NFL draft redux: Reprojecting the first round of the 2014 draft
Hindsight is 20/20, and one can only imagine how often NFL executives, coaches and scouts would like a do-over on the draft decisions that can bedevil teams for years. One way to do that, at least in the abstract, is to do a re-draft and see just how things would shake out if teams could know then what they know now about the 2014 rookie class. How would things go? Here's one version of that alternate reality.
1. Houston Texans
The idea with the prodigiously talented Clowney was to pair him with J.J. Watt, unleash the most effective pass-rushing duo in the NFL on the rest of the league, and hope that first-year head coach Bill O'Brien could make do with unimpressive quarterback options. But injuries stole most of Clowney's season -- he played in four games and took 146 snaps -- and Watt played as if he was two people anyway. One wonders how the 9-7 Texans would have done with Carr under center instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum; the Raiders' rookie passed for 3,270 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 picks with little in the way of targets, and he has an estimable future.
2. St. Louis Rams
(Original pick: Auburn OL Greg Robinson)
Re-do pick: LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Robinson was an OK player, but the Rams -- who have been looking for a No. 1 receiver since the days of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt dried up -- would have driven NFC West defenses crazy with Beckham, who absolutely exploded onto the scene with 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars certainly believe in Bortles, and their faith may pay off in the long term, but what would their defense look like with Donald and the horribly underrated Sen'Derrick Marks terrorizing quarterbacks and stopping running backs? Donald was the most impressive rookie tackle since Ndamukong Suh, and his future potential seems limitless.
4. Buffalo Bills
New Bills head coach Rex Ryan was very excited to inherit Watkins in Buffalo, and to be sure, Watkins has great talent. But Rex, after his issues with receivers with the Jets, would certainly love to have a second-year man who tied Beckham for the rookie touchdown lead with 12. Watkins is a special weapon, but Evans has the ability to simply beat the daylights out of tight coverage in the red zone and end zone, and the Bills will need that kind of scoring ability from someone as they try to ascend in the AFC East.
5. Oakland Raiders
No second-guessing here: Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie had an amazing draft in 2014, and while it might be tempting to take a Teddy Bridgewater here with Carr gone, Mack was the NFL's most impressive rookie defender not named Aaron Donald.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Matthews struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness in 2014, and while he might be a good one in time, Barr has great potential at a position the Falcons have been trying to fill for years: pure pass rusher.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(Original pick: Texas A&M WR Mike Evans)
Re-do pick: Notre Dame OG Zack Martin
The Bucs knew they had perhaps the NFL's weakest offensive line when they traded for Logan Mankins in-season, but the Mankins experiment didn't quite pan out. Martin, who was an absolute force at right guard for the Cowboys in 2014, would have given Tampa Bay's line a level of nastiness and technique that is sorely needed.
8. Cleveland Browns
(Original pick: Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert)
Re-do pick: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
With Josh Gordon one mistake away from league oblivion and the rest of Cleveland's receiver crew average at best, putting Watkins in Cleveland's offense certainly would have been a boon. Instead, the Browns went with Gilbert, who disappointed throughout the year, was beaten out by undrafted rookie K'Waun Williams, was a healthy scratch for the Browns' season-finale against Baltimore and became the subject of criticism from his own teammates.
9. Minnesota Vikings
(Original pick: UCLA OLB Anthony Barr)
Re-do pick: LSU WR Jarvis Landry
Yes, losing Barr would be a hit to Mike Zimmer's defense, but a better benefit would be a receiver who can consistently catch the ball -- something that Teddy Bridgewater didn't have in 2014. Landry was the less spectacular of the LSU duo with Beckham, but he did a great job in an iffy Miami passing offense, grabbing 84 passes for 758 yards and five touchdowns.
10. Detroit Lions
Taking Ebron so high was a poke in the eye for a resurgent Lions team, as the rookie caught just 25 passes for 248 yards and one touchdown. He was inconsistent catching the ball and looked slower on the field than his college tape suggested. Better here to take advantage of a local guy in Lewan, who turned out to be the best overall rookie tackle and would provide the Lions a measure of stability at that important position for years to come. He missed the last month of the season with a high ankle sprain, but Lewan has real potential -- and the book on Ebron has not yet been written.
