With hindsight, every NFL general manager could create a dynasty. Heck, even your average mouth-breathing homer at the pub could look like Bill Belichick if they could peel back the hands of time and twist fate. You hear it all the time from disgruntled fans, “How could we pass up Richard Sherman? Why didn’t we take Antonio Brown?”
Yes, if you had the ability to time travel, you could make a roster better than any kid playing Madden. That doesn’t make you a genius, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to pretend to play arm chair-GM when your team’s first-round receiver drops a pass (Nelson Agholor) or can’t stop getting freak shin injuries (Kevin White).
They say hindsight is 20/20, but even after two years, the jury is still out on most of the 2015 draft class. Even so, we have a lot more information than we did two Aprils ago. The clear division between the guys who can play and the guys who can’t play grows wider every week.
We now know that the class of 2015 was loaded with enough talent to satisfy most teams drafting in the first round. And now we know how many of these players can adapt to NFL schemes and the speed that comes at the professional level.
So now we turn back to April 30, 2015 and we re-shape the rosters of every team, creating an alternate history of the NFL with endless possibilities. Will Tony Romo last in Dallas? Will Peyton Manning go out as a champ? Will the Jaguars ever get out of the AFC South’s basement? All of that is predicated on the results of this draft. We are now entering an alternate universe where all 32 NFL teams enter draft day with perfect hindsight of what happens in 2015 and 2016.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston
Even with all of the talent that has emerged from the 2015 class, the Buccaneers would be foolish to not stick with their current face of the franchise, Jameis Winston. His character issues at Florida State appear to be in his rear view at the moment as he has embraced a leadership role in Tampa Bay. Winston may be inconsistent, especially under pressure, but he is absolutely lethal when he is at the top of his game. As difficult as it is to find a franchise QB these days, the Buccaneers should feel no regrets about their real-life 2015 first overall selection. Jameis has exceeded expectations, and if he can polish his game just a little bit, he may achieve elite status over the next few seasons.
2. Tennessee Titans – Marcus Mariota
Much like the Buccaneers, the Titans would be wise to stick with their original pick of Marcus Mariota. While he is still a question mark, he has shown the ability to be a sufficient game manager who can use his legs as a weapon. Mariota needs to step up his game if he wants to truly be worth the second overall pick, but desperate teams must take chances when it comes to the quarterback position. Tennessee unexpectedly almost won the AFC South in 2016, so they should be in decent shape as long as they build the same style of exotic smashmouth offense and hard-nosed defense that they did in real life. All they need to do in this scenario is cross their fingers that Mariota doesn’t break his leg again.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Landon Collins
Although it’s unlikely that real-life first rounder Dante Fowler would suffer a season-ending knee injury in this alternate universe, the Jaguars would be better off picking a sure thing, like safety Landon Collins. Jacksonville’s horrific defense could use a monstrous presence like Collins roaming the secondary, especially if they are lucky enough to select Jalen Ramsey again in the 2016 alternate universe draft.
Collins emerged as a superstar for the Giants this past season as they moved him from free safety to play closer to the line of scrimmage at strong safety. If the Jags can copy this blueprint, they would have a much needed dominant force on D. Although safeties don’t typically get selected inside the top-5 or even the top-10, a slam dunk Pro Bowler like Landon Collins is definitely worth it.
4. Oakland Raiders – Marcus Peters
As explosive as Amari Cooper has been for the Raiders, they probably would’ve been better off stealing cornerback Marcus Peters from their Kansas City rivals. Peters has been a ball hawk from day one, leading the league in interceptions since he was drafted. He was beat deep pretty often as a rookie, but immensely improved his coverage skills in his sophomore season.
Having an elite playmaker in the secondary would perfectly complement their strong front-7 led by Khalil Mack. Peters was voted first team All-Pro this past year which historically is an impossibly difficult task for a young cornerback. Sure, it would suck to not have Amari Cooper for Derek Carr to heave bombs to, but with their QB as good as he is, I think he would manage just fine.
5. Washington Redskins – Jay Ajayi
The real-life Redskins took the safe route selecting Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff to protect their borderline franchise QB, Kirk Cousins. Still, taking breakout running back Jay Ajayi over him is more than just a sexy pick. The Dolphins rusher is a truly unique talent and may emerge as the best of his generation. It’s tough to fly under the radar with back-to-back 200-plus yard games, but somehow Ajayi has done just that.
Adding him to Washington’s already diverse set of weapons would make them almost unstoppable. This guy hardly even needs an offensive line with an absurd 3.5 yards per carry after contact, more than many running backs had in total. Ajayi also broke 11 more tackles than any other dunner despite only having the 9th most carries. He’s no flash in the pan.
