NFL

Re-picking the first round of the 2015 NFL draft

Lessons learned from the 2015 NFL Draft

Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke takes a look back at last year's NFL Draft to see what trends teams should be looking at as they start to scout this year's class of prospects.

How many discussions about sports focus not around what did happen, but what could have happened? The number is high.

What if Robert McClain hadn’t dropped a potential pick-six early in Super Bowl 50? What if the Texans had taken Derek Carr? What if the Rams and Redskins never completed their trade that sent RG3 to Washington? There is an infinite list of alternate endings in NFL history, some dwarfing the actual, less exotic outcomes.

With that in mind, and before the 2016 draft takes center stage, we turn our attention back to last April and the ’15 draft. How much different would the first round have been if the teams knew what they now know about the players selected?

Let’s find out ...

2015 NFL Redraft
 
  • 1
    1Re-draft pick: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
    (Original pick: Winston)
    Winston’s rookie season did not begin as hoped, with a 28-point loss to Tennessee and No. 2 pick Marcus Mariota, and the four-game losing skid to end the season left a bit of a bitter taste. Overall, though, nothing that happened should have shaken the Buccaneers’ faith in their quarterback. Despite working with a receiving corps that couldn't stay healthy, Winston still garnered mention as a Rookie of the Year finalist after throwing for 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns.
     
    His turnover rate (2.8% of passes intercepted, six fumbles) was too high, his completion percentage (58.3%) too low. But as far as rookie seasons for quarterbacks go, Winston was strong enough to solidify his spot here.

  • 2
    Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
    (Original pick: Mariota)
    Any franchise that drafts and then starts a rookie quarterback dreams of their newcomer dominating the league from Day One. Just a step below that unrealistic vision is what’s gone on with Mariota. Namely, that he progressed throughout his first season and appears to be just scratching the surface of what he can become. Mariota twice produced four-TD games (wins over Tampa Bay and New Orleans) and occasionally dazzled, like on his 87-yard touchdown run vs. Jacksonville.
     
    The Titans remain stuck in a painful rebuild, but they’re set for now at QB. Mariota could take a significant step forward in 2016. Tennessee certainly would not trade him in for another draft pick if the opportunity presented itself.
     

  • 3
    Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
    (Original pick: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida)
    Bum luck cost the Jaguars their first-round pick’s rookie season—Fowler tore up his knee during training camp and didn’t play a snap in 2015. It wasn’t a bad pick. Neither was T.J. Yeldon at No. 36. He rushed for 740 yards despite Jacksonville’s inexplicable insistence against using him in the red zone. But Gurley is on another level. Had the Georgia product’s own knee injury never occurred, he could have climbed this high at the initial draft proceedings.
     

  • 4
    Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
    (Original pick: Cooper)
    Another selection stays the same. Why mess with what the Raiders have building in their Derek Carr-to-Cooper connection? Cooper finished his rookie season with 1,070 yards receiving and six touchdowns, all the while looking the part of a true No. 1 receiver. His recent Pro Bowl appearance won’t be his last.
     

  • 5
    Leonard Williams, DE, USC
    (Original pick: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa)
    For whatever reason, it feels like Williams’s impressive rookie season flew under the radar. He played nearly 800 snaps, though, the majority of them productive. With Williams sliding a couple spots, the DE-needy Redskins pounce. Rather than jump into a group paced by Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, Williams would have been the lead dog in Washington.

  • 6
    Preston Smith, OLB, Mississippi State
    (Original pick: Williams)
    This constitutes a 32-pick leap for Smith, who was the sixth pick of Round 2 last May. Substantial, sure, but just look at how Smith closed the 2015 season: 5.0 sacks combined across Weeks 15-17, plus another for a safety in the playoffs. He finished the regular season with 8.0 sacks (tops among rookies) and 35 hurries, despite playing fewer than half his team's defensive snaps. Smith would solve a lot of the Jets’ pass-rushing problems, plus his skill set would pair well with Todd Bowles’s hybrid front.
     

