It is the 20-year anniversary of the 1996 NFL Draft. The top players that were featured in this draft had an immediate impact the teams they played for and carried their teams to the playoffs, and some even to the Super Bowl, changing franchises around for the better. These Pro Bowl, All-Pro, MVP, Hall of Famers, and impactful players made a difference when they stepped foot on an NFL turf. They were feared by opponents and praised by teammates. If not for some of the players in this draft, many franchises would have went a different route. They would not have had the success they had today.
This draft class was filled with talented players, so it was hard for teams to make a bad pick. Despite that, some teams still made the wrong decisions when it came to this draft. Many of the best players were picked late in the first round or after the first round. The teams that did draft the right players, took the opportunity to change their franchise around.
Whether they played on offense or defense, the opposing team would game plan against certain players that were in this draft. Whether it was their aggressive tackling or the way they ran their routes as a receiver, these players were game changers and could turn a game around with one big play. Not only were they great individual players, but they were also phenomenal teammates and did whatever it took to help their team win the game. They were leaders on and off the field and it showed in their game. This is the 1996 NFL draft, the year of change.
1. New York Jets – Ray Lewis, LB
Jets Original Pick: WR Keyshawn Johnson
Ray Lewis is arguably the best linebacker to ever play the game, so if he is available on any draft board, he should be drafted right away. The Jets already were sixth overall in defense the season before Lewis got drafted, but the addition of Lewis would have put them in a class of their own.
In 17 seasons, all with the Baltimore Ravens, Lewis was a two-time Super Bowl champion, two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, thirteen-time Pro Bowler, ten-time All-Pro selection, and is the Ravens all-time leader in tackles. Lewis also hold the NFL record for most Pro Bowls as a LB (13), tied with Lawrence Taylor for most All-Pro selections for a LB (10), and had 51 tackles in the postseason his last season in the league which is also a record.
Lewis finished his career with 1,562 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles and 31 interceptions.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jonathan Ogden, OT
Jaguars Original Pick: LB Kevin Hardy
The Jacksonville Jaguars were ranked 28th out of 30 in total offense prior to this draft. Instead of drafting on defense, OT Jonathan Ogden could have been a big help for their offensive woes. Ogden was a big part of the Baltimore Ravens success throughout his carer. In his 12 seasons with the Ravens, Ogden was an eleven-time Pro Bowler, was selected to nine All-Pro teams and was part of the Ravens roster that won Super Bowl XXXV. Ogden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
3. Arizona Cardinals – Marvin Harrison, WR
Cardinals Original Pick: Simeon Rice, DE
The Arizona Cardinals had one of the worst offenses in the league prior to the 1996 draft, ranking 24th out of 30 in total. The Cardinals were in desperate need of a playmaker, with none of their receivers or running backs breaking 1,000 yards. Marvin Harrison was a serious problem for defenses when he was on the field and would have made the Cardinals better right away.
In his 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, Harrison finished his career with 1,102 receptions, 14,580 receiving yards, and 128 TDs. This earned him eight trips to the Pro Bowl and eight All-Pro selections. Harrison led the league in receiving yards and receptions two times each. Harrison is the Colts all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs. Harrison is third in all-time receptions, fifth in all-time career receiving touchdowns, and seventh all-time in career receiving yards. Harrison was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
4. Baltimore Ravens – Brian Dawkins, FS
Ravens Original Pick: OT Jonathan Ogden
The Jonathan Ogden pick ended up working out great for the Baltimore Ravens, but if they chose to go a different route, Brian Dawkins would have been a perfect fit for this team. Dawkins is one of the best safeties to ever play the game. He played the whole field and QBs would shy away from the throwing the ball his way. In 16 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Denver Broncos, Dawkins finished his career with 895 tackles, 26 sacks, 28 forced fumbles, and 37 interceptions. Dawkins was selected to nine Pro Bowls, six All-Pro teams, and had his #20 jersey retired by the Eagles.
5. New York Giants – Zach Thomas, LB
Giants Original Pick: DE Cedric Jones
The New York Giants had a decent defense, ranking 14th out of 30 in total. They wanted to make their defense better, but drafted the wrong player in Cedric Jones. Instead, even though he went 154th, they should have went with LB Zach Thomas. In 13 seasons, 12 with the Miami Dolphins and one with the Dallas Cowboys, Thomas was the anchor of the Dolphins defense. Thomas finished his career with 1,100 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, and 17 interceptions. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and was selected to seven All-Pro teams. Thomas is the Dolphins franchise leader in tackles.