6. New York Jets – Leonard Williams
As tempting as it is to add an offensive piece to the Jets stagnant unit, their real-life first rounder, Leonard Williams is simply too good to pass up. Especially knowing in hindsight that formerly stud defensive linemen Muhammad WIlkerson and Sheldon Richardson would drop off. Williams keeps their front-7 as one of the best in football, even if the team is terrible at everything else. Leonard should remain one of the better interior linemen for years to come and if they can get some help in their secondary, the Jets’ defense might be able to get back to their shut down level of Rex Ryan’s heyday.
Then all they would need is a quarterback better than Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Geno Smith, or Bryce Petty, or Christian Hackenberg. Is Mark Sanchez still around anywhere?
7. Chicago Bears – Amari Cooper
The real Bears didn’t have the luxury of having Amari Cooper in this slot and thus went with wide receiver Kevin White. While White has shown flashes of talent, injuries have kept him off the field for the better part of two seasons. But now that they have the chance to snag Cooper, Chicago would be stupid to pass him up. While he struggled mightily with drops in his rookie season with a league-leading 18 on 87 catchable passes, he showed strong improvement in year two dropping only four.
With his blazing speed and sharp route-running, he would be the perfect fit for Jay Cutler’s cannon arm opposite Alshon Jeffery. Provided all of these guys could stay healthy, and get some support from their o-line and run game, we might be talking about Jay Cutler as a 2016 MVP candidate in this re-drafted universe.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Vic Beasley
The Falcons luck out here and get their man, Vic Beasley, at the number 8 spot just like in the real draft. Beasley is Atlanta’s best player on defense providing much needed firepower for an otherwise weak unit. Vic led the league in sacks in 2016 with 15.5 in just his second season. While he may not be able to sustain that level of production every year, he is one of the main reasons this Atlanta defense isn’t a complete doormat anymore.
With their high-flying offense, they need whatever help they can get on D to prevent teams from easily playing catch-up on them. Vic Beasley is the perfect player to fill that role with his superb ability to rush the passer and bring down quarterbacks.
9. New York Giants – Todd Gurley
The Giants passed on Todd Gurley in the real 2015 draft, but in hindsight they should have nabbed him at the number 9 spot. Gurley slipped to the Rams at 10 primarily because he was recovering from a significant knee injury. We saw that he recovered just fine in 2015 as he was the lone bright spot for St. Louis running all over defenses and earning the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Todd had a bit of a sophomore slump in Los Angeles, but we know he has the talent to be an Adrian Peterson-type rusher.
With a veteran QB like Eli Manning and one of the league’s best playmakers in Odell Beckham, Jr., Gurley wouldn’t need to carry so much of the load while also taking pressure off the passing game as Eli begins his decline.
10. St. Louis Rams – David Johnson
Three running backs in top-10 might seem far-fetched, but these guys are worth it. Of the three, David Johnson is the most diverse and quite possibly the best all-around back. The Rams miss out on their guy, Todd Gurley, but they might have lucked out in picking up Johnson. St.Louis (or should we say Los Angeles?) was in desperate need of a weapon at this time and thought Gurley could shoulder the load by himself. While Johnson may not be quite the work-horse that Gurley is, he is much better as a receiver and pass blocker.
If the Rams ever want to have success, they’re going to need to pass the ball. Having a versatile running back like David Johnson is the perfect safety blanket for developing a young QB. It still probably wouldn’t be enough to save Jeff Fisher’s job though.
11. Minnesota Vikings – Brandon Scherff
The Vikings went with cornerback Trae Waynes here, who’s had his ups and downs but is no way a safe bet to turn into a reliable starter. Additionally, Minnesota is pretty great on defense and completely awful on offense. There are many reasons for their inability to put up points, but one of the biggest reasons is their historically bad offensive line. Adding a Pro Bowl guard like Brandon Scherff into the mix would make an immediate impact to giving them some type of offensive competency.
With their already strong defense, this Vikings team with the addition of a key blocker like Scherff, could legitimately contend for a title, assuming that Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson don’t break their legs again in this hypothetical scenario.
12. Cleveland Browns – Danielle Hunter
Even before the Cleveland Browns hired Hue Jackson and tanked the 2016 season going 1-15, they had their eyes squared entirely on the future. This puts them in perfect position to select edge rushing specialist Danielle Hunter. If you’re trying to collect assets with potential, look no further than Hunter, who was only 20 years old going into the draft. Despite his youthfulness, Danielle has been able to make an impact in his short Vikings career. Hunter has racked up 15 sacks so far, only playing part-time in passing situations.
