As you can see while others have been looking to the future and what the draft could bring, we’ve instead been on a more sobering journey. We ran our Draft Grader series analyzing every pick, now we’re going to go back over the entire first round and draft the only way we can to guarantee success: in hindsight.
A simple enough concept, right? You have a time machine, you go back to April 2008 and you assume control of every franchise and their top pick. Knowing what we know about how players will perform and how their bodies will hold up, we then make the right pick for every team. Keep in mind that Cleveland did not have a first round pick as they traded up in 2007 with Dallas for Brady Quinn. There were 31 selections in the 2008’s first round with New England being penalized by the league office.
1. Jake Long, OT, Miami Dolphins
Key Stat: Since entering the league, has given up just 87 combined sacks, hits and hurries on 2,140 pass blocks. That’s a piece of pressure given up on just 4.2% of all pass plays he’s been on.
Notes: The only knock on Long is that a franchise left tackle, which he is, isn’t going to propel you to a Super Bowl, which he hasn’t. That said, he has joined a small group of elite left tackles who, when healthy, are rarely troubled in pass protection. An excellent pass protector, it’s odd to think that people believed Long would be more suited to life as a right tackle.
Re-Draft: As good as Long has been, you simply don’t miss an opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback like Matt Ryan. Even Bill Parcells hinted that skipping Ryan was a mistake this time last year.
2. Chris Long, DE, St Louis Rams
Key Stat: Led all defensive ends with 83 combined sacks, hits, and hurries in 2011. The next best was 70.
Notes: One of the league’s top pass rushers, Long has the kind of Jared Allen motor that makes him as dangerous on the last snap of the game as he is on the first, without much need for spelling. The one negative (and it is glaring) is how poor he is in run defense, adopting an approach that shows his clear priority is the quarterback.
Re-Draft: Pass rushers are very much at a premium in this league, so Chris Long remains the pick.
3. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Key Stat: Finished in the Top 6 of our QB rankings in three of his four years in the NFL.
Notes: Ryan needs to resolve those playoff questions, because that combined with a seeming reluctance to attack teams down the field leads to the Falcons’ franchise QB being something underrated. He has been one of the league’s best on third downs, but stagnated a tad in 2011.
Re-Draft: Building through the lines doesn’t hurt, so Jake Long makes sense.
4. Darren McFadden, HB, Oakland Raiders
Key Stat: Just 549 carries since being drafted as he’s had trouble staying healthy.
Notes: McFadden has looked very good at times, and he’s one of those backs who are a genuine homerun threat, but the lack of time on the field and him being something of a boom-or-bust runner makes you just want more out of him.
Re-Draft: If you need a running back you probably want to take the best available right? That’s Jamaal Charles.
5. Glenn Dorsey, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
Key Stat: Finished second among all 3-4 defensive ends with 32 defensive stops in the run game last year.
Notes: You want your choice in the first five picks of a draft to be an impact player. Dorsey hasn’t been that guy, though he has developed into a solid early-downs defender for the Chiefs who is as good against the run as he is ineffective rushing the passer. He simply doesn’t do a good job getting up field as evidenced by his zero sacks, two hits, and two hurries in 2011.
Re-Draft: A round earlier than the real thing, but Brandon Flowers is the top corner in the draft and one of the best players out there.
6. Vernon Gholston, DE, New York Jets
Key Stat: Managed just 19 QB disruptions in three seasons. Kamerion Wimbley managed 14 in one game last year.
Notes: The workout warrior looked great, but his play on the field was anything but. The Jets trusted him enough to give him 629 snaps over three years before finally cutting the cord on one of the biggest busts in recent memory.
Re-Draft: Anyone but Gholston, but it wouldn’t hurt to take advantage of Joe Flacco who would still be available. The Jets didn’t have Brett Favre on the roster at this stage, and even if they still wanted him, sitting Flacco for a year wouldn’t hurt.
7. Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans Saints
Key Stat: After having the sixth-most QB disruptions as all defensive tackles as a rookie, has failed to finish in the Top 20 since.
Notes: Ellis was meant to be that penetrating interior tackle that consistently pushed up field. He hasn’t, making plays here and there but spending an awful lot of time producing a whole lot of nothing. His work in the last three years has earned him overall negative grades each season.
