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 Chicago Bears trade up and select Patrick Mahomes over Mitch Trubisky at 2nd Overall and George Kittle over Adam Shaheen at 45th Overall
There has been no bigger what if in recent draft history than if the Chicago Bears selected Patrick Mahomes over Mitch Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears were so set on selecting Trubisky that they traded the third, 67th, 111th and their 2018 third-round pick to move up one spot and guarantee the 49ers did not take him. The Bears got their guy in Trubisky, the 49ers took Solomon Thomas and Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes went 10th Overall to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Trubisky led the Bears to the Playoffs and went to the Pro Bowl his second season. But Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns and won the MVP in his. Last season, Trubisky became a meme for how bad of a quarterback he was, while Mahomes led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl win in 50 years. This season Trubisky will be competing with journeyman Nick Foles for the Bears starting job. Mahomes just signed a 10-year, $500 million extension.
Mahomes and Trubisky will be compared for the rest of their careers. To give the Bears credit, at the time Mahomes was not a finished product and had to sit out and develop for a year while Trubisky was a safe option. But after watching college football that season it was obvious that the first quarterback off the board that year should have been Deshaun Watson.
Another head scratching selection made by the Bears that year was taking Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen in the second round. Coming out of a Division II school, Shaheen was seen as an upside player and a likely day two pick. But there is always risked involved when taking a Division II player in the NFL Draft because they do not see the same level as competition as most of the other draftees. Shaheen couldn’t crack the starting lineup for the Bears during his three years later. He had 249 yards and four touchdowns in three years in Chicago. This past offseason Chicago moved Shaheen to the Miami Dolphins for a sixth round pick.
Selected 101 picks later was Iowa tight end George Kittle. He was drafted by the San Fransisco 49ers and in a short period of time became the number one receiving option of Kyle Shanahan’s offense. In his second season Kittle broke the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season. He has been voted to the past two Pro Bowls is a two time All-Pro. He has asserted himself as one of the best tight ends in the league.
If the Bears would have drafted Mahomes and Kittle over Trubisky and Shaheen they would have two of the top players at their positions. Combining those two players on offense with their elite defense could have been enough to make Chicago Super Bowl contenders the past two seasons.
The San Fransisco 49ers trade back and select Jamal Adams over Solomon Thomas with the 3rd Overall pick
Back in 2017 the San Fransisco 49ers were still rebuilding their roster. Their plan was to take the best player available with the second overall pick. There was rumors about the 49ers looking at quarterbacks and defensive players. After trading down one pick the 49ers took Solomon Thomas with the third overall pick. Thomas wasn’t a for sure dominant pass rusher like first overall pick Myles Garrett or 2016 third overall pick Joey Bosa. But Thomas has a lot of upside to be a dominant defensive lineman in the league. His biggest problem many viewed as a strength, teams struggled to figure out if he was a defensive end or tackle in a 4-3 defensive scheme. But his ‘versatility’ and upside was being compared to the First Team All-Pro that season Calais Campbell. Campbell spent many years as a 3-4 defensive end rushing the passer from the inside in Arizona, but when he signed with the Jaguars and moved to the edge and racked up a career high 14.5 sacks. But Thomas only has six sacks in three years. This past season Thomas only started in three games.
Many argue that the best defensive player in that draft went three selections later by the New York Jets. That player is Jamal Adams. Adams immediately became the Jets best player. During his time with the Jets Adams went two Pro Bowls and is a two time All-Pro. He is in the conversation for best safety in the league. Now this past offseason Adams (and a fourth round pick) was traded to 49ers division rival Seattle Seahawks for two first round picks, a third round pick, and Bradley McDougald.
If the 49ers would have drafted Adams instead of Thomas their defense would be more elite than is was last season. Adams and Richard Sherman would solidify the 49ers biggest weakness which was their secondary. While their elite pass rushers would have more time to get after the quarterback. Adams could have been the difference between the 49ers losing or winning the Super Bowl this past season.
