Every year there are some players that outplay their draft selection. There are others that make people question why a player got selected as high as they did. What if teams could go back and fix their selections? How would their teams look today if they made the right choice Here are some instances where teams select the better player with their selection that still fills a need and what it could have done for the team.
The rules for this exercise is that players were swapped out with players that either
Were selected within the next 32 picks
Play the same position, but were selected much later
Fills a bigger need for them than the previously selected player did
The New York Giants select Todd Gurley over Erik Flowers with the 10th Overall pick
In 2015 the New York Giants had a desperate need for some help along their offensive line, especially at the left tackle position. But when it came to their turn to pick they were in an odd predicament. Division rival Washington Redskins took the best offensive lineman in the class Brandon Scherff and the next best offensive lineman left tackle La’el Collins was being investigated for murder. This left the Giants with a decision to make, they could either select the best player available or reach on Miami tackle Erik Flowers. The Giants chose the latter. Flowers was shuffled between the left and right sides, playing below average at both, and then eventually replaced by the Giants his last year with the team causing him to get released. Flowers was nearly out of the league until he showed that he could be a starting-caliber guard in Washington this past season.
The best player on the board the Giants could have gone for was Todd Gurley. Gurley had torn his ACL the season before and many were shocked to see that he was taken as early as he was and before Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. But Gurley’s talent was off the charts when healthy. The Giants would have have been a nice home for Gurley because they had Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen in place while Gurley got healthy and was ready to play. But neither of the two should have been looked at as the long term answer at the position. Jennings had never been a 1,000-yard rusher and Vareen only broke 300 once. Adding Gurley to an offense featuring rookie sensation Odell Beckham Jr. would have done wonders for the offense. The team could have spent a Day 2 pick on an offensive lineman. Instead, Gurley was selected by the St. Louis Rams with the next pick and was considered the best running back in football for a period of time.
The Giants ended up making the playoffs in the following season. If Gurley were on the team he could have given Eli Manning a better chance at winning a third Super Bowl rather than going one and done. Their offense would have stars like Gurley, Beckham, Victor Cruz, and rookie second-round pick Sterling Shepard. The biggest weakness on that Giants team that year was its running game.
The Minnesota Vikings select Marcus Peters over Trae Waynes with the 11th Overall pick
The cornerback class in 2015 was viewed as weak at the time, but it produced two of the better cornerbacks in the league today. The first one selected that year was Trae Waynes out of Michigan State. Waynes joined a Minnesota Vikings team who was trying to add the finishing touches to their rebuilt defense under defensive guru and second-year head coach Mike Zimmer. The Vikings had recent success drafting cornerbacks early Xavier Rhodes was blossoming into one of the better young cornerbacks in football. Zimmer has a certain mold for his defensive players, especially his cornerbacks. Waynes fit the Zimmer’s mold exactly as the long fast corner. He had a solid career in Minnesota. Waynes developed into the team’s number two cornerback on the depth chart, but never played up to his draft selection. This offseason Waynes left the Vikings and now is a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
The second-best cornerback on people’s boards was Marcus Peters. However, he fell to the third cornerback selected because of some concerns about his attitude. Peters became one of the league’s best ballhawks and overall cornerbacks early in his career. When Peters is playing in the right defense there are not many better than him. If the Vikings had selected Peters over Waynes their secondary would have been the best in football. The Vikings defense would have carried them to the playoffs every year since, rather than going every other. It would be hard to imagine the Vikings not becoming the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl in their own stadium if Peters were a part of that defense.
The Houston Texans select Byron Jones over Kevin Johnson with the 16th Overall pick
The Houston Texans shocked draft analysts when they selected Kevin Johnson in the first round in the 2015 Draft. The team was lacking a true number one cornerback, with Johnathan Joseph getting up there in age. But Johnson was not supposed to get draft as high as he was and probably not before Marcus Peters. He was projected to be a later first-round pick who could develop into a very good cornerback. Johnson fell to a good situation where he wasn’t thrust into action early due to the depth at the position. Unfortunately, Johnson never quite developed into the cornerback Houston thought he would be.
The other football team in Texas also took a cornerback. The Dallas Cowboys took a chance on an athletic defensive back who needed some grooming out of UConn named Byron Jones. The Cowboys experimented with Jones playing him at cornerback and free safety because he didn’t play one particular position particularly well, but was too good to keep off the field. Jone finally got his footing at cornerback and is now one of the elite shutdown corners in football. If the Houston Texans had taken that chance on Jones they would possibly have the number one cornerback that they are still lacking to this day.
