Just because Super Bowl LI is over doesn’t mean the work for all teams in the National Football League is done. In fact, things have already gotten ramped up for scouting the next crop of players entering the league out of college. As with any other league’s draft, there are high risks for possible high rewards when selecting any player in the first round.
The best example of that for the NFL was in 1998. At the time, there were two quarterbacks who were being valued very high by experts – Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Manning had a successful career at the University of Tennessee. So did Leaf at Washington State University. Both men were projected in some way to go No. 1 and No. 2. The Indianapolis Colts decided to pick Manning first overall; the San Diego Chargers then chose Leaf at No. 2.
Imagine how different the NFL would have been if it was the other way around. Or maybe if teams back then knew how big of a bust Leaf was going to be in the NFL. There were also a number of players who deserved to be drafted in the top 10; at least more so than Leaf. But he wasn’t the only first round bust. For example, Curtis Enis was not a great choice for the Chicago Bears at No. 5.
Just as there were many players undeservedly picked in the first round, there are also players who were selected in the second, third and later rounds who were much better than their position indicated. Based on that, the following is a chance to re-select the entire first round of the 1998 NFL Draft.
1. Indianapolis Colts – Peyton Manning, QB
The Indianapolis Colts got it right with their first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. With no reason to make a sudden change, there shouldn’t be any reason Peyton Manning was not the right man for the first overall selection. While he’s only won two Super Bowl championships, Manning has some of the best statistics of all quarterbacks in NFL history. Through 18 years in the NFL, he threw for 71,940 yards and 539 touchdowns against 251 interceptions.
He was also selected to the NFL Pro Bowl 14 times, named to the NFL All-Pro team seven times and won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award five times. Even in his later years with Denver, Manning still put up good numbers, including 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in the 2013 season. It was unfortunate his final year was plagued with injuries and declined play. But he got to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy one more time before retirement.
2. San Diego Chargers – Randy Moss, WR
It’s safe to say the team that certainly wishes they could have a re-do in 1998 is the San Diego Chargers. With the second overall pick, they chose quarterback Ryan Leaf; possibly one of the biggest quarterback busts in NFL history. The Chargers certainly needed to find some offense through the 1998 NFL Draft after finishing the 1997 season ranked 26th overall in offensive scoring and 28th in offensive yardage. But the Chargers, and just about every other NFL team, missed on wide receiver Randy Moss.
Moss would be picked 21st by Minnesota, but his career numbers say he should have been a higher draft choice out of Marshall University. Since 1998 until 2012, Moss had nearly 1,000 receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns. Those numbers earned him six invitations to the NFL Pro Bowl and being named to the NFL All-Pro Team four times.
3. Arizona Cardinals – Charles Woodson, DB
Back in 1998, the Arizona Cardinals passed up cornerback Charles Woodson to select Florida State defensive end Andre Wadsworth with the third overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. Wadsworth played in only three seasons in the NFL and finished with 72 career tackles and eight sacks. It’s not like they passed on a Heisman Trophy winner who was named the 1997 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, right?
While not the worst pick, it’s about as bad as picking Ryan Leaf over Randy Moss. Woodson was easily one of the best cornerbacks from 1998 until 2015 (he converted to safety for his final few years). That’s 18 years of solid play. Between his 11 seasons in Oakland and another seven in Green Bay, Woodson finished his long career with 65 interceptions; 11 of which he returned for touchdowns. He would end his career with nine trips to the NFL Pro Bowl and was a three-time selection to the NFL All-Pro Team.
4. Oakland Raiders – Keith Brooking, LB
In real life, the Oakland Raiders were lucky enough to have Charles Woodson available for them at No. 4. But since we have him going to Arizona, he’s off the board here. Looking at why the Raiders were 4-12 in 1997, defense was their biggest issue – 28th in points for and 30th in yards allowed. This would have been a good spot for linebacker Keith Brooking. After some success in Georgia Tech, he outplayed being a 12th overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft.
