It isn’t fair to evaluate fully evaluate a draft selection until a player has three seasons in the league. 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
Green Bay Packers select Donte Jackson over Josh Jackson 45th overall
The Green Bay Packers placed an emphasis on revamping their secondary, especially their cornerback group, during the 2018 NFL Draft. Green Bay took cornerbacks with their first two selections of the 2018 Draft even after taking Kevin King with their first selection in the second round of the draft the year prior. In the first round, the Packers took Jaire Alexander, who established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league this past season, making his first Pro Bowl and being named Second Team All-Pro. In the second round, Green Bay took cornerback Josh Jackson.
It is safe to say that he has been one of if not the most irrelevant second-round picks over the last few seasons. After starting ten games his rookie season, Jackson did not start any of the 14 games he was active for his second season, and only started five of the twelve games he played in this past year. In three seasons he only has one career turnover.
Ten picks later the Carolina Panthers selected former LSU cornerback Donte Jackson. He has started 39 of 43 career games since getting drafted. Jackson has also been a bit of a ballhawk for the Panther racking up ten interceptions in three seasons. He has been a staple of the Panthers’ defense over the last couple of seasons and will likely continue to be part of its identity.
It is fair to say that Green Bay should have taken a look at other needs on their roster instead of taking their third cornerback with a top-60 pick in two seasons, especially one as raw as Josh Jackson. But the mistake on Green Bay’s part was taking the wrong cornerback with the last name Jackson. If they would have taken Donte over Josh, they would have had a rock-solid cornerback group with Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, and Donte Jackson. Especially this season the Packers have needed to upgrade their second and nickel cornerback spots. The Buccaneers took advantage of that during the NFC Championship and were able to expose the Packers’ biggest weakness. This led to them taking Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round a few months ago.
If Green Bay had selected Donte Jackson instead of Josh Jackson, their overall secondary may be the best in the league and would not have been exposed by the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship. The Packers could have very well made it to the Super Bowl and possibly won it this past year. An elite secondary made up of Jaire Alexander, Donte Jackson, Adrian Amos, and Darnell Savage behind the dynamic pass rush of Zadarius Smith, Preston Smith, Rashan Gary, and Kenny Clark would have given Green Bay one of the league’s best defense. Pair that defensive unit with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense and they may have won a Super Bowl within the past two seasons.
Kansas City Chiefs select Fred Warner over Breeland Speaks 46th overall
The Breeland Speaks selection by Kansas City was an odd one because they traded up for him despite having a dynamic duo of pass rushers in place in Justin Houston and Dee Ford. On top of that, they took edge rusher Tanoh Kpassagnon in the second round the year prior to replace Tamba Hali. Neither player made a major impact on the Chiefs’ pass rush while they were on the team. Speaks started four games his rookie season. The following season Speaks did not play a snap because of multiple stints on the IR and a suspension. He was cut by the Chiefs in training camp before the 2020 season. Speaks has been on three teams since and was cut by the Giants in May, and is still currently a free agent.
One player the Chiefs may regret passing on is a very important part of the San Fransisco 49er’s team they played in the Super Bowl during the 2019-20 season. The 49ers took linebacker Fred Warner in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Warner has emerged as one of the league’s best linebackers over the last three seasons. He has started all 48 games since being drafted and has over 115 combined tackles in each of the last three years. This past season Warner was not only named to his first Pro Bowl but was also named First-Team All-Pro for the first time as well.
During the 2018 NFL Draft, the Chiefs were shaky at linebacker. Their starting inside linebacker duo was former Dallas Cowboy Anthony Hitchens and former Buffalo Bills second-round pick Reggie Ragland. The Chiefs signed Hitchens that offseason and got solid production out of Ragland the year prior. Ragland had a career-high 86 combined tackles the following season but started only 7 of 14 games the following season before being cut. Neither of which have been the caliber of linebacker that Warner has developed into.
The Chiefs have also spent back-to-back second-round picks on linebackers Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton. They could have addressed other areas of need on their roster at cornerback or offensive line if they had Warner established on their roster. Kansas City’s defense could have been among the league’s best if they had Warner in the middle of it. That outstanding defense paired with their dominant offense would have created one of the most dominant teams in NFL history.