The Browns would be in no rush to make him a full-time starter, giving him all the time he needs to round out his game. In four, five or 20 years when they actually put a team together in Cleveland, Hunter should still be in his prime ready to attack the next generation of Manning brothers.
13. New Orleans Saints – Byron Jones
If you’ve played fantasy football at all over the past few years, you should know one thing: start your players against the New Orleans Saints defense. Led by Rob Ryan, their 2015 unit was one of the worst in history and really could’ve used a reliable player like Byron Jones to provide some help matching up with tight ends, running backs, and whoever the other d-backs forgot to cover. Byron has been a key player in making the Cowboys’ secondary one of the league’s best and preventing their defense from being a laughing stock.
The Saints 2016 defense showed much improvement over the previous year and with a guy like Jones, they might have actually been respectable. Add that to their high-scoring offense led by Drew Brees, and they might have made a playoff run.
14. Miami Dolphins – Dante Fowler
Miami’s 2015 first round pick DeVante Parker sure has shown that he has the talent, but hasn’t shown the consistency to warrant the 14th overall selection. With Dante Fowler slipping due to injury, he’s a steal this late in the draft. Fowler suffered a season ending injury his rookie season, but recovered in 2016 to be a formidable pass rusher for Jacksonville. For southern Florida’s team, hopefully he would have more luck. At worst, Fowler would be a solid player that should be able to start for the Dolphins for at least a few years. At best, Fowler avoids injury, delivers on his high-end potential and is an absolute stud. Miami could also avoid throwing a big contract at veteran Mario Williams, who was a complete failure as a free agent signing.
15. San Diego Chargers – Melvin Gordon
The Chargers stay content to take running back Melvin Gordon just as they did in the real 2015 draft. He had a bit of a rough rookie season with a low yards per carry and scoring zero touchdowns, but he really hit his stride in 2016. Just about everything went wrong for Philip Rivers and company, but Melvin Gordon was the diamond in the rough. If the Chargers could somehow avoid the series of injuries and late-game blunders, Gordon could’ve played a key role in turning them into contenders.
With a new shake of the dice, maybe Keenan Allen doesn’t go on injured reserve in back-to-back years, they make the playoffs, and they might just get to stay in San Diego for a few more years.
16. Houston Texans – Shaq Thompson
As much help as the Texans need on offense, they would be forced to double down on defense and grab Shaq Thompson halfway through the first round. Thompson started day one for the great 2015 Carolina Panthers defense and was a huge part of what got them to Super Bowl 50. Shaq is a monster at stopping the run and would have no trouble chasing down running backs behind the league’s best defensive line in Houston. If J.J. Watt could avoid injury, this Texans defense with Thompson might be able to do what the Broncos did in 2015 and go all the way without putting up points on offense. Now if they can use their hindsight powers to avoid mortgaging their future on Brock Osweiler, we might have a juggernaut in Houston.
17. San Francisco 49ers – Ali Marpet
The 49ers have been garbage top to bottom since forcing out coach Jim Harbaugh two seasons ago for the short-lived tenures of Jim Tomsula and later Chip Kelly. Not only has their staff been a complete mess, but their talent isn’t much better. San Francisco needs to take the ‘best player available’ strategy and the right move there would be to take offensive guard, Ali Marpet currently blocking for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While not the most flashy pick, Marpet has flourished into one of the league’s better guards. Injuries cut his 2015 campaign short, but if he stays healthy, he should be able to plug in a hole for the decimated Niners offense. Ali is an outstanding run blocker and would be able to clear lanes for running back Carlos Hyde to work his magic.
18. Kansas City Chiefs – Jordan Hicks
He might not be as good as their real pick Marcus Peters but linebacker Jordan Hicks should be able to help bolster an already strong Kansas City defense. Andy Reid does not typically draft for need, so he’d be happy to take a guy like Hicks to provide depth and give them flexibility when guys like Derrick Johnson are over the hill or need a big money contract. An injury cut his rookie season short, but Hicks has been an excellent player for the Eagles in both stopping the run and making big plays with 7 interceptions in only 24 games.
Having a guy like him would be overkill in their front-7, which has been one of the league’s best. This Chiefs’ unit would always have fresh legs on the field and would be virtually injury proof.
19. Cleveland Browns – Shaq Mason
The real Cleveland Browns went with center Cameron Erving here, who has been fine, but Shaq Mason is a little bit of an upgrade. While the Patriots offensive line has been up and down recently, Mason is one of the bright spots. He was drafted as a center but has been starting as a guard, so he’s proven to be a perfect utility lineman for the Browns’ long term goals. Shaq would give them the flexibility to go out and spend high draft picks or big money on the best centers and guards when their time comes to get out of tanking mode.