6. St. Louis Rams – Eddie George, RB
Rams Original Pick: RB Lawrence Phillips
The St. Louis Rams wanted to improve their offense after being average the season before. However, the Rams wasted a pick with the selection of RB Lawrence Phillips, who was a bust. The Rams should have went with RB Eddie George. In nine seasons, eight with the Tennessee Titans, George had 2,865 carries for 10,441 yards, and 68 TDs. George was selected to four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams. George had seven seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing.
7. New England Patriots – Terrell Owens, WR
Patriots Original Pick: WR Terry Glenn
The New England Patriots had the right idea of darting a WR in this draft, but they just did not draft the right one in Terry Glenn. Instead, they should have picked one of the greatest WRs to ever play in Terrell Owens. Every defender and coach knew about TO when he was on the field because that’s usually who the game plan was built around. T.O. gave his all when he was out on the field and did whatever he could to help his team to win. In 15 seasons with five different teams, Owens finished his career with 1,078 receptions for 15,394 yards, and 153 TDs. Owens was selected to six Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams. Owens led the league in receiving TDs three times and has a long list of NFL records and milestones that he has accomplished. Although, he’s dealt with his fair share of controversy, Owens will be a Hall of Famer.
8. Carolina Panthers – La’Roi Glover, DT
Panthers Original Pick: RB Tim Biakabutuka
The Carolina Panthers were just a bad overall team prior to this draft so they could have drafted any player at any position. They chose to improve their offense, which isn’t a bad decision, except the Panthers went with RB Tim Biakabutuka, which was obviously not the right pick for the team. On the other hand, DT La’Roi Glover (selected 166th overall by the Raiders) would have helped them out. In 13 seasons with four different teams, Glover had 432 tackles and 83.5 sacks. Glover was selected to six Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams.
9. Oakland Raiders – Lawyer Milloy, SS
Raiders Original Pick: TE Rickey Dudley
The Oakland Raiders decided to take advantage of a offense that was already 11th overall in total yards by drafting a TE. That was a head scratching move, seeing as their overall defense was ranked twentieth in the league. The Raiders should have went after SS Lawyer Milloy to improve their defense, who was drafted 36th overall. In 15 seasons with four different teams, Milloy had 1,003 tackles, 21 sacks, and 25 interceptions, something the Raiders desperately needed. Milloy was selected to four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams during his seven-year stint with the New England Patriots. Milloy also helped the Patriots to their Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the St. Louis Rams.
10. Cincinnati Bengals – Willie Anderson, OT
Bengals Original Pick: OT Willie Anderson
The Cincinnati Bengals got their draft pick right in OT Willie Anderson. Anderson fit well into the system the Bengals had at the time, as Anderson was a force for opposing defensive linemen to get through, making it easier for the offense to move the ball. In his 13 seasons, 12 with the Bengals, Anderson was selected to four Pro Bowls and three First-Team All-Pro rosters. No need to change this pick.
11. New Orleans Saints – Mike Alstott, FB
Saints Original Pick: CB Alex Molden
The New Orleans Saints had a very good defense already but decided they wanted to take advantage of a high draft pick and make it even better. However, they needed more help on offense, in which they were ranked in the bottom half of the league. The Saints could have used the help of FB Mike Alstott (drafted 35th overall), who ended up being one of the best ever at his position. Not only could Alstott run but he was a great blocker as well. In his 12 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Alstott finished his career with 1,359 carries for 5,088 yards and 58 TDs. Alstott was selected to six Pro Bowls and was a four-time All-Pro. He also was a key part in the Bucs winning Super Bowl XXXVII.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Simeon Rice, DE
Buccaneers Original Pick: DE Regan Upshaw
In the original draft, the Tampa Buccaneers did not have a chance to draft DE Simeon Rice because Rice was not on the draft board at the time. Rice would have been the perfect fit for the Bucs, especially after seeing how their original pick Regan Upshaw played and when considering how well he played for the Bucs later in his career. In 12 seasons with four different teams, Rice had 389 tackles, 122 sacks, 28 forced fumbles, and five interceptions. Rice was selected to three Pro Bowls, four All-Pro teams, and was second in the league in sacks in 2002. Rice was also part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl XXXVII team that defeated the Oakland Raiders.