  • 7
    7Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
    (Original pick: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia)
    Lining up for the majority of a season with Christian Jones and Shea McClellin starting at inside linebacker was ... well, it was one way to go. NFL teams tend to eschew inside linebacker-types this high in the draft, but how badly could the Bears have used Kendricks, whom Minnesota took at No. 45? He thrived in the Vikings’ 4–3 scheme but actually seemed a better 3–4 fit when the draft occurred.

  • 8
    8Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State
    (Original pick: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson)
    Spoiler: There isn’t going to be much else in the way of wide receivers from picks 9–32. Stefon Diggs and DeVante Parker were the only others who nearly made our redone Round 1, outside of Cooper and Lockett. Switching over to offense would rob Dan Quinn’s defense of Beasley, one of its most consistent contributors last season despite playing hurt. However, the offense stumbled in 2015, with Roddy White hitting a career wall and the rest of the non-Julio Jones receivers failing to pick up the slack. Lockett (1,915 all-purpose yards) could have carried that mantle and would have swiped return duties from the Eric Weems/Devin Hester combo.
     

  • 9
    9Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State
    (Original pick: Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami)
    Edwards dropped into Round 2 in large part because of concerns over his effort—he too often dialed it back for the Seminoles, never quite reaching his potential. It wasn't a problem last season. Edwards turned in 42 tackles and a pair of sacks for Oakland but dominated at times. The looming red flag: A neck injury that knocked Edwards to IR and could be serious moving forward. Healthy, he may finally have figured it out.

  • 10
    Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
    (Original pick: Todd Gurley)
    This would have been a bit of a preemptive strike for the Rams, who now face the prospect of losing starting corners Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson to free agency. Having Darby in their back pockets would have made the situation easier to handle. They would have been slightly overloaded in 2015, even with E.J. Gaines suffering a Lisfranc injury, but Darby would have found his way on the field. He was dynamite as a rookie and projects as a long-term CB answer.
     

  • 11
    11Byron Jones, CB/S, UConn
    (Original pick: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State)
    The Vikings have one of the best safeties in football, Harrison Smith, patrolling one starting spot—Pro Football Focus named him a first-team All-Pro and he earned a Pro Bowl nod. They as of yet have been unable to find any such permanent answer at the other safety spot. Enter Jones, a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in Dallas. He, like Smith, is versatile so the Vikings could play around with their safety duo to keep opposing offenses guessing.

  • 12
    12Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
    (Original pick: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington)
    Shelton falls out of our reconfigured Round 1. And while he didn't necessarily have an awful rookie campaign, he was just an average rotational player—hardly worth the No. 12 pick. Goldman, on the other hand, established himself as a linchpin for Chicago's defense. That he did so while playing about the same number of snaps as Shelton (515 to Shelton’s 506) merely reiterates how outstanding he was.
     

  • 13
    13Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson
    (Original pick: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford)
    Sorry, New Orleans: No waiting until pick 31 for Anthony this time around. Not after Anthony racked up 112 tackles in his rookie season. The tackle total was inflated by the utter mess around him—this was the league's worst-ranked scoring defense, after all—but Anthony showed more than enough potential to be in New Orleans’s plans for years.

  • 14
    14Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
    (Original pick: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville)
    Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Brent Grimes, 33 years old in July and due $18 million over the next two seasons, can maintain his status as Miami’s No. 1 corner. The Dolphins still need help alongside him. Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters could have provided it, in turn making fellow CB Jamar Taylor more of an helpful player by limiting his responsibilities.

  • 15
    15La’el Collins, G, LSU
    (Original pick: Traded to San Diego; Chargers selected Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin)
    He found a good situation along Dallas’s offensive line, but no single player would welcome a redraft as quickly as Collins. Amid pre-draft, off-field concerns, he went undrafted, eventually signing a three-year, $1.66 million contract with a reported $21K signing bonus. Gordon, the actual No. 15 pick, received $10.7 million over four years with a $6 million signing bonus.
     
