. Andrews was on the Eagles through the 2009 season, and made three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. Andrews did not play much in his rookie season with just one start, but only missed one game over the next three seasons while having injury problems again in 2008. Even with just six seasons of production, a healthy Andrews would likely be drafted by Philly again.
17. Denver Broncos (From Cincinnati) – D.J. Williams
Original Pick: D.J. Williams
When you draft a player in the first round, one of the best case scenarios that you can ask for is getting nine seasons out of him. That’s what happened when the Broncos drafted D.J. Williams in this spot out of Miami, and he played with Denver through 2012 before ending his career on two seasons with the Bears. Williams had nearly 900 career tackles with 22.5 sacks, but it was off the field antics that held him back from becoming a bigger name in Broncos lore.
18. New Orleans Saints – Darnell Dockett
Original Pick: Will Smith
In this re-draft, Will Smith would not have been available for the Saints to take again or else they would have. However, Darnell Dockett is no slouch as a consolation prize at the 18th spot. Dockett was originally drafted in the third round by Arizona, and spent a decade with the Cardinals and started 2015 season with San Francisco. He was released early in September and hasn’t been picked up by another team. Dockett has 40.5 career sacks and 349 tackles to go along with three Pro Bowls. In 2009, Dockett was named to the All-Pro squad by the Associated Press to mark his best season.
19. Miami Dolphins (From Minnesota) – Kellen Winslow II
Original Pick: Vernon Carey
Vernon Carey was a player that the Dolphins could plug into any position on the offensive line, but never became the elite left tackle that they thought he could be. Which is why Jake Long was eventually drafted first overall. In 2004, the Dolphins were short on offensive weapons and they could have used Kellen Winslow II, even if his window as a good tight end was a small one. Carey would end up retiring after the 2011 season, never reaching his full potential despite only missing seven starts from 2005 to 2011.
20. Minnesota Vikings (From Miami) – Chris Snee
Original Pick: Kenechi Udeze
You have to feel for Kenechi Udeze, who had to retire in 2008 after he was diagnosed with leukemia. Udeze has thankfully found a career as a strength and conditioning coach, and is currently with his alma mater of USC. The Vikings could have used the services of Chris Snee with this spot knowing what we know now, as he spent his entire 10 season career with the Giants at guard, making four Pro Bowls and winning two Super Bowls. Snee was also named to All-Pro teams in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons.
21. New England Patriots (From Baltimore) – Tommie Harris
Original Pick: Vince Wilfork
The Patriots would love to have Vince Wilfork all over again, but he has already been scooped up in this re-draft. Instead, the Patriots would have to settle for Tommie Harris, who could have been molded very well by Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Even outside of New England, Harris did go to three Pro Bowls. Could he have been the longtime fan favorite like Wilfork was? We’ll never know. At the end of his career, Harris finished with 31.5 career sacks, wrapping it up in 2011 with the Chargers after starting just one game.
22. Buffalo Bills (From Dallas) – New Pick: Matt Schaub
Original Pick: J.P. Losman
It was clear pretty early in his career that J.P. Losman was not the guy for the Bills and he proved that by finishing his career with 33 career touchdowns and 34 interceptions. If they wanted a quarterback, they would have been better off (don’t laugh) with Matt Schaub. Schaub made it to two Pro Bowls with Houston, and has a career mark of 133 touchdowns and 90 interceptions, although everyone seems to think he has a lot more picks than that. Schaub might not go down in history as a very memorable quarterback, but he was surely better than Losman.
23. Seattle Seahawks – New Pick: Jason Babin
Original Pick: Marcus Tubbs
Marcus Tubbs barely made the field as a defensive tackle since he was injured so frequently, only lasting in the league for four seasons before hanging up his cleats. While Jason Babin isn’t the best defensive lineman to take the field, he has had a long career in the NFL, playing for nine different teams. Babin is currently a member of the Cardinals, and he has had two Pro Bowl seasons and 64.5 career sacks. Babin also has 284 career tackles along with 14 forced fumbles, and has been a great depth guy.
24. St. Louis Rams (From Denver) – Michael Turner
Original Pick: Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson would be the obvious pick if he were still available as he was the only light in the dark ages that were the St. Louis Rams of the mid-2000s. With few running backs left in this class, Michael Turner would have been the best alternative. Turner was solid with the Chargers and Falcons through his nine seasons in the league, racking up 7,886 total yards and 67 touchdowns. Turner’s best season came in 2008 with the Falcons when he had 1,699 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in his first season as a full-time starter.
