1. DT AARON DONALD, TEXANS
ACTUAL PICK: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
ANALYSIS: Around this time five years ago, the Texans were reportedly torn between Clowney (hailed as a once-in-a-generation talent) and Khalil Mack, an explosive athlete who dominated his competition at the University of Buffalo.
(Remember Mack’s highly disruptive outing against Ohio State in 2013? Wow.)
Either pick would have been a boon for the
Donald’s been a one-man wrecking crew for the Rams defense, corralling four All-Pro honors, five Pro Bowl berths and back-to-back awards for NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2017 and 2018).
2. LB KHALIL MACK, RAMS
ACTUAL PICK: OT Greg Robinson,
ANALYSIS: Mack certainly qualifies as a reasonable facsimile to Donald. Three-time All-Pro, four Pro Bowls and one Defensive Player of the Year honor.
Charting his last four seasons (three with Oakland, one with Chicago), Mack has been a consistent dynamo, averaging 12.3 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and 24 quarterback hits during his prolific stretch.
As for Greg Robinson … can you believe it?
The Rams have drafted poorly at No. 2 overall twice since 2009 (offensive tackles Robinson and Jason Smith); and yet, these epic fails didn’t prevent the franchise from experiencing elite-level success during the Sean McVay/Todd Gurley/Jared Goff era.
3. DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY, JAGUARS
ACTUAL PICK: QB Blake Bortles, UCF
ANALYSIS: The 2014 Jaguars seemingly did everything right in the days leading up to the draft.
They quickly targeted Bortles as their quarterback of the future … and then executed a disinformation plan within the media, in terms of expressing interest in others but coveting Bortles all along.
Great plan on paper. In reality, though, the Jaguars would have been better off chasing Aaron Donald at No. 3; and for this exercise, Clowney (highly productive with tackles for loss, sacks and QB hits) would have been a terrific consolation
4. WR ODELL BECKHAM, JR., BILLS
ACTUAL PICK: WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
ANALYSIS: The Bills were certainly on the right path five years ago, in terms of emphasizing the vertical passing
However, there’s no defending the selection of Watkins (zero 70-catch seasons, erratic with TD production) over Beckham, the only player in NFL history to collect 90-plus catches, 1,300-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns in his first three seasons.
5. WR MIKE EVANS, RAIDERS
ACTUAL PICK: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
ANALYSIS: In the real world, Evans rates as one of the most bankable assets in today’s game, posting five straight seasons of 1,000 yards receiving and 120-plus targets.
But ay the rub. Evans has never cracked the 100-reception mark in a single season; and he’s yet to produce double-digit touchdowns in back-to-back campaigns.
Plus, Evans’ catch-to-target numbers have fallen considerably short of 60 percent over the last two seasons.
If these nitpicks resemble more of a fantasy football rant … then you’re absolutely right.
6. OT JAKE MATTHEWS, FALCONS
ACTUAL PICK: Matthews
ANALYSIS: Let’s not quibble here, when pitting Matthews versus Taylor Lewan.
Lewan has more Pro Bowl berths and a higher annual average salary than Matthews … but the Falcons O-tackle has tallied stronger career metrics with Pro Football Reference.
7. WR BRANDIN COOKS, BUCCANEERS
ACTUAL PICK: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
8. OT TAYLOR LEWAN, BROWNS
ACTUAL PICK: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
9. LB ANTHONY BARR, VIKINGS
ACTUAL PICK: Barr
10. WR DAVANTE ADAMS, LIONS
ACTUAL PICK: TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
ANALYSIS: History won’t be kind to the Detroit Lions, who had the Hall of Fame choice of either Aaron Donald or Odell Beckham five years ago.
As a Plan C, Detroit could have opted for the local greatness of Lewan at left tackle.
Instead, the Lions broke one of the cardinal rules of drafting: Don’t waste a high pick in Round 1 on a tight end … regardless of Ebron’s freakish athleticism.
The lesson here: Good-to-great tight ends can always be found on Day 2 of the draft.
However, history will be kind to the Lions for this exercise. Adams has been a top-five wideout for three years, averaging 87 catches, 1,089 yards and 12 touchdowns during this superb stretch.
11. OG ZACK MARTIN, TITANS
ACTUAL PICK: OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
ANALYSIS: The Titans fared very well in the actual draft, likely securing Lewan as their bookend left tackle for 10-12 years (if not longer).
12. WR JARVIS LANDRY, GIANTS
ACTUAL PICK: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
ANALYSIS: Confession time.
When Landry and Beckham were teammates at LSU, I thought Landry would be the better NFL asset, in terms of receptions and receiving yards.
My rationale: If Beckham could only muster four total touchdowns as a freshman and sophomore, how would he adjust to being The Man right away in the pros?
13. LB C.J MOSLEY, RAMS
ACTUAL PICK: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
ANALYSIS: We mentioned how Zack Martin currently stands as Pro Football Reference’s fourth-most valuable asset from the 2014 draft.
Well, the only ones with higher standing involve Aaron Donald (duh), Khalil Mack (duh, part deux) and Mosley – a four-time Pro Bowler and remorseless tackling machine.
14. DE DEMARCUS LAWRENCE, BEARS
ACTUAL PICK: CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
ANALYSIS: Lawrence would have been a perfect fit for the Bears, even though the club had yet to hire Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.