Through 15 seasons in the NFL, Brooking was just three shy of 1,100 career tackles; second only to London Fletcher out of any other defensive player selected in the same draft class. He also had 22 sacks in his career through 193 starts. He was extremely consistent through his years in Atlanta before short stints in Dallas and Denver. Brooking retired after the 2012 season with five NFL Pro Bowl selections.
5. Chicago Bears – Fred Taylor, RB
The Chicago Bears were in desperate need for someone to jumpstart their offense. They had hoped it would have been former Penn State All-American running back Curtis Enis. But Enis struggled to find consistency with five fumbles in three seasons in Chicago. This wasn’t a particularly strong draft for running backs, but Chicago would have been better off selecting Fred Taylor out of Florida; who was still a ninth overall pick by Jacksonville.
While there were some injury problems through his 13 seasons in the NFL, Taylor still had seven seasons with 1,000 or more rushing yards. It’s a shame he was only selected to one NFL Pro Bowl in 2007 – his last 1,000-yard season. Taylor spent his last two seasons in New England as more of a fill-in back. But his overall numbers could warrant being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 11,695 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns.
6. St. Louis Rams – Ahman Green, RB
One could say the St. Louis Rams didn’t necessarily make a bad draft choice with defensive end Grant Wistrom. However, they weren’t necessarily a bad defensive team to warrant a pick like that early in the first round. The Rams were 5-11 and were around the middle of the points allowed and yards allowed rankings in 1997. Offensive rankings were a little lower with their leading rusher with 633 yards (Lawrence Phillips).
This would have been a good time for St. Louis to pick up the only other great running back in this draft class – Ahman Green. It took him a little while to get started after two lackluster seasons in Seattle. But Green would then have five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2000 to 2004 – including the 1,883 yards and 15 touchdowns he had in 2003. Overall, he finished with 9,205 yards and 60 touchdowns through 12 seasons.
7. New Orleans Saints – Flozell Adams, T
Kyle Turley was actually a decent choice for the New Orleans Saints with the seventh overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft. He started in 79 consecutive games for the Saints from 1998 to 2002; earning a spot on the 2000 NFL All-Pro Team. However, there were a number of better offensive linemen in the 1998 NFL Draft. One player who was overlooked was former Michigan State Spartan Flozell Adams, who fell into the second round and picked 38th by Dallas.
Adams was a very large man who stood six feet and seven inches tall and weighed about 335 pounds. He was also known to wear size 22 shoes. Adams had a longer career than Turley; 12 seasons in Dallas before playing one final year with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He only missed four starts in his rookie season and 10 games in 2005 after a torn ACL.
8. Dallas Cowboys – Olin Kreutz, C
It’s hard to imagine a team with Troy Aikman at quarterback and Emmitt Smith at running back finishing the 1997 season with a 6-10 record. Part of the problem in the late 1990s was a lack of size at the offensive line with Clay Shiver at the center position. He was only six feet, two inches and weighed a little more than 280 pounds. The Cowboys needed someone who was better at the position to help the offensive production.
Olin Kreutz might not have been much bigger than Shiver at 292 pounds, but he was effective during his years in Chicago. Kreutz played 14 total seasons in the NFL and started in 187 career games. While he only made the NFL All-Pro Team once in his career (2006), he was a six-time NFL Pro Bowl selection. The Bears certainly got a steal in the third round with the 64th overall selection in 1998.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars – Takeo Spikes, LB
Despite having a top-10 draft selection in 1998, the Jacksonville Jaguars were not in the shape their position would have normally dictated. The team had 11 wins and made the playoffs. Granted, this was the benefit of an earlier trade. Their issue was on the defensive side of the ball. They were ranked 23rd in yards allowed. With that in mind, they could have found some talent on the defensive side of the ball. Jacksonville’s defense would have received a big boost with linebacker Takeo Spikes.
The only other player in the 1998 NFL Draft with more than 1,000 total tackles other than Spikes was linebacker Keith Brooking. Spikes had some injury problems later in his career, but he was a consistent threat with 80 to 100 tackles for the first five seasons. He also was able to collect interceptions with 19 in his career – five alone in the 2004 season with Buffalo.