Indianapolis Colts trade back and select D.J. Chark over Kemoko Turay 52nd overall and trades up to select Sam Hubbard over Tyquan Lewis 64th overall
The 2018 NFL Draft was the beginning of the Indianapolis Colts rebuild. They had 11 selections including five in the first two rounds (four second-round picks). Two of those selections were spent on defensive linemen Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis. Both of which have been disappointing since joining the team. Turay started three of fourteen games his rookie season and had four sacks. But in the last two seasons has 2.5 total sacks and zero starts. Lewis started six games his rookie season and had two sacks, but he missed 19 games over his first two seasons. Last year Lewis started four games and had a career-high four sacks.
Lewis is slated to be one of the Colts starting defensive ends this season but will have to compete with Turay to get the job of starting opposite 2021 first-round pick Kwity Paye. They have been benched in favor of veterans Justin Houston and Demico Autry for the past three seasons. Both Houston and Autry left the Colts in free agency this offseason.
Later in the second round, AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars selected DJ Chark to fill the void left by Allen Robinson who signed with the Chicago Bears in free agency. After an irrelevant rookie season with zero starts, Chark broke out his sophomore season catching 73 of his 118 targets for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. That performance got Chark voted to his first Pro Bowl. Despite taking a step back production-wise last season and the additions for 2020 second-round pick Laviska Shenault Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr., Chark is still viewed as the Jaguars’ number one receiver.
About halfway through the third round, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted defensive end Sam Hubbard. Even though he didn’t start a single game his rookie season he had six sacks. The following season Hubbard started 15 games and had a career-high 8.5 sacks. Last year in thirteen starts Hubbard struggled and had only two sacks. Despite coming off a rough season the Bengals decided to give Hubbard a four-year $40 million extension. It seems that the Bengals want to build their defense around the pass rush duo of Hubbard and recent signee Trey Hendrickson.
Chark would have been a nice addition to the Colts because at the time they were lacking a number two wide receiver after T.Y. Hilton on the depth chart. Right now they have Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, and Zach Pascal but they could have used another talented receiver during the 2018-19 season where the Colts quickly went from rebuilding team to playoff contender. The addition of Chark would have also allowed the Colts to move on from Hilton who appears to be slowing down with age but was brought back for one more season. Since both Lewis and Turay were not factors for the Colts they could have used one of their second-round picks on an impactful wide receiver and addressed their defensive line with their last second-round pick.
Hubbard has outperformed both Lewis and Turay to this point in their careers. Indianapolis could have used an impactful pass rusher like Hubbard even if they still brought in Justin Houston in 2019. Hubbard could have been a rotational pass rusher behind Autry and Houston. Then this season the duo of Hubbard and Kwity Paye could have been the Colts’ edge rushers this season and beyond.
Pittsburgh Steelers select Brian O’Neill over James Washington with the 60th overall and Michael Gallup over Mason Rudolph with the 76th overall pick
Those who follow the draft closely recognize the trend that Pittsburgh has drafted a pass catcher in the first three rounds in 14 of the last 17 drafts. Especially recently with all the talented receivers that Pittsburgh has had throughout the years they still draft receivers early every year. A lot of great receivers including Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, JuJu Smith-Schuster have been taken with those selections. Not to mention talented young receivers Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson whose careers appear to be trending upward. Also, Pittsburgh had done well drafting receivers like Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant with their Day 3 picks throughout the years.
However, there have been a few that have not panned out as well as the ones previously mentioned. Those include Willie Reid, Limas Sweed, Markus Wheaton, Dri Archer, Sammie Coates, and James Washington. The Steelers took Washington in the second round of 2018 to be their big play deep threat receiver. Despite being taken early in the draft he has never had a feature role for the Steelers offense in his three seasons with the team. He has 23 starts in 45 career games. Washington has failed to reach 80 receptions and break 800 receiving yards in a single season. He has been solid when he gets on the field but repetitively has been passed on the depth chart by Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool throughout the years.
Within the past few days, the Washington selection has looked worse. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Washington has requested a trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers. His reasoning for requesting the deal is because of his “limited playtime last season and so far this preseason.” It is unlikely that Pittsburgh gets anything near the value of the draft pick they had invested in Washington in return for him in a deal.
