In 1936, the first official NFL Draft occurred with the Philadelphia Eagles selecting University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger with the first pick ever. And from the very first pick, their was some draft drama because Jay was demanded too much money, forcing the Eagles to trade him to Chicago where the controversy continued. George Halas, the Bears owner at the time, and Jay were not able to come to a salary agreement. Jay ended up never playing a single down in the NFL and instead took a job working with a rubber company in Chicago.
At the time, he was the easy choice for first overall pick. He was the best player coming out of college making it a no-brainer for the Eagles. That was the very first time we learned about the term "NFL Bust" and it would not be the last because the hardest thing to do in sports is predicting the future for anyone, especially a football player's career.
Over the past 35 years, we have seen many mistakes in the NFL draft including some extremely legendary years like the loaded 1983 draft which featured seven Hall of Famers including Dan Marino, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Richard Dent, Eric Dickerson, Darrell Green, and Bruce Matthews. The same thing happened in 1969 and even in 1981.
Those drafts were full of future superstars that several teams ended up passing on for players like Chris Hinton, Todd Blackledge, Leroy Keyes, Rich Campbell, and David Verser, among several other busts. It happens every year and some teams look back in time thinking about what might have been, if they only knew.
We decided to go back to 1997 and re-draft the first 15 picks of that draft and dream about what the league could have looked like if things changed.
15 St.Louis Rams - Orlando Pace, OT
Original Pick: Orlando Pace
It is tough to argue about the St. Louis Rams original selection, Orlando Pace, in the 1997 NFL Draft, as he would go on to be the team's starting Left Tackle for 12 years before retiring and eventually becoming a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He protected Kurt Warner's blind side and was a key contributor to the Rams offense in the late 90's and early 00's that would be known as the "Greatest Show on Turf" because of their high-scoring offense and incredible run game.
Orlando Pace was also a big reason for Marshall Faulk's success as he was a blocker in that tough offensive line that protected Kurt Warner and their running game.
So we decided that even if you were to do a re-draft of the 1997 NFL draft, Orlando Pace is the top pick each and every time.
14 Oakland Raiders - Jason Taylor, DE
Original Pick: Darrell Russell
The Oakland Raiders have never been the greatest when it comes to drafting and their original selection of Darrell Russell, who started off having a great career in Oakland. He had 3.5 sacks in his rookie season followed by 10 sacks in 1998 and another 9.5 in 1999. But he would eventually run into substance abuse violations which cost him his NFL career and left the Raiders wondering about what could have been.
Imagine the Oakland Raiders throughout the 20000s with Jason Taylor at the defensive end. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer. He spent 13 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, had 131 sacks, 27 fumble recoveries, 43 forced fumbles, eight interceptions, and three touchdowns. The Raiders needed defensive line help in 1997 anyways and JT would have been the perfect addition.
13 Seattle Seahawks - Ronde Barber, DB
Original Pick: Shawn Springs
When the Seattle Seahawks drafted in 1997 the first time, they grabbed Shawn Springs, a defensive back from Ohio State. It was not a bad choice, just not as good as they could have had if they went with future Super Bowl champion Ronde Barber (Pictured Center).
Ronde Barber was a coverage corner that was given the freedom to blitz and play underneath while the safeties covered the deep routes. That defense was perfected by the Seattle Seahawks and turned them into a Super Bowl champion because of it.
Although Shawn Springs still ended up becoming a solid defensive back for the Seahawks, his abilities were far short of Ronde Barber's, who is a future Hall of Famer, guaranteed.
12 Baltimore Ravens - Walter Jones, OT
Original Pick: Peter Boulware
For 12 seasons Walter Jones anchored the Seattle Seahawks offensive line and protected his QB's weak side by becoming one of the NFL's best Left Tackles. He was so good that he became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame during the first year of eligibility. The city of Seattle loved him so much that the Governor declared April 30th as "Walter Jones Day" for the entire state of Washington. He had a day of the year named after him, that is something that simply does not happen very often.