10. Baltimore Ravens – London Fletcher, LB
The Baltimore Ravens needed help on defense. They had Ray Lewis, who led the 1997 Ravens team with 156 total tackles. But there was a big drop off between him and the second leading tackler in defensive end Michael McCrary. Baltimore thought the right side of the ball when they picked defensive back Duane Starks. Even though Starks had finished with 25 interceptions over eight of his 10 seasons, he wasn’t the best option at the time.
The Ravens defense could have actually been better in the early 2000s if they would have selected linebacker London Fletcher. Over the course of 16 seasons with St. Louis, Buffalo and Washington, Fletcher had 1,380 tackles, 39 sacks and 23 interceptions. In addition to that, he didn’t miss any starts after his rookie season.
11. Philadelphia Eagles – Tra Thomas, T
This might be one of the few times where a player is being kept right where he was drafted back in 1998. The Philadelphia Eagles were looking to improve their offensive line. Right in the 11th spot in the 1998 NFL Draft, the Eagles saw a pretty big offensive tackle coming out of Florida State who was still available. Tra Thomas was certainly one of the largest at six feet, seven inches and weighting nearly 350 pounds.
He was a consistent staple on the Eagles’ offensive line with 165 starts from his rookie season in 1998 until his final year in Philadelphia in 2008. He spent one final season with Jacksonville. After three appearances in the NFL Pro Bowl, Thomas would return to the Eagles as a coaching intern in 2013 before a short stint as an offensive assistant coach.
12. Atlanta Falcons – Alan Faneca, G
The Atlanta Falcons had a great season in 1998 with a 14-2 record and a trip to the Super Bowl. But the team could have been better. Former LSU left guard Alan Faneca would be a first round draft choice, but he would fall to 26th in the 1998 NFL Draft. It was a great late-round find for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He rarely missed a game during his 10 seasons with the Steelers and continued that during his two seasons with the New York Jets and one with the Arizona Cardinals.
In fact, Faneca played all 16 games in nine consecutive seasons until his retirement in 2011. Faneca is one of the more decorated offensive linemen from the 1998 draft class. He finished his career with nine Pro Bowl invitations and six nominations to the NFL All-Pro Team. He also won a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers after they defeated Seattle at Super Bowl XL.
13. Cincinnati Bengals – Matt Hasselbeck, QB
After finishing the 1997 season as a top-10 offensive team, the Cincinnati Bengals declined in the 1998 season; ranked 27th in points scored. The one position that could have used an improvement at the time was a quarterback. Neil O’Donnell struggled as the starter and other players like Paul Justin and Jeff Blake weren’t going to provide long-term answers. One quarterback that could have helped was Matt Hasselbeck. Unfortunately for him, he fell all the way down to the sixth round of the 1998 NFL Draft.
However, Hasselbeck was able to have quite a long, successful career after moving from Green Bay to Seattle. During his 10 seasons with the Seahawks, he was a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback who took Seattle to their first Super Bowl after the 2005 season. Overall, Hasselbeck had great numbers with 36,638 passing yards, 212 touchdowns and 153 interceptions. Even as a 40-year-old in 2015, he still had a 5-3 record as a starter for the Colts.
14. Carolina Panthers – Hines Ward, WR
It was during this time when the Carolina Panthers had one of the lowest scoring offensive units in the 1997 season. Their leading receiver, Fred Lane, had 809 yards. The next person on that list only had 358 yards. The Panthers were in need of a true No. 1 receiver. One of the best receivers to come out of the 1998 NFL Draft was someone that Carolina, and every other team passed on in the first, and second round. Hines Ward played better than the 92nd overall selection he was taken with in the third round.
Ward was a big part of the Steelers offense during his 14 seasons in the NFL. He had 1,000 career receptions for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns to finish his career with two Super Bowl rings. Ward was also the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XL after catching five passes for 123 yards and a touchdown to help Pittsburgh defeat Seattle, 21-10.
