Every professional football franchise has NFL Draft regrets for past decisions made or not made. Not only has each team selected players who became known as busts and who didn’t help those organizations win anything of note. Clubs also failed to draft stars and All-Pros who became steals for teams that eventually landed those individuals after casual fans stopped following those player-selection processes. While it’s still way too early, as of the posting of this piece, to evaluate the 2018 NFL Draft class, Ronnie Harrison, Antonio Callaway, and Tre Flowers are in contention to be seen as steals a few years down the road. The New York Giants may want Kyle Lauletta to get to such a level, but you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for that to occur.
Two of the biggest NFL Draft steals since 2000 have guided teams to multiple Super Bowl appearances while playing the most important single position in all of pro sports. One would possess a pair of rings if not for arguably the worst play call in the history of the league. The other massive steal spotlighted in this piece is viewed by many as the greatest quarterback of all-time and the best draft selection in any of the “big four” sports competitions. He could add another championship to his resume in February 2019, and he may also attempt to remain active in the league through his 45th birthday.
Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden (LOL!), and Brock Osweiler were all drafted before the Seattle Seahawks spent a third-round pick on Russell Wilson in 2012. Wilson has been well worth that investment. The original plan was for Seattle to sit Wilson as a backup, but he won the job from Matt Flynn as a rookie before establishing himself as a franchise QB who has already played in two Super Bowl contests and won one of those games. He’s only 30-years-old as of the end of 2018, meaning we may have not yet seen him at his best under center for the Seahawks.
Imagine how different the NFL would look today had the Cleveland Browns drafted Russell Wilson instead of Brandon Weeden in 2012. The Browns wouldn't have spent the last six years attempting to find a franchise QB, nor would Cleveland have drafted signal-callers such as Johnny Manziel, DeShone Kizer or even Baker Mayfield. Maybe, just maybe, the Browns would be the top team in the AFC North in December 2018. Granted, the Browns aren’t known for getting the best out of athletes, but Wilson is gifted and a hard enough worker to get past the franchise’s flaws and become a star featuring for a team that hasn’t had a winning season in over a decade.
Even if we have seen the best from running back Alvin Kamara as of late 2018, it’s safe to say the New Orleans Saints got quite a steal in drafting him with a third-round pick in 2017. Kamara earned Rookie of the Year honors for his stellar debut season, during which he scored a total of 13 offensive touchdowns and tallied over 1,550 yards from scrimmage, and he could eclipse both of those marks by Week 17 of the 2018 campaign. A handful of talented ball-carriers entered the NFL in April 2017, but it’s Kamara who could end up the best of the bunch. He is a perfect fit in the New Orleans offense led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.
The Washington Redskins were in such a need for a healthy and available running back in August 2018, the team signed Adrian Peterson, who has played well during his stint with the team. No disrespect meant to one of the best offensive players of the 2000s, but we’re assuming the Redskins would prefer having Alvin Kamara signed on the cheap up through the end of the decade. Granted, Washington appears downright haunted by an injury bug this year, as were the New York Giants starting in the summer of 2017, as the ‘Skins have lost multiple quarterbacks to fractured legs. Maybe Kamara also would not have been able to avoid a setback during the current campaign.
Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. was too talented and also too driven to fail regardless of where he was selected in the 2001 NFL Draft. That he fell to the third round before the Carolina Panthers grabbed him merely gave him a little extra motivation to prove every other franchise wrong and show that he is one of the best draft steals of the 2000s. Reggie Wayne and Chad Johnson were both drafted ahead of Smith, and both had excellent careers. Think about this, though: Peyton Manning could have been throwing touchdown passes to Steve Smith when both of those men were in the primes of their playing days.
David Terrell was the first wide receiver drafted in 2001, as he was taken by the Chicago Bears with the eighth overall pick. If you don’t remember the name, it’s probably because his last regular season appearance was during the 2005 campaign as a member of the Denver Broncos. Terrell is now known as one of the biggest draft busts in the history of the Bears, and that pick stings all the more, knowing that Chicago could have taken someone who deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, even if he may have to wait some time before he receives the call and the gold jacket.
Unless you barely have a working knowledge of the NFL, you can probably guess that this is only the first time the New England Patriots earn a shoutout for finding a draft steal. New England took Asante Samuel in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, and the cornerback won a pair of rings with that franchise before he entered free agency at the start of the 2008 offseason. The Patriots did not pay Samuel the money he deserved, so he instead put pen to paper on a contract with a franchise that could have saved itself the trouble of having to face the defensive back by drafting him in the first place.
Don’t get it twisted and believe that the Philadelphia Eagles would have defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX had Philly drafted Asante Samuel before Bill Belichick got his hands on the cornerback. After all, Samuel’s name is not even mentioned on the official NFL.com game recap. It was the Eagles that eventually splashed the cash to sign Samuel, though, and he made multiple Pro Bowl squads as a member of that organization. Samuel probably would not have given the Eagles a discount in 2008, but we’ll never know, for sure. At least Philly wouldn’t have seen him in the Super Bowl had the team just drafted him.
Some may forget that the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Jared Allen in the fourth round of the 2004 NFL Draft because we associate Allen with the Minnesota Vikings, the team that traded for his services in the spring of 2008. That blockbuster deal doesn’t erase the fact that Allen was a tremendous steal for the Chiefs and also that him going to the Vikings resulted in the Chiefs selecting running back Jamaal Charles. The Vikings, meanwhile, had no regrets about that transaction, as Allen became one of the greatest pass rushers of his era. He later enjoyed a cup of coffee with a different team in Minnesota’s division, one that should have drafted him back in 2004.