The Seahawks grabbed hi, at 6th overall in 1997, so given the chance at a re-draft, there is no way Baltimore would pass on him a second time, even with two future Hall of Famers still on the board.
11 Detroit Lions - Tony Gonzalez, TE
Original Pick: Bryant Westbrook
Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham spent a few seasons completely changing what we think about the Tight End position. They put up numbers that were better than most Wide Receivers and, during that time span, were being considered the greatest to ever play in that position. However, Gronk has dealt with countless injuries and Jimmy Graham has changed since moving to Seattle and those thoughts have all but leveled out.
That brings us back to Tony Gonzalez, who is a legit beast of a TE and should be considered the greatest at that position in NFL history. He played for 17 years and consistently put up 75 catches, 900 yards, and 6 touchdowns a season, every single year. He is as reliable as it comes at the TE position and is a future Hall of Famer.
10 Seattle Seahawks - Tiki Barber, RB
Original Pick: Walter Jones
One of the saddest stories in professional football is Tiki Barber's story because it is stock full of bad timing resulting in a early retirement a year too soon.
Throughout his entire NFL career, Tiki's main goal was always a Super Bowl championship and he was very open about it when he decided to announce his retirement in 2006. He wanted to play for a team that was serious about winning a Super Bowl and he apparently felt as though the Giants were not going to be that team. The following season, they won the Super Bowl causing one of the most ironic moments in football.
Back to the re-draft, Seattle had few options and knowing what kind of talent Tiki was in the backfield, they would have no choice but to draft him with this pick.
9 New York Giants - James Farrior, LB
Original Pick: Ike Hilliard
James Farrior is just about right where he needs to be in the 1997 NFL Draft having originally been drafted eighth overall, just one spot behind this one.
But with Tiki Barber off the board and the Giants originally going after a WR, they are left with a chance to beef up their linebackers by adding James Farrior and he would fit nicely with the 1997 Giants who were in need of another decent linebacker to work along side Jessie Armstead. James would end up with 1,412 tackles, 35.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, and one defensive touchdown for his career with the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
8 New York Jets - Warrick Dunn, RB
Original Pick: James Farrior
The New York Jets have drafted some incredible running backs over the years including John Riggins, Freeman McNeil, Bill Brown, and Emerson Boozer. Most of these men are from the 60's so it is fine that you have no clue who they are. You just need to get online and do a little research to catch up on your NFL Draft history.
Even with their hits at the running back position, the one thing that they have not done in a very long time is draft another good RB to join that list. So if they were to get another chance to draft during the 1997 draft, they would take Warrick Dunn in a heartbeat especially after going 1-15 in 1996 and 3-13 in 1995. They were struggling very badly in the mid-90's and they needed someone to backup Adrian Murrell, who ended up leaving in 1998.
7 Arizona Cardinals - Derrick Mason, WR
Original Pick: Tom Knight
Between 2001 and 2009, Derrick Mason had eight 1,000 yard or more seasons where he averaged 84 receptions and six touchdowns per year also. During those seasons, he would total 9,586 receiving yards from 753 receptions with 51 touchdowns. Torry Holt was the only other WR in the NFL to surpass those numbers between 2001 and 2009. He truly was one of the league's most underappreciated WR's because he never danced or showboated. He would catch the pass, score the touchdown, and head to the sidelines.
His workhorse mentality made him a very valuable asset to more than one team throughout his career too. The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens benefited from his talents but if you look at the late 90's, the one team that needed a WR more than any of the teams in the top 10 of this draft was the Arizona Cardinals.
6 New Orleans Saints - Jake Plummer, QB
Original Pick: Chris Naeole
The 1997 New Orleans Saints won six games because they had the league's fourth best defense. They lost 10 games because they had the worst offense in the NFL, averaging just 14.8 points and 252.8 yards per game. They started four different QB's that year including Heath Shuler, Billy Joe Hobert, Danny Wuerffel, and Doug Nussmeier and their best running back only had 552 rushing yards. It was just plain awful.