Cleveland doesn’t expect to compete any time soon, so they should look for versatile assets rather than depreciate slowly, and a reliable offensive lineman like Shaq Mason is a brand new Toyota Highlander.
20. Philadelphia Eagles – Kevin White
Chip Kelly’s Eagles went with wide receiver Nelson Agholor here, and there’s no way they’d make the same mistake twice. Grabbing a monster like Kevin White at the 20th pick is a much more promising fix for their weak receiving core. White lost his entire rookie season because of a stress fracture in his shin, and missed most of his second season after aggravating the same injury. This may keep him from ever producing in the NFL, but all indications point to it being a freak injury.
In this re-drafted world, there’s no reason he should suffer the same fate. If that’s the case, than the Eagles might get the steal of the draft getting such a dynamic force so late in the draft. Chip Kelly might even end up still having a job.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Bud Dupree
The Bengals had a strong 2015 on both sides of the ball, but saw significant decline in all facets this season. Their 2015 first round offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi might turn out to be a reliable starter, but remains a question mark. Taking linebacker Bud Dupree over him would not only bolster their defense, but steal him from their rival Steelers who took him right after Cincinnati took Ogbuehi. Dupree has been a consistent and versatile tool in Pittsburgh as an excellent blitzer, run stopper, and coverage man.
Adding Bud to their linebacker corps might’ve gone a long way to keep the Bengals as contenders. Dupree is an athletic monster with a 4.53 40-time at 269 pounds, so as good as he is now, he could still have a lot of developing to do.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ty Montgomery
The Ben, Bell, and Brown trio is a sight to behold when they’re firing on all cylinders, but it seems that far too often one or two of them isn’t producing on the field because of injury or yearly suspensions. Adding the Packers’ running back/wide receiver hybrid Ty Montgomery to the mix would be a perfect complement. If Le’Veon Bell is on the field, Montgomery would give the Steelers the luxury to put one of them out wide and give Roethlisberger another weapon running circles around secondaries. If Bell happens to go down or gets nailed with another suspension, Ty can hold down the fort like he’s doing in Green Bay. He’s quickly turned into one of the most unique talents in the league and is best used on a high-flying offense and if it’s not going to be the Packers, it should be the Steelers.
23. Denver Broncos – Eric Kendricks
The Broncos relied on their historic defense on their road to winning Super Bowl 50, and they needed every bit of it as their offense was nonexistent with an aging Peyton Manning and Osweiler-like Brock Osweiler behind a terrible offensive line. Their 2016 season was one of the league’s best but struggled mightily covering tight ends and stopping the run. Adding linebacker Eric Kendricks would’ve gave them the depth to maintain their world-class status of 2015 and not see such a dramatic drop off in 2016. Kendricks can blitz, stop the run and cover, making him a great fit in between superstar Von Miller and aging sack-master DeMarcus Ware. Kendricks covers a lot of ground leading the Vikings in tackles as a rookie and could play the middle allowing Denver’s talent on the outside to play loose.
24. Arizona Cardinals – Tevin Coleman
Carson Palmer finally went over the hill in 2016, causing the Cardinals to lean on running back David Johnson to carry the load. Since he was already drafted by the Rams in this re-draft, Arizona will have to look elsewhere. While Tevin Coleman probably wouldn’t be able to fill Johnson’s shoes, he’d be their best option. Coleman struggled to make much of an impact as a rookie, but has played in major part in making the Falcons the league’s best offense this season.
Like Johnson, he can catch the ball out of the backfield and can take any run to the house. Arizona would need to address the quarterback position eventually, but Coleman should be able to hold down the fort as either a complimentary weapon or workhorse.
25. Carolina Panthers – Stefon Diggs
The Panthers went on a 15-1 run falling just a few plays short of winning the Super Bowl in 2015 behind Cam Newton’s MVP season. They had all that success with veteran return specialist Ted Ginn as their number one receiver. While Diggs posses a similar skill set as Ginn, he would be an invaluable addition to their vertical pass offense. Stefon may not have been able to do much to prevent Carolina from their 2016 drop-off, but he’d be a great tool for their franchise quarterback as he looks to rebound going forward.
Diggs has the most receiving yards of this draft class aside from Amari Cooper, and that comes despite some injury trouble and having to deal with low-volume quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford.