Pittsburgh took Washington’s college quarterback Mason Rudolph with the next pick. He was drafted to be a high-end backup and possible heir to Ben Roethlisberger when he decided to hang it up. In the 2019-20 season, Rudolph got an opportunity to show if he was a backup or potentially the Steelers’ future at quarterback after Roethlisberger was sidelined with an elbow injury for a majority of the season. Rudolph started eight games but played in ten overall that season. He threw for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. So on a per-game basis, Rudolph averaged 176.5 yards, 1.3 touchdowns, and 0.9 interceptions per game. That is way below average or what a team wants to see from their quarterback. There was a point late that season that Rudolph was rotating with undrafted free agent “Duck” Devlin Hodges because head coach Mike Tomlin couldn’t decide between the two which one was the better option for the rest of the season.
Despite Rudolph’s negative play, Pittsburgh has extended Rudolph past this upcoming season with the belief that he could possibly compete for the starting job next season. At this moment he is competing with former 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins for the backup quarterback job and is expected to compete for the starting job next season. At this point, many can agree with the fact that the plan for after Roethlisberger likely retires at this season doesn’t seem like a great one.
Rudolph’s presence on this team has prevented them from taking a look at quarterbacks like Drew Lock, Jalen Hurts, Kellen Mond, Kyle Trask, or Davis Mills as the future starting quarterback of this team. Though those quarterbacks’ long-term fates with their teams are not clear yet, they appear to be better options than Rudolph at this point. It has also prevented Pittsburgh from trading up for a quarterback like Jordan Love or Mac Jones these past two drafts.
There are two prospects that the Steelers could have taken in 2018 that would have helped them win now with their current roster. They could have taken Brian O’Neill with their second-round and Michael Gallup in the third. O’Neill went to the university of Pittsburgh so they had every opportunity to take him when he was coming out. He likely would have been a swing tackle behind Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert his first season and started when Gilbert got hurt. Then when Gilbert was released the following season became the Steelers’ full-time right tackle. Currently, the Steelers offensive line is a shell of what it has been over the last few seasons. This offseason they lost four of their established starters from the year prior. O’Neill would have easily been the Steelers’ best offensive lineman right now and would prevent this line from possibly being the worst in the league next season.
Then if Pittsburgh wanted to add another weapon they could have taken Michael Gallup over Mason Rudolph in the following round. Since emerging as one of the Cowboys’ top receivers Gallup has been a great find for them. During his first full season as a starter Gallup posted 1,107 yards and six touchdowns off 66 catches and 113 targets. The following season Gallup did extremely well considering he was moved to third on the depth chart due to the addition of CeeDee Lamb. Gallup finished last season with 843 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 59 receptions and 105 targets.
The performance Gallup had last season is the reason why he would have been a great fit in Pittsburgh. He is able to perform well despite having multiple other great weapons around him. Gallup would have joined a receiving core with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Not to mention Pittsburgh would have likely still added Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in the following drafts. Taking Gallup would have also opened up the opportunity for Pittsburgh to take a better quarterback than Mason Rudolph to eventually replace Ben Roethlisberger.
New York Jets select Mark Andrews over Nathan Shepard 72nd overall
The New York Jets decided to address their defense with their second selection of the 2018 NFL Draft rather than add pieces that will help their rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. At the time the selection of Nathan Shepard didn’t seem like a bad one, however, it did not pan out the way the Jets thought it would. Shepard has only started 8 of the 39 games he has played throughout his career to this point. The following season the Jets took a defensive tackle Quinnen Williams in the following draft and fellow 2018 draft class members John Franklin-Myers and Folorunso Fatukasi have passed Shepard on the depth chart. Now that the Jets have added Sheldon Rankins and transitioned to a 4-3 defense it appears that Shepard will transition from a rotational role to traditional backup this upcoming season.
One of the knocks on how the Jets have handled building their roster around Sam Darnold was the lack of help they gave him throughout his first three seasons with the team. Ravens 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson hasn’t had that issue since entering the league. Baltimore took one of Jackson’s favorite targets Mark Andrews with one of their third-round selections in 2018. Early on Andrews outperformed Baltimore’s first selection in the first-round pick Hayden Hurst and became their starting tight end. During his second season in the league, Baltimore was one of the most dominant teams in the league. His teammate Lamar Jackson had a historic MVP season and Andrews led the team in all receiving categories. Andrews finished the season with 64 receptions on 98 targets for 852 yards and ten touchdowns. He made his first Pro Bowl during that season and has been viewed as one of the league’s best tight ends since then.