Jake Plummer could have changed the future of the entire Saints organization, solving a long list of offensive troubles that haunted them until Drew Brees came to town. Just pretend that the Saints had Jake Plummer for six or seven seasons for a second. How much better could he have made them?
5 Atlanta Falcons - Tarik Glenn, OT
Original Pick: Michael Booker
Tarik Glenn only played ten seasons with the Indianapolis Colts before retiring at the age of 30, in 2006. We have discussed many things in this article and one of the most important ones is consistency. That is exactly what Tarik Glenn brought to the Colts Offensive line and he ended up starting 154 of the 160 games he could have played in throughout his entire career. He missed six games in 2003, it was the only time he missed a game.
His retirement was a shock because he was healthy and could have played another ten years if he wanted to. But he said he lost the passion for the game and had to step away. Knowing that you would only get ten years out of him, the Atlanta Falcons would still take him 11th overall if given the chance.
4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Sam Madison, DB
Original Pick: Warrick Dunn
Warrick Dunn was the Bucs original pick in 1997 but since he is off the board, they have to come up with another pick. They also used their third round selection on Ronde Barber, which turned out to be their best pick that year, but he too is off the board during this draft. So who do they chose?
Based on what they want and what is available, the choice is Sam Madison for two reasons. First off, he fills a need that they needed some fixing in their secondary right away. Secondly, he can cover anyone in the league and spent three of his first four seasons in the NFL with five or more interceptions per season, including eight in 1998 and seven in 1997. Put him across from Donnie Abraham with John Lynch playing SS and Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson, and Rufus Porter as your linebackers makes for a dangerous defense. Sam Madison could have replaced Ronde Barber with that defense and might have even made them a better team overall.
3 Kansas City Chiefs - Dexter Coakley, LB
Original Pick: Tony Gonzalez
Dexter Coakley is a great example of how NFL owners, coaches, and scouts can overthink a prospect. Everyone knew he was talented but considered him too small to be a first round draft pick. So he was originally drafted in the third round by the Dallas Cowboys after having fallen down to them because of his size. It had nothing to do with his talent, only his size.
Looking back on it, no one should have passed on Dexter Coakley after the top 12 picks, he just had too much talent and size should have never been an issue. Zach Thomas had a Hall of Fame career at the linebacker position and he was 5'10" also.
Since the Kansas City Chiefs originally selected Tony Gonzalez in this spot, they have to figure out another plan and taking Dexter Coakley, who played and started in 127 of 128 possible games, would have not been a terrible choice.
2 Cincinnati Bengals - Trevor Pryce, DT
Original Pick: Reinard Wilson
The Cincinnati Bengals started Kimo von Oelhoffen at the Defensive Tackle position in the 1997 season for 13 games and again in 1998 where he started 16 more games. However, he was more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher and he would only manage five sacks in his six seasons with the Bengals. He replaced Dan Wilkinson and Tim Johnson from 1996. So needless to say, the Bengals could have used a solid defensive tackle to plug the middle of the line and also get pressure on the QB.
Trevor Pryce would have been their guy if they selected him instead of wasting their original pick on Reinard Wilson, who was a backup linebacker for most of his career. The Bengals might have switched over to a 3-4 defense but Trevor Pryce was so big and strong that he was going to get into the backfield and disrupt the QB almost every snap.
1 Miami Dolphins - Corey Dillon, RB
Original Pick: Yatil Green
The original 1997 selection for the Miami Dolphins was a WR by the name of Yatil Green, who ended up playing eight games in 1999 and nothing more. He was as big of a bust as they come and the Dolphins would love to forget about him.
So why not draft a running back named Corey Dillon, who would end up rushing for 1,100 yards or more in each of his first six seasons and again in 2004 when he would rush for 1,635 yards. Since the Dolphins already had Dan Marino and were easily the best passing offense in the NFL, they did not need the best RB in the league, or so they thought at the time. Dan Marino might be polishing a ring or two if only they had a more legitimate RB back then instead of Karim Abdul-Jabbar.