The Cincinnati Bengals select Eric Kendricks over Cedric Ogbueghi with the 21st overall pick
The one position that the Cincinnati Bengals seem to be allergic to in recent years is the linebacker position. No matter how much they need one they either do not draft one early enough or the guy the select fails. Rather than address a need the Bengals decided to plan for the future and select Cedric Ogbueghi the tackle out of Texas A&M. The Bengals made this pick knowing that both Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith were getting up in age. Also, Ogbueghi had a high upside if he hit as a prospect. Coming into the 2014-15 football season he was considered a favorite to go with the first overall pick. But he fell down draft boards after his flaws emerged and he was coming off a torn ACL. Ogbueghi eventually cracked the lineup playing left and right tackle for the Bengals but never looked like a long term starter at any position.
Eric Kendricks fell to the Minnesota Vikings in the second round and has become one of the better middle linebackers in football. This past year he went to his first Pro Bowl and was named a First-Team All-Pro. The Vikings could have used that type of player then and could have used that player now. Their defense was subpar at best even though it was flooded with talent. Their weakest position was linebacker. Vontaze Burfict was one of the better linebackers in the league and Rey Maualuga had only a few good years left. Kendricks would have been athletic enough to start at outside linebacker and transition to inside linebacker once Maualuga moved on. By 202 Kendricks would have likely been a captain and likely the best player on the Bengals defense not named Geno Atkins.
The Tennessee Titans trade back and select Tyler Lockett over Dorial Green-Beckham with the 40th Overall pick
After selecting their quarterback of the future Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick the Tennessee Titans needed to get him a true number one receiver in the second round. Their receiver depth chart read Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas and they took a chance on Hakeem Nicks (didn’t make the team). Rather than take one at 33, the Titans traded the pick to the Giants who took Landon Collins and took Dorial Green-Beckham with the 40th pick.
Green-Beckham was the top recruit coming out of high school and a very good receiver at Missouri. However, he was dismissed from the team due to legal troubles. After sitting out a year, rather than play at Oklahoma Green-Beckham declared for the NFL Draft. He had a decent year with the Titans was traded to the Eagles the next season and was released by the team a year later. He hasn’t played in the NFL since.
The Seattle Seahawks took return specialist Tyler Lockett in the third round that same year. He became one of the league’s best returners early, but over time Lockett has polished his skills as a receiver. Now he is the Seattle Seahawks number one receiver. If the Titans were willing to be patient and develop Lockett, he would have been worth the wait and been another great weapon on their roster today. If Lockett was on the Titans’ current roster, that offense featuring A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry could have continued their Cinderella story to the Super Bowl.
The Detriot Lions select David Johnson over Ameer Abdullah with the 54th Overall pick
For over a decade the Detroit Lions have not been able to maintain long term comfortability in their running backs. They have selected three second-round running backs in the past five years. The first of those was Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah was an explosive running back who showed a lot of promise. His biggest problem was he could not stay healthy. Even when he returned from injury he didn’t look great. Abdullah was replaced by Kerryon Johnson three years later. Now he is a kick returner for the Minnesota Vikings
David Johnson was a sleeper pick because he played at such a small school. But he had a lot of potential to become an explosive weapon for whatever team he ended up with. Within his first two seasons, Johnson became an all-around threat for the Arizona Cardinals offense. He was a threat in the running game, passing game, and even on specials teams. No matter what he was doing on the field he was always a threat to get into the endzone. The Lions would have gotten more production out of Johnson in three years than they did out of Abdullah. He could still possibly be the Lions starting running back if they had taken him.
The Dallas Cowboys select Frank Clark over Randy Gregory with the 60th Overall pick
The Dallas Cowboys were fresh off a playoff run where their offense carried them to their success and their defense was average at best. After adding Byron Jones to upgrade their secondary they addressed their pass-rushing grabbing Randy Gregory. What is significant about Gregory is that coming into the draft he was considered the best edge rusher in the draft. Gregory fell down the board because of his past and the fact that he failed a drug test at the combine. The Cowboys have never been shy about adding someone with a troubled past. Gregory has dealt with multiple suspensions in the league as well, but has been a solid situational pass rusher when active.