Re-Draft: Not the greatest spot in the world to be drafting, New Orleans would be happy to end up with Carl Nicks given how important he would be to their running game.
8. Derrick Harvey, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Key Stat: Was on the field for just 92 snaps last year. For Denver.
Notes: He was the player who could get to Peyton Manning and close the gap on the Colts. So talented that the Jaguars gave up a first, two thirds, and a fourth round pick for him. Yet Harvey failed to be the guy Shack Harris envisioned him being. One of the biggest draft busts in Jaguars history. He managed just 73 combined sacks, hits, and hurries in three years before being released.
Re-Draft: For too long, Jacksonville has struggled generating pressure. Calais Campbell could provide some scheme versatility and some interior rush.
9. Keith Rivers, OLB, Cincinnati Bengals
Key Stat: Never managed more than 512 snaps in a season.
Notes: If you’re going to draft a linebacker this high, he needs to become the heartbeat of your defense, or a damn fine playmaker. Rivers, who struggled to stay on the field every year, was neither. You can partly blame it on injury, but he failed to assume an every-down role. Play on the field was normally of a good standard, but rarely stood out. He was just traded to the Giants for a 2012 fifth round draft pick.
Re-Draft: So much talent at the running back spot, the Bengals would be mad to miss out on Chris Johnson.
10. Jerod Mayo, ILB, New England Patriots
Key Stat: Led the Patriots in defensive stops the past two years.
Notes: Mayo hasn’t developed into a premier, playmaking linebacker, but he has managed to make himself a leader on the Patriots defense. A consistently good player once the ball is snapped, you’d hope for more out of a 10th overall pick, but can be content with what he brings to the table.
Re-Draft: With some problems at the linebacker spot, the Pats take the best one available. David Hawthorne.
11. Leodis McKelvin, CB, Buffalo Bills
Key Stat: Has given up 13 touchdowns and picked up just five picks since being drafted.
Notes: You wonder how much his 2009 injury took out of him, with McKelvin failing to ever really establish himself in Buffalo upon his return. It could be worse, but in a draft that featured a number of talented cornerbacks, McKelvin’s -10.7 overall rating over four years doesn’t impress.
Re-Draft: They were never going to give Jason Peters the deal he wanted, so they should have planned for the future and picked up Ryan Clady.
12. Ryan Clady, LT, Denver Broncos
Key Stat: After giving up no sacks as a rookie, has surrendered 20 in the three years since.
Notes: 2011 may have finally been the year where people realized Clady isn’t quite the premier left tackle his rookie “numbers” would suggest. Still a very talented player and capable pass protector, the Broncos left tackle earned a +24.7 grade in his first three years in the league before his down year in 2011.
Re-Draft: The glory days of Jay Cutler, so give him a field-stretcher like DeSean Jackson.
13. Jonathan Stewart, HB, Carolina Panthers
Key Stat: Stewart led our Elusive Rating in 2011, was ninth in 2010, tops again in 2009 and second as a rookie. A tackle-breaking machine.
Notes: If not for the presence of DeAngelo Williams and some injuries, you wonder just what Stewart could achieve. A real bruising back with breakaway speed, the Panther has forced 172 missed tackles in four years. A very talented running back.
Re-Draft: Too early for a safety like Kenny Phillips? Not with the guys the Panthers had back there.
14. Chris Williams, OT, Chicago Bears
Key Stat: The man drafted to be a franchise blindside tackle has spent just 414 career snaps at left tackle.
Notes: A bust pure and simple. Williams wasn’t meant to become a sub-standard left guard, he was meant to be an elite left tackle. He’s failed in that regard and in four years with the Bears amassed a grade of -40.3. Only three players have a worse grade.
Re-Draft: A round earlier than it played out, Matt Forte is a guy the Bears need.
15. Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Key Stat: Was 9th overall in our Pass Blocking Efficiency rankings for 2011.
Notes: The collegiate left guard has taken some time to adapt to life at tackle in the NFL, but the Chiefs have started to reap the rewards. Albert has got steadily better to the point he finished 2011 with a pass blocking grade of +8.9.
Re-Draft: After running Larry Johnson into the ground, it’s worth finding another guy to run the ball. Step forward Jonathan Stewart.
16. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Arizona Cardinals
Key Stat: Always something of a playmaker (not always in a positive sense), DRC has (including playoffs) 20 career interceptions, 48 pass break ups and allowed 21 touchdowns.