Andrews has performed so well that Baltimore felt comfortable trading away Hayden Hurst who was selected two rounds before him. Selecting a gem like Andrews in the third round allowed Baltimore to acquire the second-round pick that they used to select promising second-year running back J.K. Dobbins.
During his time in New York, Darnold could have used a target like Andrews. It is fair to say that Darnold’s best receiver during his tenure with the Jets was Robby Anderson who was viewed more as a deep threat receiver. A security blanket like Andrews would have helped a lot in the development of Darnold. He would have been a reliable target over the middle of the field and in the red zone for the Jets. Andrews could have very well emerged as the Jets’ number one receiving option much like how he did in Baltimore. The part that stings the most for the Jets is that they did select tight end Chris Herndon one round later and he is nowhere near the player Andrews has emerged into.
Houston Texans select Orlando Brown Jr. over Martinas Rankin 80th overall
The Houston Texans did not have their first or second-round selections in the 2018 draft. They both belonged to Cleveland due to two different trades. The Texans traded away their first-round pick for the 2018 draft in the deal that landed them the tenth pick used to select Deshaun Watson the year before. Then Houston gave Cleveland their second-round pick in a deal where they dumped Brock Osweiler’s massive contract. Houston had a playoff-ready roster (when healthy) but could have used some upgrades along the offensive line. Thus that is why Houston took Martinas Rankin with their first selection that was in the third round.
Rankin was an intriguing prospect coming out of 2018 because of his versatility. Many believed he could slot in at all five offensive line positions. He was not viewed as an elite prospect or future Pro Bowler but could have had a future being a solid starting guard or right tackle for an NFL team for a number of years. After starting only four of sixteen active games his rookie season, the Texans traded Rankin to the Chiefs for veteran running back Carlos Hyde who had signed with Kansas City earlier that offseason. Hyde rushed for over 1,000 yards in Houston but only played there for one season. Rankin started six of the seven games he played for the Chiefs over the next two seasons before being cut this past summer.
The next offensive lineman selected after Rankin was Orlando Brown Jr. by the Baltimore Ravens. Brown was projected to be a first-round selection in 2018 before his draft stock plummeted due to a poor combine performance. Baltimore appeared to be the perfect landing spot for Brown because of the great coaching staff in place and because his father played there for six seasons over the course of two stints in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
It didn’t take long for Brown to become the team’s starting right tackle. He had started ten games his rookie season. The following season Brown started all 16 games for the Ravens and emerged as one of the best right tackles in football. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl after that season. This past year Brown made his second Pro Bowl in a row and played phenomenal throughout the year despite having to transition to left tackle midway through the season after a season-ending injury to former All-Pro Ronnie Stanley. This offseason Brown had requested a trade because he wanted to play in a situation where he could play and get paid like one of the league’s best left tackles. Baltimore traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs a few days before the 2021 NFL Draft for multiple high draft picks including their first-round pick.
If Houston would have taken Brown instead of Rankin he would have become the Texans’ best offensive lineman by the end of his rookie season. He would have beaten out Seantrel Henderson for the starting right tackle job right away. But the biggest impact Brown would have had on this roster is that his presence would have taken the Texans out of trade talks for (at the time) Miami Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Texans head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien destroyed the team’s long-term future by acquiring Tunsil from Miami.
After selecting Tytus Howard and Max Scharping with their first two selections in the 2019 NFL Draft it appeared that Houston had drafted their bookend tackles for the long-term future. But instead, they made a plan to acquire Tunsil moving Howard to right tackle and Scharping to guard. In order to afford Tunsil Houston moved former first overall pick and Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks for Jacob Martin, Barkevious Mingo, and a 2020 Third Round pick. At the time it seemed like a bargain considering how Clowney had played the year prior. It also added insult to injury that Houston still had to pay $7 million of Clowney’s franchise tag just for him to play for Seattle. Then Houston traded their 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick, Johnson Bademosi, and Julien Davenport to the Dolphins for Tunsil, Kenny Stills, a 2020 fourth-round pick, and a 2021 sixth-round pick. That trade set up the framework for the Miami Dolphins rebuild and set Houston’s eventual rebuild back at least a season. Not to mention it put the Texans in salary cap-hell extending Tunsil.