15. Seattle Seahawks – Leonard Little, DE
The 1997 Seattle Seahawks needed some help on defense after finishing near the bottom of the league in points allowed. They thought they had the answer in linebacker Anthony Simmons. But aside from two 100-tackle seasons, he wasn’t a long-term answer for the Seahawks after just seven seasons. Someone who could have really given a boost to their defense was defensive end Leonard Little. After a good career with the Tennessee Volunteers, Little was a third-round pick by St. Louis in 1998.
Despite having just one Pro Bowl appearance and one All-Pro Team selection, Little was still a very good defensive end with four double-digit sack totals, including 14.5 sacks in the 2001 season. Over his 12 seasons in the NFL, Little had 87.5 sacks and 310 tackles. Those are certainly the kind of numbers for a defensive end who should have been picked up before the third round.
16. Tennessee Titans – Samari Rolle, DB
The Tennessee Oilers gave up a lot of yards on defense in the 1997 season as they ranked 22nd in the NFL. With a young quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George leading the offense, the Oilers were needing to find a star on defense. The good news is they found a decent pick in cornerback Samari Rolle. However, he really should have been considered as a first round draft choice by the team. Instead, he was picked 46th overall in the second round. Either way, the Oilers were right in picking Rolle.
In his second season in 1999, Rolle had four interceptions. He also had seven interceptions in 2000, along with one returned for a touchdown. It was his only season where he earned a spot on the NFL Pro Bowl and the NFL All-Pro Team. Through 11 seasons in the NFL between the Oilers and the Baltimore Ravens, Rolle totaled 31 interceptions.
17. Cincinnati Bengals – Patrick Surtain, DB
Patrick Surtain may have certainly had the skills to be a first round selection in the 1998 NFL Draft. He came off consecutive six-interception seasons in 1996 and 1997 for Southern Miss in college football. But he fell into the second round to the Miami Dolphins with the 44th overall selection. In his first season as a full-time starter in 2000, Surtain collected five interceptions while also forcing two fumbles. A few years later, his numbers continued to grow to six pick sin 2002 and seven in 2003.
Overall, Surtain finished his 11-year career with 37 interceptions and was a great cornerback for both the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs. Those numbers earned him three NFL Pro Bowl invitations and one on the NFL All-Pro Team. Cincinnati needed a lot of help help after finishing 28th in in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed in the 1997 season.
18. New England Patriots – Greg Ellis, DE
The New England Patriots would have enjoyed being able to add another pass rusher to a defense that had a few good ones on the defensive line. After finishing 19th in yards allowed in the league in 1997, the Patriots could have benefitted from picking up defensive end Greg Ellis. While the former North Carolina Tar Heel was a decent player deserving of a first round pick, he actually might have been a little too high in real-life with the eighth overall pick to Dallas.
However, his production through 12 seasons between the Cowboys and the Raiders were pretty good for any defensive player in this draft. Overall, Ellis had 84 total sacks in his career while also recovering 11 fumbles. He had good numbers, but this draft had a lot of talent that deserved to be drafted higher than Ellis.
19. Green Bay Packers – Vonnie Holliday, DE
After losing to the Denver Broncos, 31-21, in Super Bowl XXXII, the Green Bay Packers were looking to improve on their defensive line. It was sort of expected after allowing 179 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground – 157 yards and three touchdowns scored belonged to Pro Football Hall of Fame back Terrell Davis. It made sense for the Packers to draft defensive end Vonnie Holliday and he’ll stay on this list at the 19th overall selection in the 1998 NFL Draft.
Holliday was never selected to a Pro Bowl and he never made the NFL All-Pro Team. But he still had good career numbers through his 15 years in the NFL. Holliday finished with 413 tackles, 62.5 sacks, 12 fumble recoveries and two interceptions. He might not have had the best numbers in the draft, but he was consistent through a long career.
20. Detroit Lions – Fred Beasley, FB
The Detroit Lions had one of the best running backs in NFL history in Barry Sanders at this time. He showed no signs of slowing down after the 1998 season when Sanders had 1,491 yards and four touchdowns. But he decided to retire after seeing what looked to be a rebuilding phase approaching for the Lions. In an effort to keep Sanders, the Lions should have looked at a fullback option to provide him more protection on the field.