11. Tennessee Titans
(Original pick: Michigan LT Taylor Lewan)
Re-do pick: Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
The Titans got a lot out of Lewan, but their secondary was an issue all season, as no Tennessee starting cornerback allowed an opponent passer rating lower than 90.8. Fuller struggled with injuries and inconsistency, but one must also consider a horribly-coached Bears defense as part of the problem there. Fuller has the attributes to succeed in the NFL.
12. New York Giants
(Original pick: LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr.)
Re-do pick: Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
The usually grumpy Tom Coughlin will be even grumpier when we take Beckham away from him, but the Giants' linebackers were a very mixed bag in 2014, and Mosley could turn that around with his physical talent and field awareness.
13. St. Louis Rams
(Original pick: Pittsburgh DL Aaron Donald)
Re-do pick: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
We've already given the Rams Beckham, so let's give them a guy who can get him the ball. Rams fans, imagine what a Bridgewater-to-Beckham combo would look like. That'll take some of the sting out of losing Donald.
14. Chicago Bears
(Original pick: Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller)
Re-do pick: Louisville FS Calvin Pryor
Perhaps no NFL team needed more safety help than the Bears in 2014, and though we don't know how much of that void was created by Mel Tucker's weird schemes, the addition of Pryor would give the back of Chicago's secondary some dynamism.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
You could argue that a patch at any position would be a help to Pittsburgh's current defense, but the cornerback situation is especially dire. A shoulder injury ended Verrett's season in November, but he certainly has a bright future. Shazier had his own injury issues and recorded 24 solo tackles in nine games.
16. Dallas Cowboys
(Original pick: Notre Dame OG Zack Martin)
Re-do pick: Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland
The Cowboys' 2014 turnaround was certainly impressive, given that their defense was frequently stretched thin from a talent perspective. Borland, who was a revelation in San Francisco's defense, would have done a lot to mitigate the damage caused by Sean Lee's torn ACL. Lee is one of the best players in the league when healthy, but he hasn't been very often in the last few years.
17. Baltimore Ravens
(Original pick: Alabama LB C.J. Mosley)
Re-do pick: Missouri CB E.J. Gaines
Gaines dropped all the way to the sixth round, where the Rams picked him up and found themselves quite a bargain. He allowed just one touchdown and a 79.0 opponent passer rating in 964 snaps, and proved that his size (5-10, 190) was not an impediment to his ability to provide outstanding coverage.
18. New York Jets
(Original pick: Louisville FS Calvin Pryor)
Re-do pick: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
When Benjamin came out of Florida State, the concern was that his route awareness was basic at best because he had played in a very simplistic passing offense. He thrived nonetheless for the Panthers, and he would have done the same for the Jets. Even in a limited NFL offense, Benjamin has the combination of size, speed and cut ability to set himself apart. The Jets could certainly use that.
19. Miami Dolphins
(Original pick: Tennessee OT Ja'Wuan James)
Re-do pick: South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
James fell apart after a dynamic preseason, allowing more total pressures (58) than any other tackle in the NFL. The Dolphins would have to wait on Clowney given his injury status, but given that Miami's defensive line fell apart in the second half of the season, having Clowney around in 2015 might be a balm.
20. New Orleans Saints
Cooks was a monster for the Saints until a thumb injury ended his season in November, but it was the defense that kept the 7-9 Saints out of the playoffs. Free-agent safety Jairus Byrd was a disaster when he did play in Rob Ryan's defense, and Kenny Vacarro regressed in his second season. Clinton-Dix would have been a difference-maker with his range, tackling and coverage ability, which improved throughout his rookie season.
21. Green Bay Packers
(Original pick: Alabama FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix)
Re-do pick: San Jose State CB Bené Benwikere
When he was given a chance to start in the second half of Carolina's season, Benwikere impressed, allowing a rookie-low 72.9 opposing quarterback rating and no touchdowns in 459 regular-season snaps. He was less impressive in Carolina's playoff loss to Seattle, but this fifth-rounder should have been selected a lot earlier in the draft, and given Green Bay's issues in the secondary, he could have been as impactful as Clinton-Dix turned out to be.
