Imagine a world where in-draft trades were wiped out and teams were given a second chance to re-draft the 2017 rookie class with 20/20 hindsight—what a wonderful place that might be for some dejected fan bases heading into the second half of the season. While it’s an exercise grounded in fantasy, it also teaches us a little bit about over-consuming the common pre-draft narratives that seem to blanket every class. More than ever, it appears highly-talented rookies can come from anywhere at any position and have a profound effect on the season ahead. Here’s a draft that reflects as much…
1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
(ACTUAL PICK: GARRETT) Garrett’s had poor luck with injuries in his rookie season, but he delivered four sacks in the three games he did play. Pro Football Focus’ grade would have placed him alongside the likes of Chandler Jones, Jadeveon Clowney and Carlos Dunlap for his rookie season through eight games—something Cleveland would have gladly signed up for.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
(ACTUAL PICK: SOLOMON THOMAS, DE, STANFORD with No. 3 pick via trade with Chicago)Andy Benoit detailed Lattimore’s rise in Dennis Allen’s defense here, and I can’t help but wonder if Lattimore would be equally as perfect for Robert Saleh in San Francisco. Saleh loves bringing the heat and someone with Lattimore’s confidence and man cover skills would fit perfectly.
3. Chicago Bears: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
(ACTUAL PICK; MITCHELL TRUBISKY, QB, UNC with No. 2 pick via trade with San Francisco) It’s true that Watson had DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller in Houston, but I cannot imagine Watson not providing a similar spark in Chicago—and something to ignite them offensively and keep their eighth-ranked defense off the field is what the Bears really needed this season. Just picturing an offense with Watson, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen is fun, no?
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
(ACTUAL PICK: FOURNETTE) No need to overthink this one. Fournette has fit the Jaguars perfectly this season and bought them time to evaluate Blake Bortles for one last go around. He can negate a team’s deficiencies at quarterback and rest a defense that has become a quarterback’s worst nightmare in 2017.
5. Tennessee Titans: Jamal Adams, S, LSU
(ACTUAL PICK: COREY DAVIS, WR, WESTERN MICHIGAN) Pairing Adams with Kevin Byard might have given the Titans the league’s second-best safety tandem in football next to Seattle. Kudos to the Jets for stocking up on both Adams and Marcus Maye, which solidifies the position for a few seasons to come.
6. New York Jets: Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
(ACTUAL PICK: ADAMS) With the Sheldon Richardson trade in their (theoretical) rear-view mirror, the Jets do what they did a year ago during the Leonard Williams draft and simply take the best defensive lineman that drops into their lap.
7. Los Angeles Chargers: Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
(ACTUAL PICK: MIKE WILLIAMS, WR, CLEMSON) Ramczyk ended up being the early leader for best rookie offensive tackle in a class that was supposedly devoid of talent. Pro Football Focus ranks Ramczyk one slot behind Joe Staley, and well above any of Los Angeles’ current tackle options.
8. Carolina Panthers: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
(ACTUAL PICK: CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB, STANFORD) If Carolina was apparently souring on Kelvin Benjamin this much, maybe a move to get a receiver pegged as the next Dez Bryant might help. Obviously, a slew of injuries have obscured Davis’s rookie numbers, but his strength and speed would still do well in an improvisational Panthers offense that doesn’t seem quite ready for Christian McCaffrey anyway.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
(ACTUAL PICK: JOHN ROSS, WR, WASHINGTON) White seems to be nipping at Lattimore’s heels for defensive rookie of the year consideration and would have been a wonderful addition to the uncertain defensive backfield in Cincinnati. Imagine what Marvin Lewis could do with a pair of shut down cornerbacks.
10. Buffalo Bills: Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
(ACTUAL PICK: WHITE with No. 27 pick via trade with Chiefs) The Bills signed Mike Tolbert in the offseason to pair with LeSean McCoy’s finesse running game, but imagine Hunt coming in every other series to spell the Pro Bowler. There was no immediate fix for the Bills’ biggest offensive needs this early in the draft, but doubling down on workhorse running backs would be a solid start.
11. New Orleans Saints: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
(ACTUAL PICK: LATTIMORE) Foster is among the 49ers’ top tacklers this season and he’s only played in one full game. Last week against the Cardinals, Foster put up 13 solo tackles with a high ankle sprain. 49ers GM John Lynch said that Foster was the No. 1 player on his board heading into the draft, and had it not been for a fortuitous Bears trade, he would have taken Foster No. 3 without sweating it. Saints still help their defense here.
12. Cleveland Browns: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
(ACTUAL PICK: JABRILL PEPPERS, S, MICHIGAN with the No. 25 pick via trade with Texans) The idea this offseason was a one-for-one swap, Terrelle Pryor for Kenny Britt. Then, Corey Coleman went on injured reserve and the wheels fell off Cleveland’s offense. Would it have been more enticing—or at least more hopeful—to give whoever is the Browns’ next quarterback two, versatile first-round talents to work with?
13. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
(ACTUAL PICK: HAASON REDDICK, LB, TEMPLE) I wonder what the Cardinals would have done if the rest of the NFL didn’t leapfrog them and take quarterbacks in 2017. Perhaps there wouldn’t be the same end of an era feeling like there currently is in Arizona.