Fred Beasley was a modest sixth round draft choice in the 1998 NFL Draft to San Francisco, but he had the kind of size a star running back would want in a fullback. Beasley came into the league standing six feet tall and weighing nearly 250 pounds. In his limited role in the passing game, he had some good plays as he finished with 133 catches for 1,017 yards with five touchdowns.
21. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Birk, C
The 1998 Minnesota Vikings would certainly look a lot different after seeing Randy Moss go early in the draft to the San Diego Chargers. The Vikings did go 15-1 in the 1998 season, but most of that was due to Moss being part of a dynamic duo with Cris Carter. But without Moss, the Vikings still would have been fine with Randall Cunningham as the starting quarterback. Looking at the rest of the draft class for Minnesota that year, only one other player would have deserved a first round selection.
Center Matt Birk was a steal for the Vikings in the sixth round selection, 173rd overall, out of Harvard University. Birk might not have been a big name, but he was certainly a big man at six feet and four inches with 300 pounds of mass. He would play 14 seasons total in the NFL; 10 with Minnesota and four with Baltimore, where he won a Super Bowl ring in 2012. Birk finished with six Pro Bowl nominations.
22. New England Patriots – Donovin Darius, DB
It was mentioned earlier that the New England Patriots didn’t have the best defensive rankings after the 1997 season. That’s why it would have been great for them to pick up Greg Ellis earlier in this round. But with two first round selections in the 1998 NFL Draft, another defensive player who could have really helped was defensive back Donovin Darius. For being selected 25th overall by Jacksonville, it’s not too much of a stretch to move him up a few spots to No. 22.
Darius showed a lot in his rookie season with an 81-yard fumble return for a touchdown. In his second season, he collected four interceptions, which was only surpassed in 2004 when he had five interceptions. While he only had 14 interceptions in his 10 seasons in the NFL, he still had respectable numbers with 483 total tackles.
23. Oakland Raiders – Kyle Turley, T
Looking at the other offensive linemen found in the 1998 NFL Draft, Kyle Turley is not someone who should be in the top 10 picks. That’s not to say he was terrible when he was picked seventh overall by the New Orleans Saints. But it’s just a matter of having so many talented offensive linemen like Alan Faneca and Matt Birk. Still, Turley had some moderate success with 107 career starts through eight total seasons.
He was a rough and tough lineman who started at left guard, then moved to the tackle position. He would miss only one game from 1998 until 2003. Considering that he played three different positions in his career, Turley was certainly more versatile than other linemen in the draft. The reason Turley is dropped to No. 23 is more about him being a perfect fit for the Oakland Raiders.
24. New York Giants – Brian Griese, QB
The New York Giants certainly had a good defense under head coach Jim Fassell. However, their offense was terrible in the 1997 NFL season. They ranked 21st in points scored and 27th in offensive yardage for that season. They didn’t have a great quarterback under center. Danny Kanell had just 1,740 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions as the main starter. The Giants could have used an upgrade at the quarterback position.
Brian Griese might not have been the best quarterback of the class, but he was better than the third round selection he was taken in by Denver. As a full-time starter with the Broncos, he had good numbers with 27 wins against 24 losses. He wasn’t a perfect replacement for the retiring John Elway, but he was serviceable. That’s why he played 11 seasons with 19,440 career passing yards in 83 starts.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars – Corey Chavous, DB
Considering that this list has taken Donovin Darius away from the Jacksonville Jaguars, they should get a decent defensive back to replace him. One person who certainly played well despite falling to the second round was Corey Chavous. His one Pro Bowl nomination is misleading. He also had a tough start with just five interceptions in four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. It wasn’t until he made the move to the Minnesota Vikings when he would put up larger numbers.
In 2003, he earned his Pro Bowl nomination with eight interceptions to go along with 75 tackles. Overall, Chavous would finish an 11-year NFL career with 595 tackles, 50 pass deflections and 20 interceptions during his time between the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams. Jacksonville could have continued being a playoff contender with Chavous in their secondary.