Another pass rusher with who had some off the field concerns entering the 2015 draft was Frank Clark. He was taken by the Seattle Seahawks three picks after Gregory was selected. Though early on he was a rotational pass rusher, he became a starter for the Seahawks in his third season after having great success in the few snaps he saw. Clark was eventually traded to the Chiefs and became their best pass rusher. Clark has maintained a clean record since coming into the league and has developed extremely well. If the Cowboys had taken a chance on Clark instead of Gregory they could have one of the best pass-rushing duos in football in Clark and Demarcus Lawerence right now. Instead, it is a question mark opposite Lawerence.
The Detroit Lions trade up and select Danielle Hunter over Alex Carter with the 80th Overall pick
This scenario is an interesting one because the Detroit Lions traded a third and fifth-round pick to division rival Minnesota Vikings to select Alex Carter and with the third-round pick Minnesota acquired they took Danielle Hunter. So the Lions essentially traded Danielle Hunter and a fifth-round pick (Mycole Pruitt) for Alex Carter.
Carter only played one game for the Lions then was released from their practice squad a season later. While Hunter has developed into one of the best defensive ends in football putting up 54.5 sacks in five seasons.
The Lions had to lackluster options competing to play opposite Ziggy Ansah coming into 2015. If the Lions traded up for Hunter instead of Carter, they would not only have had a great pass rusher duo in between Ansah and Hunter but would have a great duo right now of Hunter and Trey Flowers.
The Detroit Lions trade a 2016 3rd Round pick to select Grady Jarrett over Gabe Wright with the 113th Overall pick
The Detroit Lions could have also selected a better player with their next draft pick as well. Trying to address the voids left by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The Lions signed Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker but took Gabe Wright with the hopes that he could become a rotational defensive tackle or better. Instead, Wright only played seven games with the team and was cut before the following season.
Much later in the fifth round, the Atlanta Falcons traded up to select Grady Jarrett out of Clemson. It was surprising to see Jarrett slip all the way to the fifth round. He was projected to go in the third or fourth round. Jarrett ended up being a steal becoming one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league. If the Lions would have selected Jarrett over Wright they would have filled the void left by Suh and Fairley.
If the Lions selected Jarrett and Hunter over the players they did they could have had the best defensive line in football for a couple of seasons. That defensive line would have made the Lions feel okay about losing Suh and Fairley.
The Cleveland Browns select Stefon Diggs over Vince Mayle with the 123rd Overall pick
In the fourth round, the Cleveland Browns selected Vince Mayle to join a lackluster receiving core made up of Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin. Their true number one receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for the entire season. Mayle ended up not making the Browns roster their rookie year which was unexpected because there aren’t many rookie fourth-round picks who don’t make the team their first season. Since then, he has bounced around the league and now plays in the CFL.
One round later, the Minnesota Vikings took Stefon Diggs the wide receiver out of Maryland. Due to injury he worked his way up the depth chart his rookie year and was the team’s number two receiver by the end of his rookie year. Over the next couple of years, Diggs not only became the team’s number one receiver but he became a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver. This past offseason the Buffalo Bills traded a first-round pick for him to become their number one receiver. If Diggs would have landed in Cleveland he would have likely passed their veteran receivers on the depth chart to become the team’s number one receiver and softened the blow of not having Josh Gordon for an extended period of time.
Other What-If Scenarios:
The Detroit Lions select Landon Collins over Laken Tomlinson with the 28th Overall pick
The Indianapolis Colts select Eddie Goldman over Philip Dorsett with the 29th Overall pick
The New Orleans Saints select Eric Kendricks over Stephone Anthony with the 31st Overall pick
The Atlanta Falcons select Bernardick McKinney over Jalen Collins with the 42nd Overall pick
The New York Giants select Danielle Hunter over Owa Odighizuwa with the 74th Overall pick
The San Fransisco 49ers select Za’Darius Smith over Eli Harold with the 79th Overall pick
The Kansas City Chiefs select Kwon Alexander over Ramik Wilson with the 118th Overall pick
The New England Patriots select Darren Waller over A.J. Derby with the 202nd Overall pick
The New York Giants select Trent Brown over Bobby Hart with the 226th Overall pick
More NFL Draft What If’s: