The NFL Draft is unlike almost any other pro sport's draft. In the NFL, players taken in the first round are expected to be immediate contributors for their team. Top five picks are expected to lead the team right away. It makes it a lot easier to look back very quickly and see where teams went wrong. In the past three NFL Drafts, we've already seen players emerge as superstars in this league, such as Odell Beckham Jr., Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. None of those players were top five picks, in fact Carr and Prescott weren't even first round picks.
In today's NFL, teams are more desperate than ever to find a franchise QB and as a result, they often pay too much to get one, or they reach for one high in the draft. With the emergence of several mid round picks at QB, perhaps the trend will change in the league. But this isn't about looking ahead, this is about looking back. Here, we're going to look back at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 drafts and re-draft the top five picks, based on how these players' careers have panned out so far. It's very likely these picks will change in the coming years, but as we stand in early 2017, here's how it shakes out.
16 1st - Derek Carr - Houston Texans
Original Pick: Jadeveon Clowney
The Houston Texans ended up getting a good player on the cusp of greatness with this pick, but the franchise still has the same problem they did heading into the 2014 draft; they don't have a franchise quarterback. It would have been unprecedented had the Texans taken Derek Carr first overall, as they took his older brother David first overall in their first draft pick as a franchise.
Texans fans would have been spooked by the name alone, but with the Texans built the way they are, you have to believe Carr would have thrived in Houston as he has in Oakland. Carr willed the Raiders to 12 wins this season before suffering a broken leg. Despite the Texans having a deeper roster than the Raiders, they only won nine games and only beat Oakland because they were facing Connor Cook rather than Carr in the playoffs.
Putting Carr on the Texans would have established them as Super Bowl contenders by now.
15 2nd - Khalil Mack - St. Louis (Los Angeles Rams)
Original Pick: Greg Robinson
While the Rams' biggest strength throughout their tenure under Jeff Fisher was their front-seven, the draft is all about taking the best player available, expecially when you have a top five pick. While the Rams addressed a need (or so they thought) by taking Greg Robinson to play left tackle, they missed out on someone who has Hall of Fame potential in Khalil Mack.
While Carr has been the biggest reason for the Raiders' turnaround as a franchise, Mack is a close second. He's the face of the defense, is an elite pass rusher and he just took home the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year award. Even with all the defensive talent they have, the Rams would love to have Mack anchoring their front seven.
Man, did the Raiders hit a home run in 2014.
14 3rd - Jadveon Clowney - Jacksonville Jaguars
Original Pick: Blake Bortles
It turns out Jadeveon Clowney isn't a bust, he was just very unlucky with injuries his first couple of seasons. Clowney got healthy just in time, as J.J. Watt sat out most of the 2016 season with a back injury. In his absence, Clowney emerged as the shining star of the Houston defense. Veteran Vince Wilfork went so far as to say Clowney is the Texans's best defensive player, even when Watt is healthy.
With the third pick in 2014, the Jags selected Blake Bortles, who after some promising play in 2015, took a huge step back in 2016. We'll see if a new leadership regime in Jacksonville does any good, but you have to think the Jags would rather have Clowney over Bortles right now.
13 4th - Odell Beckham Jr. - Buffalo Bills
Original Pick: Sammy Watkins
This is in no way to slight Sammy Watkins, who has the ability to be an elite receiver in the NFL, but he hasn't stayed healthy in three NFL seasons. The Bills have continuously failed to take a step forward as an offense because they haven't gotten the explosive Watkins on the field long enough.
Odell Beckham Jr. was the third receiver taken in the wide receiver rich 2014 draft and there's no doubt the Bills would take OBJ if given the chance today. For all the flack OBJ has gotten for his attitude and his recent escapade to Miami, he's still the most naturally talented receiver in the game today and outside of his rookie season, he's managed to stay healthy.