Covering the last two seasons with the Cowboys (2017-18), Lawrence holds elite-level averages of three forced fumbles, 12.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hits.
As such, it’s easy to see why Dallas didn’t sweat the recent $100 million
15. LB RYAN SHAZIER, STEELERS
ACTUAL PICK: Shazier
ANALYSIS: In a perfect world, Shazier never sustains a gruesome spine injury against the Bengals on national TV, effectively ending his NFL career.
That said, in this do-over environment, where it’s still implausible to predict catastrophic injuries, we’re confident the Steelers would have rolled the dice on Shazier’s athleticism, instincts, intellect and passion for the game.
Shazier could have been an annual Pro Bowler. It just wasn’t meant to be.
16. LB KYLE VAN NOY, COWBOYS
ACTUAL PICK: OG Zack Martin, Notre Dame
ANALYSIS: Remember how Cowboys owner Jerry Jones apparently had to be talked out of NOT drafting Johnny Manziel at this spot in 2014, even though the club still had quarterback Tony Romo in his relative prime?
In the real world, the Cowboys made the easy selection of Zack Martin for the offensive line.
For this exercise, however, we have zero interest in reviving the Manziel talk. Instead, let’s go with a later-bloomer selection in Van Noy, who was a flop with the Lions … but a blue-chip defender for the world champion Patriots.
17. LB TELVIN SMITH, RAVENS
ACTUAL PICK: LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
ANALYSIS: Smith was easily the best sleeper of the 2014 draft, outperforming his fifth-round status with stat-sheet-stuffing goodness in the categories of interceptions, forced fumbles, pass deflections, quarterback hits/pressures … and tackles (five straight seasons of 100-plus).
Give credit where it’s due: The Jaguars really did their homework with this remarkable hidden gem from Florida State.
18. QB DEREK CARR, BEARS
ACTUAL PICK: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
ANALYSIS: Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater ended up as the three quarterbacks taken in Round 1.
But Carr leads the entire 2014 pack in passing yards, passing touchdowns and starter’s victories.
19. RB DEVONTA FREEMAN, DOLPHINS
ACTUAL PICK: OT Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
ANALYSIS: Sorry, Falcons fans. In this exercise, the Dolphins collect the spoils of assigning a first-round grade to Freeman, who owned supreme averages of 54 catches, 1,452 total yards and 12 touchdowns from 2015-17.
For the sake of Atlanta fans, let’s hope Freeman’s recent bouts with injury vanquish soon.
20. WR SAMMY WATKINS, SAINTS
ACTUAL PICK: WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
21. OT JUSTIN BRITT, PACKERS
ACTUAL PICK: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
22. QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO, BROWNS
ACTUAL PICK: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
ANALYSIS: The Browns weren’t necessarily wrong to draft a quarterback at the 22nd slot five years ago. They just didn’t do enough prep work on Manziel, who quickly devolved into a trainwreck after leaving college.
Which brings us to this: The Cleveland security staff also deserves a D-minus grade for its pre-draft research on Manziel.
Or maybe the ownership and front office didn’t take the reports seriously come draft day?
How else to explain the legendary tale of a homeless man convincing owner Jimmy Haslam to grab Manziel on Draft Eve?
3. DE DEE FORD, CHIEFS
ACTUAL PICK: Ford
24. CB KYLE FULLER, BENGALS
ACTUAL PICK: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
25. OT JA’WUAN JAMES, CHARGERS
ACTUAL PICK: DB Jason Verrett, TCU
26. WR ALLEN ROBINSON, EAGLES
ACTUAL PICK: DE Marcus Smith, Louisville
ANALYSIS: Robinson averaged 87 catches, 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns his final two seasons at Penn State.
So, what prevented him from being a Round 1 selection five years ago?
A 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash can be a deal-breaker with nervous general managers … but not with this exercise. Enjoy, Philly fans!
27. OT MORGAN MOSES, CARDINALS
ACTUAL PICK: S Deone Bucannon, Washington State
28. TE ERIC EBRON, PANTHERS
ACTUAL PICK: WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
ANALYSIS: Ebron would have been a perfect fit with the Panthers, capitalizing on his name-brand prowess from the college days.
Of equal importance, Carolina would have had the NFL’s best 1-2 punch at tight end … which should scare every defense that doesn’t fully account for quarterback Cam Newton’s scrambling prowess, along with his success on planned runs up the gut.
29. DE STEPHON TUITT, PATRIOTS
ACTUAL PICK: DT Dominique Easley, Florida
30. LB AVERY WILLIAMSON, 49ERS
ACTUAL PICK: S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
31. RB CARLOS HYDE, BRONCOS
ACTUAL PICK: CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
ANALYSIS: The Broncos were loaded with quality backs in 2014 (C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball); but with Ebron and Allen Robinson off the ‘do-over’ board, let’s roll with Hyde (1,000-yard, 8-TD potential when healthy) over offensive guard Joel Bitonio and the cornerback Roby, who’s been somewhat erratic in Denver’s secondary.
32. QB BLAKE BORTLES, VIKINGS
ACTUAL PICK: QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
ANALYSIS: Bortles would have had decent odds of becoming a success story in Minnesota five years ago.
Back then, the Vikings had the superior offensive line and better running game (Adrian Peterson in his relative prime), compared to the Jaguars.
Although, if memory serves, 2014 ended up as Peterson’s parental-paddling suspension year … meaning he would suit up just once during that season.