26. Pittsburgh Steelers – Jeremiah Trotter, LB
Jeremiah Trotter, who actually fell to the third round to Philadelphia. In his career, Trotter had a total of 722 tackles. This is considering not having a start in his rookie season and struggling in 2007 and 2008 between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Overall, Trotter still earned four trips to the NFL Pro Bowl. His best season was in 2000 when he had 100 tackles with three sacks and an interception. The only season in which he had more tackles was the 101 he had in 2005.
Pittsburgh had a great defense in 1997 that was ranked sixth in yards allowed. It was still a top 10 in 1998, but Trotter could have helped make the team even stronger. The Steelers still needed help developing a consistent passing game with Kordell Stewart as a quarterback during that time. But there’s a saying that a good defense can be more vital than a good offense.
27. Kansas City Chiefs – Jeremy Newberry, C
The 1997 Kansas City Chiefs were an extremely strong team with a 13-3 record and the fifth-rated scoring offense in the NFL. However, those numbers dropped significantly in 1998; a 7-9 record and the 14th ranked scoring offense in the league. Part of that could be that none of the Chiefs’ draft choices in 1998 went beyond five years as a starter, including their first round pick Victor Riley. The offensive tackle struggled and was not worth the first round selection.
In this re-done draft, one player who should have been a first round pick was Jeremy Newberry. The former Cal Bear was able to play either center or guard on the offensive line. He also played some tackle during his first full season in 1999. Newberry had a good career playing seven seasons in San Francisco before spending one year each in Oakland and San Diego; finishing his career with two Pro Bowl selections.
28. San Francisco 49ers – R.W. McQuarters, DB
There’s nothing wrong with the San Francisco 49ers selecting R.W. McQuarters this late in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy showed in college that he was able to make plays on special teams and also in the defensive secondary. That sort of became his role when he played in the NFL. In his rookie season, he led the team in kick returns while also making plays on defense with 45 tackles. When he moved on to Chicago, he had some of his best defensive years including 64 tackles and three interceptions in the 2001 playoff season.
McQuarters would then spend one season in Detroit before finishing his career with the New York Giants. While his later years didn’t see a lot of big plays, he still ended his career being part of the Super Bowl winning team that upset the New England Patriots in XLII. His career totals featured 402 tackles and 14 interceptions on defense. In special teams, he had three kick return touchdowns.
29. Miami Dolphins – Michael Pittman, RB
After Fred Taylor and Ahman Green, there were not a lot of running backs who put up larger numbers. However, the Miami Dolphins could have done better than selecting John Avery with the 29th overall selection in the first round. Avery had just 503 yards and two touchdowns in 1998, but only had five rushes in 1999 and then just one more carry in 2003. While not selected super high in the draft, Avery can be considered a first round bust.
The Dolphins would have been better off drafting Michael Pittman, who actually ended up being drafted by Arizona in the fourth round. Pittman’s numbers weren’t great, but he had a few good years in there. In 2001, he rushed for 846 yards and five touchdowns. His best season was in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 926 yards and seven touchdowns. Pittman finished 11 seasons with 5,627 yards and 25 touchdowns.
30. Denver Broncos – Lance Schulters, FS
With the final pick in the 1998 NFL Draft’s first round, the Denver Broncos actually selected wide receiver Marcus Nash. Unfortunately for the Broncos, he only spent two seasons in Denver where he had four receptions for 76 yards. He was targeted twice in his one game with the Baltimore Ravens in 1999; neither was caught. This is a spot that could have gone to someone who outplayed their draft selection. Denver could have benefitted from the Hofstra safety Lance Schulters.
Schulters would get his first chance as a starter in 1999 for the San Francisco 49ers. In 13 games, he had six interceptions; one returned for a touchdown. He matched that interception mark in 2002 with the Tennessee Titans in a year where he had his highest tackle total of 73. He was only able to start in four full seasons in his career. But he was effective nonetheless. Schulters finished his 10-year career with 422 tackles and 19 interceptions.
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