Would the Chicago Bears have defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI if Jared Allen was a member of the Chicago defense in February 2007? Probably not, but Allen could have made life difficult for Peyton Manning during that rainy contest. If nothing else, the Bears drafting Allen in 2004 would have prevented him from facing Chicago twice a season, when healthy, as a Minnesota defensive star. Allen registered 15 sacks, 21 QB hits and an interception playing against Chicago signal-callers during his career. It’s a safe bet every one of those quarterbacks regrets that the Bears didn’t draft Allen before the Chiefs.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will never be seen as the greatest sixth-round pick in NFL history, as that label belongs to the last player mentioned in this piece. With that said, the talented playmaker taken by the Steelers in 2010 has been a Pro Bowl mainstay for the majority of his career, and he has twice led the league in receptions and receiving yards. Playing with Ben Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has obviously benefitted Brown, but observers shouldn’t believe that he could not have excelled featuring with a different QB. Brown could have done a lot playing for a different AFC North side.
For starters, the Cleveland Browns drafting Antonio Brown before the Pittsburgh Steelers used a late pick on the wide receiver would have made for some jokes that would’ve written themselves. It also would have saved poor Spencer Lanning from being on the wrong end of quite the memorable highlight. Brown has torched and terrorized the Browns since entering the league at the start of the decade. He’s scored more touchdowns against Cleveland than against any other opponent. This is just one of the many, many, many draft regrets fans of the Browns have as of the end of 2018. Cleveland could have had Russell Wilson throwing passes to Antonio Brown. Ouch.
The Seattle Seahawks making great value out of multiple draft picks helped the club become a championship organization capable of competing for titles throughout the 2010s. Russell Wilson is the team’s best draft selection of the decade because of the position he plays, but finding cornerback Richard Sherman in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft was also a massive steal. The one-time Super Bowl champion who evolved into a shutdown corner was the face of the “Legion of Boom” secondary responsible for making those Seattle pass defenses the best in pro football. Sherman was a three-time first-team All-Pro during his tenure with the Seahawks.
Yes, every team whiffed by not drafting Richard Sherman, but the Arizona Cardinals have at least seven reasons to wish that they drafted Sherman before he fell to the Seattle Seahawks. That is the number of interceptions Sherman has tallied, to date, against Arizona QBs. The argument could also be made for the San Francisco 49ers drafting him in 2011, both so he wouldn’t have featured against the club and also because San Francisco signed him in March 2018. One cannot put a price on what an elite cornerback means for any defense in the modern NFL. That’s why the Cardinals and 30 other teams regret not taking Sherman before he became a steal for Seattle.
History tells us that teams spending high draft picks on tight ends is unnecessary since elite players at the position can be found with selections that make them steals. One example is Jimmy Graham, taken by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft. When Graham calls time on his playing career, either as a member of the Green Bay Packers or a different organization, he will retire as one of the greatest pass-catching tight ends in NFL history and also the best tight end to ever play for both the Saints and the Seattle Seahawks. He’s one that got away for the league’s other 31 teams.
Statistically speaking, no team has been given bigger headaches scheming and planning against Jimmy Graham than the Carolina Panthers. As of early December 2018, Graham has nine career touchdowns and 70 catches facing Carolina defenses. The 32-year-old is slowing down, and understandably so, but it also cannot be ignored that the Packers are not necessarily the most stable franchise this holiday season. Graham could find a third wind for his career by joining a different organization following the current season. He could also decide that he’s done all that he can in pro football and that it is time to give the Panthers a break for once.
When all is said and done, Frank Gore could go down as the most underappreciated running back in NFL history. Taken by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, Gore is currently fourth all-time in rushing yards, and he is still at it as a member of the Miami Dolphins. Earlier this year, Gore claimed that heading to South Beach was not for a retirement tour, and he has shown with his play that he is serious about being a real contributor for a side that is in the playoff hunt as of the first full weekend of December 2018. Unless Adrian Peterson catches him in yards, no running back from the 2010 draft has accomplished more.
The Arizona Cardinals have a deep history of acquiring ageless wonders such as Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer. Frank Gore would have been a perfect fit and potentially a back who would’ve spent his entire career with the organization had the Cards drafted him in 2005. Having to plan against Gore twice a season during his stay with the Niners didn’t go well for Arizona, as he has scored a total of 14 touchdowns (13 rushing, 1 receiving) against the Cardinals. In 2005, the Cardinals spent a second-round pick on J. J. Arrington. He rushed for 654 yards in four NFL seasons, and he last played during the 2008 campaign.
It’s difficult to imagine there being a bigger draft steal than Tom Brady. The 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft is the face of the New England Patriots, the franchise that is the league’s only dynasty of the 2000s. He’s a five-time Super Bowl champion. He’s a four-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. He’s also probably the greatest of all-time. As much as he may not want to admit it, Father Time is eventually going to catch Brady and prevent him from featuring for the Patriots or any other team. He has hinted that he wants to continue playing another three or four years, though, which means he could remain the biggest active NFL steal during the first half of the 2020s.
Every franchise, even those that had top-tier quarterbacks at the start of the 2000s, wishes it would have taken a flier on Tom Brady before Brady fell into the lap of Bill Belichick, as that draft choice literally altered the history of the NFL. Close your eyes and picture Brady being the face of the New York Jets and of New York football. Maybe the Jets, often a punchline of football jokes, and not the Patriots would be the best organization in the league, and maybe the Jets, with Brady, would have prevented Eli Manning from leading the New York Giants to a pair of Super Bowl wins. Jets fans can only dream of such a scenario, but instead, they got stuck for years with the likes of Mark Sanchez.