13. Chicago Bears – Tedy Bruschi, LB
Bears Original Pick: CB Walt Harris
The Chicago Bears had the right idea by trying to improve their defense in the draft, but did not select the right player. Tedy Bruschi. se;ected 86th overall, would have had a lasting impact on their defense. Bruschi won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and was one of their leaders on defense. Bruschi also was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and made two All-Pro teams. Bruschi finished his career with 675 tackles, 30.5 sacks, 12 interceptions, and 17 forced fumbles in 14 seasons with the New England Patriots.
14. Houston Oilers – Keyshawn Johnson, WR
Oilers Original Pick: Eddie Georege, RB
The Houston Oilers made a good pick in RB Eddie George but he’s already gone, so the next best option for the Oilers to improve their twenty-third ranked offense was WR Keyshawn Johnson, who originally went first overall. In 11 seasons with four different teams, Johnson had 814 receptions for 10,571 yards and 64 TDs. Johnson was selected to three Pro Bowls and was Pro Bowl Co-MVP in 1998 with New England Patriots CB Ty Law. Johnson led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense in their Super Bowl XXXVII victory over the Oakland Raiders.
15. Denver Broncos – John Mobley, LB
Broncos Original Pick: LB John Mobley
The Denver Broncos made the right draft pick by drafting John Mobley. They already had a good offense but needed to improve their defense and Mobley was a good fit for that roster. After drafting Mobley, the Broncos went on to win two Super Bowls in the eight seasons Mobley was on the roster and Mobley was selected to an All-Pro roster in just his second season. Mobley played with the Broncos his entire career and finished with 485 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and five interceptions. No need to change this pick.
16. Minnesota Vikings – Stephen Davis, RB
Vikings Original Pick: DE Duane Clemons
The Minnesota Vikings had a good all-around team so they could have went either way with their draft pick. They decided to go with defense, but making their 4th overall offense even better would have been the better move. The Vikings already had QB Warren Moon and WRs Cris Carter and Jake Reed, but their run game wasn’t really strong. The Vikings should have went with RB Stephen Davis, making their offense unreal. In 11 seasons with three different teams, Davis finished his career with 1,945 carries for 8,052 yards and 65 TDs. Davis was selected to three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro roster in 1999.
17. Detroit Lions – Marco Rivera, G
Lions Original Pick: LB Reggie Brown
The Detroit Lions had a top-five offense and defense at this time, so they just needed to upgrade a few positions. Marco Rivera, selected 208th overall, would have fit in nice with the Lions, who had the number one offense at the time. Teams can always use more players to protect their QB and open up their running game. Rivera was selected to three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams with the Green Bay Packers. Rivera helped the Packers to a 35-21 Super Bowl XXXI win over the New England Patriots his rookie season.
18. St.Louis Rams – Eric Moulds, WR
Rams Original Pick: WR Eddie Kennison
The St. Louis Rams used both of their first round picks to improve their offense and failed both times. In the original draft, WR Eric Moulds only went six picks later, meaning this was entirely possible. Moulds would have been paired up with RB Jerome Bettis and WR Isaac Bruce, making the Rams offense extremely dangerous. In 12 seasons with three teams, Moulds had 764 receptions for 9,995 yards, and 49 TDs. Moulds was selected to three Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams all during his time with the Buffalo Bills.
19. Indianapolis Colts- Muhsin Muhammad, WR
Colts Original Pick: WR Marvin Harrison
Of course the Colts made the right picking by stealing WR Marvin Harrison 19th overall, but in this draft he should have been drafted already. The Colts would have had to settle with Muhsin Muhammad. In 14 seasons with two teams, Muhammad had 860 receptions for 11,438 yards and 62 TDs. Muhammad was selected to two Pro Bowls and and All-Pro roster in 2004. In 2004, Muhammad also led the NFL in receiving yards and TDs. Muhammad would have had a QB by the name of Dan Marino throwing him passes, which is not a bad combo.
20. Miami Dolphins – Jermaine Lewis,WR
Dolphins Original Pick: DT Daryl Gardener
The Miami Dolphins were ranked 8th in total offense at this time, but WR Jermaine Lewis could have given them that boost they needed to be a top-five offense. In nine seasons with three teams, Lewis finished his career 143 receptions for 2,219 yards and 17 TDs. Lewis was selected to two Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams with the Baltimore Ravens. Lewis was also apart of the Ravens Super Bowl XXXV winning team. Lewis would have had a QB by the name of Dan Marino throwing him passes for a couple years, which is not a bad combo.
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