12 5th - Aaron Donald - Oakland Raiders
Original Pick: Khalil Mack
With Mack off the board in this re-draft, the Raiders have to settle for the next best defensive player available in Aaron Donald. Donald hasn't gotten much attention due to the pitiful nature of the Rams the last few seaons, but he's quietly become one of the better young defensive linemen in the NFL.
The stats speak for themselves. Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and he has already accumulated 28 sacks in three seasons. If the Raiders couldn't get the leader of their defense on the edge in Mack, they would get one here with Donald locking down the middle and generating pressure up the gut. Hopefully the Rams improve soon so Donald can get the attention he really deserves. With him on defense, the Rams can focus on improving their offense in 2017.
11 2015 - 1st - Jameis Winston - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Original Pick: Jameis Winston
Going into the 2015 draft, there was a lot of debate as to whether the Buccaneers should go quarterback with their first overall pick. Mike Glennon had showed some promise as a starter, but the Bucs decided the upside of Winston was too good to pass up. So far, it looks like the Bucs made the right choice, as Winston has proven to be a franchise quarterback.
The NFC South has sent the last two NFC Champions to the Super Bowl and it's not crazy to think the Buccaneers could eventually reach that level within a few years. Winston has already surpassed the 4,000 yard mark in each of his first two seasons. Once he cuts down on his interceptions (15 in 2015, 18 in 2016) he'll lead the Buccaneers to a long awaited playoff berth and perhaps more.
10 2nd - Marcus Mariota - Tennessee Titans
Original Pick: Marcus Mariota
Winston and Mariota are going to be compared to each other throughout their careers. After all, not only was there a debate on what position the Bucs should have gone with in 2015, there was a debate as to whether Winston or Marcus Mariota was the best QB available. After the Bucs took Winston, the Titans were left with either drafting Mariota or finding a trade partner. The Titans elected to stand pat and take a quarterback themselves.
So far, so good, as Mariota took a big step forward in 2016. He was the most efficient red zone quarterback in the NFL and he cut down on his turnovers, showing a tremendous sign of maturity for a young QB.
Assuming Mariota recovers from his broken leg, the Titans are very likely to end their playoff drought in 2017.
9 3rd - Vic Beasley - Jacksonville Jaguars
Original Pick: Dante Fowler Jr.
In fairness to Dante Fowler Jr., he lost his entire rookie season due to injury, but in two years, Beasley has proven to be the best pass rusher taken in the 2015 draft. Beasley led the NFL in 2016 with 15.5 sacks and was the Falcons' shining star on defense. Part of what helped Beasley reached these numbers is because the Falcons were often jumping on early leads, allowing Beasley to rush the passer early and often. Nevertheless, you can't argue that Beasley has an enormous burst and had a big part in the Falcons' resurgence these last couple of seasons.
The Jaguars had an extremely disappointing season on defense and you have to wonder if the NFL's sack leader would have helped them avoid that.
7 4th - Amari Cooper - Oakland Raiders
Original Pick: Amari Cooper
While the Raiders miss out on Derek Carr in 2014's re-draft, they get to keep Amari Cooper here. After taking two gems with his first two draft picks in 2014, Reggie McKenzie again took a future star in Amari Cooper. While Cooper has had his problems with dropping passes, he still makes big plays and is Derek Carr's most reliable weapon.
Who would have been throwing Cooper the ball if the Raiders couldn't draft Carr? Who knows, but Cooper seems to be the kind of player who would put up solid numbers no matter who was throwing him the ball.
Cooper has surpassed the 1,000 yard mark in each of his first two seasons and if Carr is healthy next year, expect him to increase his catch total.
6 5th - Brandon Scherff - Washington Redskins
Original Pick: Brandon Scherff
Drafting offensive linemen early in drafts isn't always the sexiest pick but it's often a necessity for a team looking to take the next step as an offense. Offenses can get by with average receivers if the protection gives the QB a few extra seconds to throw and if receivers get the extra second to get separation. Part of what has allowed Kirk Cousins to take some steps as a franchise quarterback is the fact that Brandon Scherff is protecting his blindside.