22. Cleveland Browns
The Browns took Bitonio in the second round, which was a bit of a mulligan after their first round turned out to be a relative disaster, with Gilbert and Manziel doing little to impress as rookies. Bitonio is one of the best young guards the NFL has seen in quite a while. He allowed just one sack in 550 passing snaps and was a consistent force in the running game.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
(Original pick: Auburn DE Dee Ford)
Re-do pick: Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks
Ford was a part-timer whom the Chiefs ostensibly plan to work in over the next few seasons, but when you go through an entire season without one of your receivers catching a touchdown pass, there's clearly a need for an upgrade at the position. With his speed, route awareness and understanding of the West Coast offense, Cooks would have been a perfect fit in Andy Reid's system.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
(Original pick: Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard)
Re-do pick: North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
Dennard is still getting the hang of the NFL, though he has the potential to be a good player in time. One wonders, though, how Ebron would have fared in an offense that wants to be friendly to tight ends but hasn't been so of late. Word is that Jermaine Gresham won't be in Cincinnati's plans in 2015.
25. San Diego Chargers
(Original pick: TCU CB Jason Verrett)
Re-do pick: Missouri DE Kony Ealy
While San Diego's secondary was an obvious position of need coming into the 2014 draft, Ealy turned out to be a valuable chip at both end and tackle in his rookie campaign for Carolina, and he would have done the same for the Chargers.
26. Philadelphia Eagles
(Original pick: Louisville DE Marcus Smith)
Re-do pick: North Carolina SS Tre Boston
Well, this was unfortunate. The Eagles took Smith in the first round, and Billy Davis, the team's defensive coordinator, admitted late in the season that he wasn't sure what Smith's ideal position would be. Smith played 74 snaps in 2014. Meanwhile, Boston would have been a huge addition to an Eagles' safety rotation in need of help -- he lasted until the fourth round, but really made an impact as the season went on and he started more games for Carolina.
27. Arizona Cardinals
(Original pick: Washington State SS Deone Bucannon)
Re-do pick: Washington State SS Deone Bucannon
Bucannon was an excellent blitzer and intermediate coverage player in Todd Bowles' defense, and the Cardinals would likely be very happy to make that pick all over again.
28. Carolina Panthers
(Original pick: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin)
Re-do pick: Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
Matthews is a different receiver than Benjamin -- he played almost exclusively in the slot as a rookie -- but he would have similarly helped the Panthers, who needed a prolific receiver. Matthews caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns.
29. New England Patriots
The Patriots got back to the Super Bowl despite the lack of a consistent deep receiver not named Rob Gronkowski, but what would their offense look like with Adams in the loop? New England put Easley on injured reserve in mid-December with a knee injury, which is worrisome, given his injury history from his college days. If healthy, Easley is a top-five talent. Adams, however, would still be rolling for the Pats, and he was a revelation for the Packers, catching 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns, and overall looking great when he got his opportunities -- most notably in Green Bay's divisional round win over the Cowboys.
30. San Francisco 49ers
Ward had an up-and-down season, and Lawrence had to wait until the second half of the season to get in the game for the Cowboys as he recovered from his foot injury. He started to come on late in the season, though, and Dallas has big plans for him. The 49ers, dealing with injuries, age issues and general attrition along their defensive line, could certainly use someone with Lawrence's talent.
31. Denver Broncos
Roby struggled in coverage at times, but given how loaded the Broncos are at most positions (of course, we're all waiting on a certain quarterback's decision), he looks like a wise investment over the long term. Roby was mostly a slot cornerback in his rookie campaign, but he'll find his way into the starting rotation over time.
32. Minnesota Vikings
(Original pick: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater)
Re-do pick: Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo
You can bet the Vikings probably wouldn't have traded up with the Seahawks for this pick with Bridgewater off the board, but it is what it is here. Let's give them Garoppolo, who impressed in college and in the little time he saw with the Patriots.