    There’s also the football aspect of this from the 49ers’ perspective. Collins could have filled a similar role to the one he had in Dallas, starting the season as an extra blocker in heavy sets before working his way into the starting lineup. With Alex Boone now headed for free agency, too, Collins would have been the heir apparent at left guard.
     

  • 16
    16Adrian Amos, S, Penn State
    (Original pick: Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest)
    Johnson wasn’t bad at all in his rookie year, and in fact played the most snaps of any Texans defensive back despite fracturing his foot. Keeping this pick unchanged would be a fine approach. The switch to Amos covers two bases: First, it acknowledges what absolute thievery it was for Chicago to score Amos in Round 5, and second, it helps Houston stabilize what was an unsettled position. Amos also can handle a variety of roles, so he pairs with just about any combination of DBs Houston would have on the field.

  • 17
    17Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
    (Original pick: Traded to San Francisco; 49ers selected Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon)
    Scherff’s selection way up at No. 5 overall coupled with his permanent placement at right guard combined to drive criticism Washington’s way. Most of it was misguided. Scherff shook off a shaky start to 2015 and eventually became the mauler everyone expected. If he had been taken down here, by a Chargers’ team that continues to have myriad issues up front, the pick would have come off as a value. 

  • 18
    18Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
    (Original pick: Marcus Peters)
    Tough to determine exactly what Fowler’s stock would be if a team had to draft him knowing he would miss his entire rookie season. This still might be too high. Talent-wise, it’s much too low. Fowler is a three-down player with the size to stuff the run and athleticism to reach the QB. Kansas City would have had the pieces in place (Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Dee Ford) to let him sit for a year, then moved him into Hali’s place for 2016.

  • 19
    19VIC BEASLEY
    (Original pick: Cameron Erving, C, Florida State)
    *Pick from Buffalo 
     
    Beasley started all 16 Atlanta games and recorded 4.0 sacks, only to reveal after the season that he had played through a torn labrum. How effective can a healthy Beasley be? The Browns happily would take the chance to find out. They generated just 29 sacks a year ago, fourth fewest in the league. Cleveland took Danny Shelton and Cam Erving with its two first-rounders a year ago. It gets Beasley and Goldman in the redo. That’s an improvement.​
     

  • 20
    20Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State
    (Original pick: Nelson Agholor, WR, USC)
    Smith was the best rookie left tackle in 2015, and the Eagles would have loved to have him as their safety net, able to spell an injured and inconsistent Jason Peters for a year before taking his job. Between Smith and right tackle Lane Johnson (with a new contract extension through 2021), Philadelphia could turn its focus elsewhere, more than content with its bookends.​

  • 21
    21Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
    Original pick: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
    The Bengals will head into this off-season searching for Domata Peko’s eventual (perhaps sooner rather than later) replacement. They could have taken care of it during the 2015 draft by taking Brown, the eventual No. 32 pick who quickly became instrumental up front for New England. A Brown-Geno Atkins pairing up the middle? Good luck getting through that.​

  • 22
    22Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
    (Original pick: Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky)
    Dupree faded over the season’s second half, although his long-term outlook still points north. Johnson would have brought more to the Steelers’ party last season and beyond, in the latter case offering insurance ahead of a key off-season—William Gay, Brandon Boykin and Antwon Blake all are free agents, while Senquez Golson missed the 2015 season with a shoulder injury.

  • 23
    23Rob Havenstein, OT, Wisconsin
    (Original pick: Traded to Denver; Broncos selected Shane Ray, OLB, Missouri)
    The Lions rolled through LaAdrian Waddle, Cornelius Lucas and Michael Ola at right tackle last season, rather surprisingly finding a temporary answer in Ola after claiming him off waivers. Meanwhile, Havenstein was a 13-game starter that didn’t allow a single sack and helped pave the way for Gurley. This is the type of blocker Detroit still needs.​

