We are in an age where we want immediacy more than ever. Every move made in sports is immediately questioned, dissected and criticized. We've come to expect immediate dividends from NFL rookies, even quarterbacks. There used to be a time where rookie quarterbacks wouldn't even take the field in their first seasons, but in recent memory, we've seen rookie QBs set records in the league. We've been a little spoiled here.
We've seen just how much of a difference nailing a selection on a first overall pick or whiffing on one can either set you up for Super Bowl contention or keep your franchise in the toilet. Looking at Super Bowl 50, the best player on each team were the no.1 and no.2 overall picks just five years ago, in Cam Newton and Von Miller. Both teams made a great choice with their picks and had an elite young player to build around since then.
You have the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders (pre Reggie McKenzie) that constantly had top-5 or even first overall picks, but high draft picks are only useful if you pick the right player.
Second guessing is all the fun in looking back at past drafts. Heck, we as fans second guess a pick as soon as it happens. Remember when Donovan McNabb was booed by Eagles fans after his name was called? How about New York Jets fans, who always seem to boo their team's pick no matter who it is? Well, in fairness maybe because many times those fans turned out to be right.
Looking back at the last 15 drafts and trying to figure out who the first overall pick should have been is a fun exercise. It's probably too early to determine whether Jameis Winston was the right choice by the Buccaneers in 2015, but there's not much evidence to suggest he wasn't. Still, we can explore other possibilities.
Here are who the last 15 first overall picks should have been.
15 2001 - LaDainian Tomlinson
Man, it was tough to move Michael Vick out of this spot. However, if I'm a GM in 2001 and I have a crystal ball as to what would eventually befall Vick, I probably go elsewhere. While Vick went to the Falcons after trading up, they probably could have just stood pat at no.5.
If the Chargers found no trading partner for that first overall pick, using it on LaDainian Tomlinson still would've been a great move. L.T. was perhaps the best running back of the 2000s and set many records, including most rushing touchdowns in a season with 29.
14 2002 - Julius Peppers
The expansion Houston Texans were looking for an immediate savior at quarterback when they drafted David Carr out of Fresno State. Carr's career was doomed before it began, as he was thrown in the fire with a team devoid of talent, especially on the 0-line, as Carr took 76 sacks in his rookie year. The Texans would have been better off acquiring as much talent possible before putting a quarterback in the fire.
Julius Peppers was picked second by Carolina and easily could have been a plug-and-play player for the Texans. Even 13 years later, Peppers is still going strong and has 136 career sacks.
13 2003 - Andre Johnson
Looking at Carson Palmer's past couple of seasons in Arizona, he's made this debate a little closer, but you have to go with Andre Johnson's consistency in the first decade of his career. For the Bengals' sake in 2003, they were clearly in need of a quarterback, but Palmer only got to two playoff games and the Bengals failed to win both.
Cincinnati could have gone with Andre Johnson to bolster their offense. Johnson now has over 1,000 receptions, is a seven-time Pro Bowler and over 14,000 yards. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame. Plus, there were plenty of options the next year if the Bengals had waited. God, hindsight is easy.
12 2004 - Ben Roethlisberger
This was a tricky situation, as the Chargers held the first overall pick, but the consensus top pick Eli Manning, had made it known he would never play for San Diego. This forced the Chargers to look for a trade partner in the Giants, who gave the Chargers their fourth overall pick in Philip Rivers, a third rounder and a fifth rounder in 2005.
If the Chargers didn't want to go through the whole ordeal, Ben Roethlisberger is probably the best option in hindsight. Big Ben is arguably still getting better, as he's now in an offense that revolves around the passing game.
Rivers and Manning are both still very close, but I think if anybody had the choice of the three today, many would go with Roethlisberger.
11 2005 - Aaron Rodgers
Alex Smith has proven not to be the complete bust that many felt he was five years ago, but let's not kid ourselves. Anybody could look at this draft and see the 49ers should have gone with the quarterback in their own backyard Aaron Rodgers, who played his college ball at Berkeley, right across the Bay. The 32-year-old had to wait a while before starting, but since succeeding Brett Favre, he has made five Pro Bowls, has a Super Bowl ring, was named Super Bowl MVP and won the MVP award for the 2011 and 2014 seasons. If Rodgers had the defense and offensive line of the 49ers five years ago, the Niners may very well have surpassed the Steelers in Super Bowl wins.
10 2006 - Mario Williams
For a time, many thought that Reggie Bush or Vince Young should have been the pick for the Houston Texans, but with Bush never becoming an all-down back and Young's career fizzling out after five seasons, Mario Williams still holds up as the best possible pick. Williams recorded 52 sacks with the Texans in 66 games with the Texans and went on to become the highest paid defensive player in NFL history when he signed a $100 million deal with the Buffalo Bills.
9 2007 - Calvin Johnson
This was the easiest pick to change. JaMarcus Russell proved to be the biggest draft bust in NFL history. It proved to be a blessing in disguise that the Lions missed out on the first overall pick by winning the last game of their 2006 season, or they might have been tempted to pick Russell.