14. Philadelphia Eagles: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
(ACTUAL PICK: DEREK BARNETT, DE, TENNESSEE) While the Eagles organization prefers to draft their running backs in the later rounds, this pairing would have been too enticing to pass up.
15. Indianapolis Colts: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
(ACTUAL PICK: HOOKER) One of the few teams who probably would have made the same choice all over again. Hooker was the right foundational piece for this defense, no matter who will be coaching them a year from now.
16. Baltimore Ravens: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
(ACTUAL PICK: MARLON HUMPHREY, CB, ALABAMA) Reddick is last among all graded linebackers from PFF this year with a qualifying number of snaps, but I wonder if Baltimore’s defense would have been a more fostering environment right off the bat.
17. Washington Redskins: John Ross, WR, Washington
(ACTUAL PICK: JONATHAN ALLEN, DE, ALABAMA) A bit of a stretch here, admittedly, but perhaps Washington is confident in their ability to develop receivers who need to spend a season on ice (Josh Doctson has looked good in 2017). Ross would replace the field-stretching ability of DeSean Jackson.
18. Tennessee Titans: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
(ACTUAL PICK: ADOREE' JACKSON, CB, USC) The only reason Barnett (and a few other players) dropped in this re-draft was due to the infusion of third and second-round talent evaluators may have underrated. He’s been great in Philadelphia and would be tricky to stop lining up in different places with Dick LeBeau.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama
(ACTUAL PICK: O.J. HOWARD, TE, ALABAMA) The Buccaneers needed help at cornerback before the season anyway but opted to roll with a productive (but 34-year-old) Brent Grimes. Humphrey has played well for Baltimore thus far.
20. Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
(ACTUAL PICK: BOLLES) It was the only move that made sense for Broncos GM John Elway at the time and that probably remains the case.
21. Detroit Lions: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
(ACTUAL PICK: JARRAD DAVIS, LB, FLORIDA) The Lions have struggled to replace the Suh/Fairley inside threat of years ago, and Allen would have been a nice piece up front. Unfortunately, he was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot a few weeks ago.
22. Miami Dolphins: T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
(ACTUAL PICK: CHARLES HARRIS, OLB, MISSOURI) Almost everyone agrees that Watt should have been taken higher in the draft, but how much higher? Could he have eased into a role with the Dolphins as a situational third-down rusher?
23. New York Giants: Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
(ACTUAL PICK: EVAN ENGRAM, TE, MISSISSIPPI) Giants general manager Jerry Reese was crushed for his handling of the offensive line this offseason. It was generally viewed as a poor class, though I wonder if, given another chance, he would have taken a chance on Robinson here. The Alabama product has fared well despite some difficult circumstances in Jacksonville.
24. Oakland Raiders: Shaquill Griffin, DB, Central Florida
(ACTUAL PICK: GAREON CONLEY, CB, OHIO STATE) Griffin may have climbed into the second round or even late first if he was spotted and studied a little earlier in the process. The Raiders needed help at corner badly, and Griffin has performed well for the Seahawks so far.
25. Houston Texans: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
(ACTUAL PICK: WATSON with the No. 12 pick via trade with Browns) This isn’t a knock on Trubisky as much as it’s a reflection of which teams—and which offenses—actually needed quarterbacks. If the Chiefs never made their power move for Mahomes, how differently may the draft have worked out?
26. Seattle Seahawks: Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA
(ACTUAL PICK: Seahawks traded out of the first round) Dan Quinn sure seems to be enjoying McKinley. I’m sure Kris Richard and Pete Carroll would enjoy seeing him whip around the edge of their defensive line, too.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Adoree Jackson, cornerback, USC
(ACTUAL PICK: PATRICK MAHOMES, QB, TEXAS TECH with No. 10 pick via trade with Bills) Before the Chiefs stunned the NFL with a draft day trade, cornerback was atop their priority list. Would Jackson have been an upgrade opposite Marcus Peters?
28. Dallas Cowboys: Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
(ACTUAL PICK: TACO CHARLTON, DE, MICHIGAN) Jerry Jones gets a second chance at a ‘War Daddy’ pass rusher. Harris has a lot of veteran competition for snaps in Miami.
29. Green Bay Packers: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
(ACTUAL PICK: Packers traded out of the first round) The premature end to Cook’s season was another blow to an NFL looking to showcase their young stars. Knowing what Green Bay knows now, I wonder if Cook fits their ideal mold of pass catcher and stinging runner.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
(ACTUAL PICK: T.J. WATT, OLB, WISCONSIN) Ben Roethlisberger reportedly wanted a tight end this offseason. Engram, who is morphing into more of a thick No. 1 wideout for the Giants, would have been an exciting pairing in Pittsburgh.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Gareon Conley, DB, Ohio State
(ACTUAL PICK: TAKKARIST MCKINLEY, DE, UCLA with No. 26 pick via trade with Seahawks) Would Dan Quinn have passed up a six-foot-plus cornerback with first-round upside? Conley has looked good in limited opportunities (92 snaps) so far this year.
32. New Orleans Saints: Chidobe Awuzie, DB, Colorado
(ACTUAL PICK: RYAN RAMCZYK, OT, WISCONSIN) In real life, the Saints did the hard work and scouted out the clubhouse leader for defensive rookie of the year. If things didn’t break their way, would they have given Awuzie a shot?
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