The Miami Dolphins select T.J. Watt over Charles Harris with the 22nd Overall pick
After getting a taste of the playoffs in 2017, the Miami Dolphins were looking build upon what they did the season before. One of the Dolphins biggest needs was at defensive end. The Dolphins had a rotation of Cameron Wake, William Hayes and Andre Branch of the edge. Wake and Hayes were close to the end of their careers and Branch cannot be relied upon as the future of the team at defensive end. So the Dolphins selected Charles Harris out of Missouri to become the teams future number one edge rusher. Harris extremely underperformed from where he was selected. He only started eight games in three years with the Dolphins and had only 3.5 sacks. The Dolphins traded Harris to the Atlanta Falcons for a 2021 seventh round pick this offseason.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected an edge rusher 30th overall by the name of T.J. Watt. T.J. is the brother of the former defensive player of the year J.J. Watt, but has been good enough to create a legacy of his own. Watt had seven sacks his rookie season. But after that he had 13 and 14.5 the following seasons. He also had six and then eight forced fumbles during his second and third years. Those numbers earned Watt two Pro Bowl appearances and a spot on two All-Pro teams. He is considered one of the league’s best young edge rushers.
Watt would have been a fantastic building block for the Dolphins who are in the middle of a rebuild and had very few players on their roster they wanted to complete their rebuild with. He would be by far the Dolphins best player on their team currently.
The New England Patriots select Chris Godwin over Derek Rivers 83rd Overall and Kareem Hunt over Antonio Garcia 85th Overall
The New England Patriots have built their Super Bowl winning teams with older stars, early round disappointments and late round gems. The team traded their first round pick away for Brandin Cooks and their second round pick for a third round pick and Kony Ealy. So the Patriots first two selections were both late in the third round. Derek Rivers and Antonio Garcia were not going to crack the Patriots lineup in year one. But could have potentially became starters down the road. Instead Rivers only played six games with the Patriots and Garcia never played an NFL snap.
Two offensive stars the Patriots could have added instead are Chris Godwin and Kareem Hunt. Godwin was selected right after Rivers 84th overall. He was a solid number two receiver in Tampa Bay in 2018. But in 2019 Godwin flourished in Bruce Arians offense. Godwin had 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns last season. That earned him his first Pro Bowl appearance and recognition as a Second Team All-Pro. Now Godwin is seen as an equal to Mike Evans and can be argued has become the teams number one receiver. Hunt was selected right after Garcia 86th overall. During his debut Hunt had 246 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots. He went on to lead the league in rushing that season and earning himself a Pro Bowl appearance. Hunt also led the league in rushing the following season until he was cut by the Chiefs and suspended after a controversial video of him surfaced. Even during his return for the Browns this past season Hunt showed flashes of the player he used to be in the little opportunities he received.
If the Patriots drafted playmakers like Godwin and Hunt, Tom Brady might have stayed in New England. The biggest reason why he felt like he needed to leave is because he wanted to go to a situation where he had elite caliber weapons. Now Brady will be linking up with Godwin in Tampa Bay, while they could have been teammates for a couple seasons in New England. Hunt could have became the teams lead running back his rookie season which would have had the Patriots not select Sony Michel the following year. The team could have used that pick on Darius Leonard, Harold Landry, Courtland Sutton, Dallas Goedert or even Lamar Jackson.
The New York Jets select Kenny Golladay over ArDarius Stewart with the 79th Overall pick
The New York Jets have been lacking a true number one receiver for a couple of seasons. The team had high hopes for ArDarius Stewart when they took him in the second round. After the team release Eric Decker late in the offseason, Stewart could have potentially cracked the starting lineup with Quincy Enunwa. Stewart only started two games for the Jets and caught six passes for 82 yards during his time with them. Stewart actually had more rushes than receptions with seven for 27 yards. He was cut by the team the following season.
Later in the third round the Detriot Lions got their hands on wide receiver Kenny Golladay out of Northern Illinois. Golladay broke the starting lineup towards the end of his rookie season and had his first 1,000 yard season the following year. But in 2019-20 Golladay emerged as one of the best redzone receivers in football. He had 1,190 yards and led the league with 11 receiving touchdowns. That earned him his first appearance at the Pro Bowl.
Golladay could have been the Jets number one receiver and eliminated that major need on their roster. Now the team has a toss up between Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, and second round pick Denzel Mims for the title of number one receiver.
Other What-If Scenarios:
The Chicago Bears trade up and select Deshaun Watson over Mitch Trubisky with the 2nd Overall pick
The Dallas Cowboys select T.J. Watt over Taco Charlton with the 28th Overall pick
The Denver Broncos select Chris Godwin over Carlos Henderson with the 82nd Overall pick
The Denver Broncos select George Kittle over Jake Butt with the 145th Overall pick
More NFL Draft What If’s:
“From Our Haus to Yours“