Calvin Johnson was the best WR prospect of the decade and proved to be the most dominant receiver of his time in the NFL. Sadly, we may have seen the last of Megatron, but still, nine seasons with him is worth a no.1 overall selection. Johnson's career totals are: 721 catches, 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns.
8 2008 - Matt Ryan
The Miami Dolphins had needed a quarterback for nearly a decade, as they had yet to find a worthy successor to Dan Marino. They had their chance in 2008 after having an abysmal 1-15 season in 2007. It was a thin year at quarterback, but Matt Ryan would have been a solid pick out of Boston College.
The Dolphins went the safer route and took who was seen as the best prospect in OT Jake Long out of Michigan. Long had some great seasons in Miami, but was constantly riddled with injuries. The Dolphins would take Chad Henne in the second round, but he never panned out. Ryan may not be an elite quarterback, but he has been a very good one in the last eight years.
7 2009 - Matthew Stafford
While there still seem to be question marks regarding if Matthew Stafford is ultimately the guy that can bring a Super Bowl to Detroit, there aren't better options at quarterback looking back at the '09 draft. Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman were the other first-round picks at quarterback, so the Lions unquestionably got the best of the three. Stafford has still set many Lions franchise records, but the team just hasn't been able to put it all together. Still, they made the right pick in this draft class.
6 2010 - Ndamukong Suh
The St. Louis Rams were prepared to move on from Marc Bulger and Bulger knew it, asking for his release shortly before the Rams selected Sam Bradford first overall. Coming off a major shoulder injury in college, the Rams still thought he was their quarterback of the future and due to no rookie wage scale in place at the time, gave him $50 million in guaranteed money.
Being that the Rams haven't made the playoffs in that time and traded Bradford last offseason to the Eagles, it's clear they didn't make the right choice. Bradford was often injured in St. Louis, including two torn ACLs.
Ndamukong Suh went second overall to Detroit and while the Rams aren't starved for defensive line help today, this is just a case of taking the best player. Imagine Suh on the Los Angeles Rams defensive line today alongside Aaron Donald.
5 2011 - Cam Newton
While many would argue J.J. Watt is probably the best player of this draft class, the Carolina Panthers needed a quarterback and there's no question they made the right decision. Despite many draft experts calling Blaine Gabbert the best prospect at QB, the Panthers took a chance on Cam Newton, who only had one season as a college starter under his belt. Many wondered if Newton's skillset and working with a no-huddle offense would translate to the NFL. The answer is a resounding yes and Newton is looking to be perhaps the new face of the NFL.
4 2012 - Andrew Luck
This one was tough, as you could make an argument for Russell Wilson in this spot, who has a Super Bowl ring under his belt and a lot more playoff success than Andrew Luck. However, it's not fair to compare the two that way, as Seattle clearly has a more complete team than the Colts have had in the last five years. Luck set rookie passing records and has already set many Colts franchise records. Luck is coming off a tough season, marred with injuries, while Wilson really took the next step as a passer. In five years from now, Wilson might supplant Luck on a list like this, but for now, we'll stick with Luck.
3 2013 - DeAndre Hopkins
The 2013 draft class was viewed by many draft gurus as one that didn't offer a lot of potential elite players, but one with many solid building blocks. The Chiefs went with Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan. Fisher has struggled with consistency, while DeAndre Hopkins, who went 27th overall to Houston. Hopkins is coming off a second team All-Pro season with 1,521 yards on 11 catches and 11 touchdowns. This was after a terrific 2014 year, with 76 catches for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns. This was all with the likes of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Case Keenum throwing him the ball.
2 2014 - Khalil Mack
The Texans could have gone quarterback and there were some interesting projects at the position, including Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr. Jadeveon Clowney though, was being billed as the best pass rushing prospect since Julius Peppers so the Texans decided his ceiling was too good to pass up.
Clowney has battled injuries and hasn't made much of an impact when he has been on the field. The best player of the 2014 class so far is looking like Khalil Mack, who fell to the Raiders at fifth. Mack was an All-Pro in 2015, even becoming the first player to ever make All-Pro at two positions, OLB and DE. Can you imagine a defense today with J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack on the edges?
1 2015 - Jameis Winston
As I said in the intro, it is too early to determine whether Jameis Winston is the quarterback savior the Buccaneers have been looking for. He's off to a promising start, as the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner has already set Buccaneers franchise records, with five touchdowns in a game, most passing touchdowns by a rookie with 22 and most passing yards by a rookie with 4,042. Winston will go into 2016 with his second head coach, as the Bucs replaced Lovie Smith with Dirk Koetter.
Other promising players from last year's draft are Amari Cooper, Marcus Mariota, Todd Gurley and Marcus Peters, but since the Bucs needed a quarterback last year and we're only a year removed, with Winston showing promise, he keeps this spot for now.
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