26. Baltimore Ravens – Kevin Johnson
The Ravens could really use some help on the offensive side of the ball, but with the talent pool available, they’d be better off adding the best player available. Baltimore’s run defense is once again one of the league’s best, but they’ve struggled a bit versus the pass. Adding cornerback Kevin Johnson would be a perfect addition to their nickel package and give them depth if one of their starters to go down. Just like Texans’ superstar J.J. Watt, Johnson went down with injury in 2016 but should be prime to come back next year to bolster an already prolific defense.
There’s no reason he couldn’t do the same thing in Baltimore, where they also have the luxury of having a more talented, albeit overpaid quarterback, Joe Flacco.
27. Dallas Cowboys – Ameer Abdullah
Keep in mind that this is the 2015 draft so there’s no Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas yet, and no guarantee they’ll get him in the next hypothetical draft. Ameer Abdullah is a poor man’s replacement, but provided Tony Romo stays healthy in this scenario, he should be able to keep them in contention behind one of the league’s top offensive lines. Abdullah missed most of 2016 with injury but shouldn’t have to shoulder so much of the load in Dallas with all of their offensive weapons. If he could stay and Romo could stay healthy, Ameer could alter the course of history and prevent the Cowboys’ rookie-mania from ever happening. That being said, Dallas would probably better off if this re-draft never happened as they have been far and away the best drafters over the past two seasons selecting Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Byron Jones.
28. Detroit Lions – J.J. Nelson
With the hindsight that legendary receiver Calvin Johnson would retire in less than a year, Detroit would be wise to select a possible replacement ahead of time. J.J. Nelson is by no means the perfect receiver and could in no way perform to Jonson’s level, but he’d go a long way to helping Matt Stafford to not have to carry the team on his back. The Lions relied on Stafford’s late game heroics to a 9-7 season, and it was clear that he developed into a better quarterback without having Calvin to lean on, but he couldn’t take them all the way by himself.
Nelson has blazing speed and could really open things up while taking advantage of Matt Stafford’s cannon arm. If he had early success, who knows? Maybe the Lions go to the playoffs and motivate Calvin Johnson to extend his career.
29. Indianapolis Colts – Malcom Brown
The Colts have been completely ignoring their personnel holes on defense throughout Andrew Luck’s career. While that might help his fantasy numbers playing catch-up, it’s not helping their win totals. Taking defensive tackle Malcom Brown should greatly improve a historically terrible run defense, as well as snag him away from the powerhouse Patriots. Brown started out slow, but has come a long way and is now one of the best players on a stiff New England defense.
The Patriots defend the run as good as just about everybody, and Brown is one of the biggest reasons. At a massive size of 320 pounds, he’s almost immovable. Brown also tallied 3 sacks this season, which may not sound like much, but is solid production for a gigantic run stuffing nose tackle.
30. Green Bay Packers – Eric Rowe
Eric Rowe is far from a perfect cornerback, but the Packers need all the help they can get in their secondary. Rowe has been burned a handful of times and only has two interceptions but he was good enough to start for Bill Belichick before going down with an injury. The Packers would be happy even with mediocre production as they boast arguably the worst cornerback unit in the NFL.
Just adding a small piece like Rowe should be enough to tip the scales to make Green Bay a more complete team and not require Aaron Rodgers to run around like a maniac chucking up Hail Marys. It’s not usually a good idea to draft for need, but when you have a guy like Rodgers under center, you want to win now while he’s still in his glory years.
31. New Orleans Saints – Preston Smith
It’s no secret that the New Orleans Saints defense has been a complete joke as of late. Adding the excellent pass rushing linebacker Preston Smith couldn’t make things any worse and is an absolute steal with the 31st pick. Smith has been a force on the Redskins’ defense and is one of their few bright spots in their otherwise weak front-7. He led all rookies in sacks in 2015 and started every game of 2016 expanding his role becoming more stout in defending the run. His pass rushing prowess and turnover ability are desperately needed in New Orleans. Preston might be the best value pick in this entire re-draft and single-handedly could help the Saints achieve some kind of respectability on defense.
32. New England Patriots – Ereck Flowers
The Patriots lose big in this re-draft as two of their reliable starters, Shaq Mason and Malcom Brown, are already off the board. New England always figures out a way to make it work and could do worse than selecting offensive tackle, Ereck Flowers. It’s unclear if he could fill Shaq Mason’s role as guard, but he’s done a solid job protecting Eli Manning’s blindside for the Giants. Flowers hasn’t blown anyone away and probably won’t be making any Pro Bowls anytime soon, but he’s started 31 out of 32 games at left tackle and his aging quarterback is still standing.
As Tom Brady edges closer to 40, the Patriots must focus on finding ways to protect him (unless he’s secretly discovered the cure for getting old). Adding a lumbering lineman like Ereck Flowers can only help.
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