That move along with a few others eventually cost O’Brien his job and caused an overhaul of the team’s management. Houston’s poor management also led to star franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson requesting a trade this offseason. This trade singlehandedly destroyed the Texans franchise which is currently feeling the effects of it now. They hired underwhelming head coaching candidate David Culley to replace O’Brien this offseason and struggled to fill the holes on their roster with above-average veterans. Many believe Houston will have the worst record in football this upcoming season.
All of this could have been avoided if Houston would have selected Orlando Brown Jr. over Martinas Rankin in the 2018 NFL Draft then paired him up with Tytus Howard who was their first-round selection the following year. The Texans may have still been forced to rebuild or retool this season, but at least they would have had the assets to do so the past few seasons.
Minnesota Vikings select Jason Sanders over Daniel Carlson 167th overall
Special teams players are rarely discussed around draft time. The biggest special teams player that came out of the draft in recent memory was Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo who Tampa Bay took in the second round back in 2016. Back in 2018, the Vikings took kicker Daniel Carlson in the fifth round to compete with Kai Forbath for the team’s starting kicking job. After making only one of his first four kicks in his first two games Minnesota cut him and brought former Pro Bowler Dan Bailey in to replace him. This felt like a waste of a fifth-round pick especially since the Vikings let him go after four games.
Now Carlson is a member of the Las Vegas Raiders where he has been extremely solid over the last two and a half seasons. Since joining the Raiders Carlson has made 87.2% of his kicks and is viewed as one of the best young kickers in the league. This past season Carlson made a career-high 33 of 35 field-goal attempts including a career-high 54-yard kick. He also made 45 of his 47 extra-point attempts last season.
Two rounds after Carlson was drafted the Miami Dolphins took a kicker named Jason Sanders. He was immediately named the team’s kicker during his rookie season and made 90% of his field-goal attempts. After a rough sophomore season, Sanders bounced back and made 36 of his 39 field goal attempts this past season. He also made all 36 extra point attempts he took as well. This performance was enough to earn his First-Team All-Pro status and solidify his place as one of the best kickers in the league.
If Minnesota had taking Sanders instead of Carlson they would have likely held onto Sanders still thus making the selection worth it. Instead, the Vikings have neither of the better young kickers in the league and are going into the season with Greg Joseph as their kicker.
Other What-If Scenarios:
The Cleveland Browns select Braden Smith over Austin Corbett with the 33rd overall pick
The Detriot Lions trade up and select Phillip Lindsay over Kerryon Johnson with the 43rd overall pick
The San Fransisco 49ers trade up and select D.J. Chark over Dante Pettis with the 44th overall pick
The Green Bay Packers select Justin Reid over Josh Jackson with the 45th overall pick
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Donte Jackson over M.J. Stewart with the 53rd overall pick
The Oakland Raiders select Carlton Davis over P.J. Hall with the 57th overall pick
Washington trades down and selects Gus Edwards over Derrius Guice with the 59th overall pick
The Pittsburgh Steelers select D.J. Chark over James Washington with the 60th overall pick
The New England Patriots trade up and select Carlton Davis over Duke Dawson with the 63rd overall pick
The Oakland Raiders select Orlando Brown Jr. over Brandon Parker with the 65th overall pick
The Cleveland Browns select Orlando Brown Jr. over Chad Thomas with the 67th overall pick
Washington selects Orlando Brown Jr. over Geron Christian with the 74th overall pick
The Carolina Panthers select Mark Andrews over Rashaan Gaulden with the 85th overall pick
The Buffalo Bills select Tim Settle over Harrison Phillips with the 96th overall pick
The Denver Broncos select J.C. Jackson over Isaac Yiadom with the 99th overall pick
The Kansas City Chiefs select Josey Jewell over Dorian O’Daniel with the 100th overall pick
The Cincinnati Bengals select Chase Edmonds over Mark Walton with the 112th overall pick
The Green Bay Packers select Dalton Schultz over J’Mon Moore with the 133rd overall pick
The Green Bay Packers select Wyatt Teller over Cole Madison with the 138th overall pick
The Baltimore Ravens select Allen Lazard over Jordan Lasley with the 162nd overall pick
The Arizona Cardinals select Charvarius Ward over Chris Campbell with the 182nd overall pick
More NFL Draft What If’s:
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