NFL DRAFT DO-OVER: Using 20/20 hindsight to relive Round 1 of the 2014 draft

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Odell Beckham became the first player in NFL history to rack up 1,300 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns in his first three seasons (2014-16). But is he still the most celebrated wideout of the 2014 draft class?

BATSBY Sports offers a whimsical ‘do-over’ of the 2014 NFL Draft, where the clubs are hypothetically granted a short-term window to revisit their Round 1 choices. 

To clarify, we’re not re-arranging the slot swapping that occurred leading up to the draft six years ago – namely Buffalo’s big trade with Cleveland, moving up to the No. 4 overall spot. 

We’re simply offering some of these forlorn franchises the chance, relatively free and clear, to make new selections, if desired.

As we move closer to the April 25-27 draft (Las Vegas), we’ll explore more do-over drafts from prime years.

2014 DO-OVER DRAFT: ROUND 1

1. DT AARON DONALD, TEXANS
ACTUAL PICK: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
ANALYSIS: 
Around this time six 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 franchise; but let’s be clear here: Aaron Donald has been the greatest player of this gifted class

Donald’s been a one-man wrecking crew for the Rams defense, corralling five 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, Auburn
ANALYSIS:
 Mack certainly qualifies as a reasonable facsimile to Donald. Three-time All-Pro, five Pro Bowls and one Defensive Player of the Year honor. 

Charting his last five seasons (three with Oakland, two with Chicago), Mack has been a consistent dynamo, averaging 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 21 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 prize, after losing out on Donald and Mack.

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 game high in the draft. 

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.

Of course, we could easily argue if Beckham, even in hindsight, deserves to be the first receiver taken from this draft. His numbers with the Giants and Browns have dovetailed in recent years … while the guys listed below have exhibited no signs of slowing down.

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 six straight seasons of 1,000 yards receiving and 118-plus targets.

(Evans would have been an easy lock for 140 targets in 2019, but a late-season injury curtailed his progress.)

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 (Texas A&M)
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 DAVANTE ADAMS, BUCCANEERS
ACTUAL PICK: WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

ANALYSIS: It took a few years for Adams to assert his NFL dominance with the Packers, but the results are certainly on par with the other prodigious receiving talents from this draft.

In fact, it’s fair to wonder if Adams (four-year average: 86 catches, 134 targets, 1,066 yards, 10 TDs) won’t have the best overall numbers a decade from now.

Perhaps worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame down the road.

As for Tampa Bay, it’s quite the recovery to lose Mike Evans in this hypothetical exercise … and then end up with Adams in the aftermath. Not bad.

8. OT TAYLOR LEWAN, BROWNS
ACTUAL PICK: CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

9. LB ANTHONY BARR, VIKINGS
ACTUAL PICK: Barr
(UCLA)

10. WR JARVIS LANDRY, 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 six years ago. 

As a Plan C, Detroit could have opted for the local greatness of Lewan (University of Michigan) 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. Landry, a five-time Pro Bowler (with the Dolphins, Browns), has proffered three seasons of 90-plus catches, three years of 1,000-plus yards and three campaigns of 140-plus targets.

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. 

The reward would have been just as fulfilling in the do-over draft, with Tennessee landing Martin – a four-time All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowler and the third-most valuable player from the 2014 draft, according to Pro Football Reference. 

12. WR SAMMY WATKINS, GIANTS
ACTUAL PICK: WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

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 third-most valuable asset from the 2014 draft. 

Well, the others with a top-4 standing involve Aaron Donald (duh), Khalil Mack (duh, part deux) and Mosley – a four-time Pro Bowler and remorseless tackling machine.

(Mosley’s freak end-zone injury last September robbed him of making a supreme contribution with the Jets in Year 1.)

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 (back then) had yet to hire Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. 

(Fangio now serves as the Broncos’ head coach.)

Covering the last three seasons with the Cowboys (2017-18), Lawrence holds superb averages of 2.7 forced fumbles, 10 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hits.

 As such, it’s easy to see why Dallas didn’t really sweat the recent $100 million extension for the former second-rounder (34th overall).

15. LB RYAN SHAZIER, STEELERS
ACTUAL PICK: Shazier (Ohio State)
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 vaunted Patriots.

17. CB KYLE FULLER, RAVENS
ACTUAL PICK: LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama
ANALYSIS:
 Gee, what a shock. The Ravens are both proficient with real-world and hindsight drafts.

Instead of landing Mosley, a high-end asset from the 2014 class, Baltimore finds gold with Fuller, one of the league’s best cover cornerbacks.

In his last two seasons with the Bears, Fuller (one All-Pro honor, two Pro Bowl berths) holds robust averages of five interceptions and 17 pass deflections, while posting an elite-level number with Pro Football Reference’s Average Annual Value metric.

18. QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO, BEARS
ACTUAL PICK: S Calvin Pryor, Louisville
ANALYSIS: 
Six years later, it’s fair to wonder about the composition of the Bears’ initial scouting report with Garoppolo, an Eastern Illinois alum in the mold of Tony Romo, Sean Payton and Mike Shanahan.

In hindsight, Garoppolo could have been the heir apparent of Jay Cutler, who would spend three more seasons in Chicago (2014-16). Instead, Jimmy G served at the hand of Tom Brady … before being dealt to the Niners for a measly second-round pick.

Fast forward to the present: Garoppolo has one of the NFL’s best winning percentages for quarterbacks with 30-plus starts.

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.

Of course, Atlanta fans’ love affair might have ceased in recent months, now that Freeman has been heavily affected by injuries for back-to-back campaigns (2018-19).

20. WR BRANDIN COOKS, SAINTS
ACTUAL PICK: Cooks (Oregon State)

21. OT JUSTIN BRITT, PACKERS
ACTUAL PICK: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama

22. QB DEREK CARR, BROWNS
ACTUAL PICK: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
ANALYSIS:
 The Browns weren’t necessarily wrong to draft a quarterback at the 22nd slot six 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 imploring/convincing owner Jimmy Haslam to grab Manziel on Draft Eve? 

Bottom line: Bortles, Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were the three quarterbacks taken in Round 1. But Carr leads the entire 2014 pack in passing yards, passing touchdowns and starter’s victories.

23. DE DEE FORD, CHIEFS
ACTUAL PICK: Ford (Auburn)

24. LB TELVIN SMITH, BENGALS
ACTUAL PICK: CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

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).

Now for the bad part: Smith retired after the 2018 season, thus obliging us to drop him from an original value of 17 … to the mid-20s for this hypothetical re-draft.

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. 

And last year with the Bears, Robinson rolled for 98 catches, 154 targets, 1,147 yards and seven TDs.

So, what prevented him from being a Round 1 selection six 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 (along with Greg Olsen) … which should scare every defense that didn’t fully account for quarterback Cam Newton’s scrambling prowess and bazooka-like throwing arm (when healthy).

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).

However, 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 had been somewhat erratic within the Denver (and now Houston) secondaries.

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 six 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.

Is Bortles a better quarterbacking prospect than Bridgewater, at this very second?

That’s a judgment call, given the latter’s unimpeachable success as Drew Brees’s injury replacement this past season (5-0 as the starter).

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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