25. Green Bay Packers – Nathan Vasher
Original Pick: Ahmad Carroll
Ahmad Carroll never reached his potential with the Packers, spending just over two seasons with the team before bouncing around to Jacksonville, the Arena League, the Canadian League and just about every other league. As for Nathan Vasher, he at least showed a little more promise as he played through 2010 after a strong start with the Bears. Vasher would finish with 20 interceptions and was a one-time All-Pro. Vasher played with Chicago from 2004 to 2009, and then spent his final season in the league with the Lions.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (From St. Louis) – Nick Hardwick
Original Pick: Chris Perry
It looked like Chris Perry was going to be a surefire solid NFL running back after coming out of Michigan, but ended his career with a measly 606 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the rushing attack would have been a bit better if they had drafted center Nick Hardwick out of Purdue, instead. Hardwick was the Chargers third round pick, and he played 11 seasons, making one Pro Bowl team in his 136 starts. Centers aren’t really a sexy pick in the first round, but Hardwick was around long enough to justify his selection here.
27. Houston Texans (From Tennessee) – Bob Sanders
Original Pick: Jason Babin
It’s not clear if the Texans would take Jason Babin again, but they wouldn’t have the chance in this re-draft, anyway, since he’s already off the board. Bob Sanders would be a better fit here, and he was one of the best safeties in the league for the beginning of his career in Indianapolis when he made two Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams. Injuries prevented him from reaching legendary status and Sanders was done after 2011, so perhaps the Texans could have had DeAngelo Hall switch over to his spot after retirement.
28. Carolina Panthers (From Philadelphia) – Chris Gamble
Original Pick: Chris Gamble
While he was never really considered one of the greats in his era, Chris Gamble did spend his entire career with the Panthers and has the franchise record for most interceptions and passes defended. Gamble signed a big contract after the 2008 season when the team put their faith into him, and he ended up retiring after the 2012 season. With not many better options left on the board, the Panthers would have likely drafted him again. Gamble finished with 508 tackles and 27 interceptions, scoring two defensive touchdowns along the way.
29. Atlanta Falcons (From Indianapolis) – Shaun Phillips
Original Pick: Michael Jenkins
Michael Jenkins wasn’t the worst first round pick, but with Roddy White in the mix for Atlanta, Jenkins was never the guy. Jenkins finished with just 4,827 yards and 25 touchdowns, ending his career after the 2012 season. Shaun Phillips would play through the 2014 season, spending most of his career with the Chargers before spending brief periods of time with the Broncos, Titans and Colts. Phillips was a one-time Pro Bowler that finished his career with 81.5 sacks, seven interceptions and 22 forced fumbles.
30. Detroit Lions (From Kansas City) – Tyson Clabo
Original Pick: Kevin Jones
With the Detroit offensive line in the mid 2000s, poor Kevin Jones never really had a chance. Jones spent his first four seasons with the Lions before playing two more with the Bears, then never came back to the NFL. Jones had 3,176 rushing yards, but undrafted Tyson Clabo would have been a better pick. Clabo didn’t get a chance to play until the next year with the Falcons, but stayed through the 2012 season and had one season each with the Dolphins and Texans to finish his career.
31. San Francisco 49ers (From Carolina) – Benjamin Watson
Original Pick: Rashaun Woods
Rashaun Woods is easily one of the worst picks in the first round of the draft, as he finished with just seven catches and 160 yards. Woods was out of the NFL by 2006 and spent one year in the CFL before calling it quits in 2007. Benjamin Watson, on the other hand, is still playing in the NFL and just made his first Pro Bowl in 2015. Watson also has 4,739 more yards and 36 more touchdowns than Woods, and that’s from the tight end position.
32. New England Patriots – Chris Cooley
Original Pick: Benjamin Watson
With Benjamin Watson off of the board, the Patriots could have snagged the guy that was essentially Gronk while Gronk was still in high school. Although Cooley wasn’t as dominant as Gronk is, he still had a window as one of the best tight ends in the NFL, playing his entire nine year career with the Redskins. Cooley made two Pro Bowls with Washington, and finished with 4,711 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns. Cooley has attempted to make a comeback on several occasions, as well, but it hasn’t ended with a contract.
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