  • 24
    24Damarious Randall, CB/S, Arizona State
    (Original pick: D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida)
    Randall and fellow rookie Quentin Rollins served critical roles in Green Bay’s run to the postseason. They did so at cornerback, which wasn’t necessarily a huge need in Arizona. It could be now as Jerraud Powers approaches free agency, an untested group behind Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel. Randall could have pitched in there, as well as at safety when Arizona was hit with injuries there in 2015. His rookie season hinted at a lengthy and successful NFL career.​

  • 25
    25Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
    (Original pick: Thompson)
    That the Panthers and Broncos (coming up at 28) each landed with their original draft picks is part “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” and part recognition of a job well done. By the end of the season, Thompson was locked in as a full-time starter and showed every indication that he planned to stay for awhile. The Thompson-Luke Kuechly-Thomas Davis linebacking corps is phenomenal, and Thompson will loom even larger if and when Davis (33 next month) moves on.
     

  • 26
    26Markus Golden, OLB, Missouri
    (Original pick: Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF)
    Terrell Suggs’ season-ending Achilles injury set Baltimore’s defense back in a number of ways, not the least of which being that it forced rookie Za’Darius Smith into significant playing time before he was ready. The disappointing results were no surprise, save for Smith’s 3.5-sack burst in Weeks 15–17. Golden also needed a little time to find his groove—not to mention playing time. Once he did, Arizona couldn’t get him out of the lineup. He handled a multitude of jobs, from pass rushing to dropping in coverage.​

  • 27
    27Thomas Rawls, RB, Central Michigan
    (Original pick: Byron Jones)
    Basically flipped a coin between Rawls and Arizona’s David Johnson for this spot. Both were brilliant during the 2015 season and either would have found a nice home behind Dallas’s blocking scheme. Rawls was more explosive as a runner, compared to Johnson's do-everything game, so he gets the nod here as the Cowboys’ workhorse.

  • 28
    28Shane Ray
    Original pick: Traded to Detroit; Lions selected Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
    Were there another obvious Round 1 offensive tackle, maybe that would be the replacement pick for Denver. Since there is not, slot Ray in at 28, five spots below where Denver actually took him. Ray battled through a knee injury to produce 4.0 sacks during the regular season. Better yet, he sure looks like he’ll be next up as a featured defender whenever DeMarcus Ware’s Broncos days end. ​
     

  • 29
    Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami
    Original pick: Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
    If he wasn’t a mismatch for their 3–4 scheme, Kwon Alexander would have been the choice here—the Bucs’ rookie racked up 93 tackles, 3.0 sacks and two INTs out of a 4–3 alignment. For the Colts’ purposes Perryman is a better fit. He gave the Chargers 73 tackles last season and is a stud against the run, meaning he would have meshed well with Jerrell Freeman, who is at his best in pass coverage. Freeman’s impending free agency would have made Perryman all the more valuable.​

  • 30
    30Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami (Ohio)
    (Original pick: Damarious Randall, CB/S, Arizona State)
    Randall is off the board already, so the Packers can turn their hypothetical attention to Rollins, their choice at No. 62 a year ago. He was raw compared to Randall and was slowed by an injury in the preseason. Eventually, he earned a handful of starts, picking off a pair of passes and breaking up six others in just 300 or so snaps.​

  • 31
    Hau’oli Kikaha, OLB, Washington
    (Original pick: Stephone Anthony)
    *Pick from Seattle
     
    The Saints double-dip on players they selected in 2015, this time landing Kikaha 13 slots earlier than they actually took him. There was an ankle injury that slowed him midseason, albeit nothing compared to the multiple ACL tears he suffered at Washington. When he was on the field, Kikaha (4.0 sacks) flashed the pass-rushing upside New Orleans so coveted in the first place.
     

  • 32
    32Ali Marpet, G, Hobart
    (Original pick: Malcom Brown)
    Missing out on Brown here might have pushed New England toward Shelton. Instead of that selection, they tab Marpet—another player who shaped up as a fit ahead of the 2015 draft. He still does, even though the Patriots did draft Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason in last year's fourth round. Marpet carried his Senior Bowl and combine momentum into the season, standing out as a top interior lineman.​

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