Scherff's efforts were rewarded in 2016 with a Pro Bowl appearance, after he started all 16 games. We'll see if Washington is able to take a step forward in 2017, but at least they don't have to worry about their pass protection.
5 1st - Dak Prescott - Los Angeles Rams
Original Pick: Jared Goff
How do you not put the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year in this spot? It's clear the Rams made a big mistake by selling the farm to the Titans to get the first overall pick last year. It's even sadder when the top performing QB of the class was drafted in the fourth round. Assuming Dak Prescott builds off of his amazing rookie campaign, he's going to go down as one of the biggest draft steals in NFL history.
It's hard to imagine that Prescott would have had the same successs with the L.A. Rams that he had with the Cowboys this past season, but then again, perhaps with Prescott keeping defenses honest, Todd Gurley could have had a better sophomore campaign. That in turn could have allowed Prescott to do what he did in Dallas.
Anyway, it's all hindsight, but any Rams fan would want Prescott over Goff right now.
4 2nd - Carson Wentz - Philadelphia Eagles
Original Pick: Carson Wentz
While many Eagles fans might want to see Ezekiel Elliott here to pry him from the Cowboys, Wentz actually performed pretty well in his rookie season despite having one of the weakest receiving corps in the league. The Eagles, like the Rams, also paid a hefty price to get their quarterback, trading several picks to the Rams to land the second overall pick.
It's a given that Wentz will have to reduce his interception total (14 in 2016) to take the next step as a franchise QB, but many rookies have had the same problem. If the Eagles find Wentz help in the passing game, Wentz will be able to rebound in 2017. The Eagles got off to a 3-0 start in 2016, so Wentz has shown he can hack it at this level.
3 3rd - Joey Bosa - San Diego (L.A.) Chargers
Original Pick: Joey Bosa
Joey Bosa proved to be the right pick for the Chargers. He was the last rookie signed in training camp, but Bosa caught up very quickly. Despite missing the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, Bosa still managed to produce 10.5 sacks, five behind the NFL's sack leader Vic Beasley. With a full season, perhaps Bosa could have equaled Beasley's totals.
Bosa's stats didn't get overlooked, as he took home the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The Chargers will be looking for a huge bounce back season in 2017 after moving to Los Angeles and hiring Anthony Lynn as their head coach. Bosa's play on defense will be a key, although the Chargers will have to do something about their secondary.
2 4th - Ezekiel Elliott - Dallas Cowboys
Original Pick: Ezekiel Elliott
Many people feel Ezekiel Elliott was robbed of the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and I tend to agree. The Cowboys' offense went as Ezekiel Elliott went this year. Elliott led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards and added 15 rushing touchdowns.
The only thing preventing Elliott from nabbing the top spot in this draft would be that he's a running back and as we know running backs aren't as valued as they were before. After the success the Cowboys had with the electrifying rookie in their backfield, perhaps the trend will change.
The Cowboys have likely found their three-headed monster in Prescott, Elliott and Dez Bryant, and Elliott should be an elite rusher in the NFL for years to come.
1 5th - Jack Conklin - Jacksonville Jaguars
Original Pick: Jalen Ramsey
The Jaguars didn't do badly with their pick of Jalen Ramsey, but Jack Conklin proved to be a huge difference maker in Tennessee. The Titans had a major bounce back season due to DeMarco Murray's 1,287 yard season after a disastrous year in Philly. The biggest reason for Mariota and Murray succeeding was the big, powerful offensive line put in front of them.
The Titans held the first overall pick last year and even after trading down to no.8, they still landed their biggest need and took the best player available. Conklin was a first-team All-Pro this year, which is almost unheard of for a rookie tackle.
The Jags' offense likely would have been a lot better with Conklin providing protection for Blake Bortles and more running lanes for Chris Ivory.
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