Notes: An incredibly frustrating player, Rodgers-Cromartie is one of the most talented cornerbacks in the league who has enough about him to match up with the opposition’s top receivers. But he’s also a player who makes an awful lot of mistakes and in his last year in Arizona visibly looked like he couldn’t be bothered at times.
Re-Draft: The Cardinals have struggled for the long time on their offensive line. Josh Sitton isn’t a sexy pick, but he’s an immediate upgrade.
17. Gosder Cherilus, OT, Detroit Lions
Key Stat: Yielded 150 sacks, hits and hurries since being drafted by the Lions. The scary thing is he’s averaged 38 QB disruptions allowed per year and shown no signs of improving on that.
Notes: Just a guy. Cherilus has neither overly embarrassed himself, nor has his play made him irreplaceable or a tackle you aren’t always thinking about upgrading on.
Re-Draft: If you really want a left tackle, then Branden Albert should be that guy.
18. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Key Stat: Flacco tallied a +8.3 grade for his work in the playoffs, and a -11.1 for the regular season last year.
Notes: Has been good enough for the Ravens, even if you could question his consistency as he regressed during the 2011 regular season. He has shown everything you’d want from a franchise quarterback, but hasn’t put it together in one season. Needs to be more consistent.
Re-Draft: No obvious quarterbacks available means the Ravens find a long-term every-down playmaker on offense in Ray Rice.
19. Jeff Otah, OT, Carolina Panthers
Key Stat: Has only managed 1,840 career snaps. Less than two seasons worth of work (including rookie season playoff games).
Notes: Chronic back problems have limited what Otah can do for the Panthers. That is a shame because when he’s been healthy, he’s played extremely well. His +11.0 grade is no joke, and Otah entered the league looking like the prototypical right tackle that could block going forward and on his heels.
Re-Draft: The Panthers were getting next to nothing from their interior pass rush. Jason Jones rectifies that.
20. Aqib Talib, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key Stat: Has only more than 60% of throws with him in primary coverage to be completed once (2009).
Notes: A headache off the field, Talib is talented enough to warrant during the assignment of a team’s No. 1 receiver in a league that lacks people who can do it. Unfortunately, while he can handle himself well, he has this nasty habit of giving up touchdowns which undoes a lot of his good work. Talib has allowed 19 in his four tours of duty.
Re-Draft: Brandon Carr is a talented cornerback who will give you no off the field problems.
21. Sam Baker, OT, Atlanta Falcons
Key Stat: Has picked up a -52.5 grade since being drafted. Only two players (an undrafted free agent and fifth-rounder) have scored worse.
Notes: Baker has played hurt at times and it’s shown. The big miss from the Falcons’ dream draft class of 2008, they just don’t seem to be able to give up on Baker no matter how much pressure he allows. Last year, that number was 28 sacks, hits, and hurries on just 242 pass blocks. Tyson Clabo gave up the same number on 635 pass blocks.
Re-Draft: Whoever ends up playing quarterback would like a mismatch at the tight end spot like Jermichael Finley.
22. Felix Jones, HB, Dallas Cowboys
Key Stat: In four years, has only managed more than 150 carries in a season once.
Notes: Jones may be a fine runner who can make defenders miss, but you only need to break down his season by season carries to question whether he’s really worth a first round pick. The Cowboys didn’t need a feature back at the time, but Jones’ inability to stay on the field has consistently prevented him being the kind of complement they likely envisioned him becoming.
Re-Draft: How much would Jerry Jones love a player like Darren McFadden?
23. Rashard Mendenhall, HB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Key Stat: Owner of our 12thl-highest rushing grade in 2011.
Notes: One of those workhorse backs who can handle a lot of carries, Mendenhall has been on the end of two injuries that have impacted (and look to further impact) his Steelers career. It’s something of a shame because he was getting better and better in the Black and Gold.
Re-Draft: John Sullivan would provide a long term solution to the Justin Hartwig problem.
24. Chris Johnson, HB, Tennessee Titans
Key Stat: 2,031. The number of yards Johnson managed in 2009.
Notes: When you have a talent like Johnson, you can be scared to take him off the field. At times that has been to everyone’s detriment, with the speedster still not particularly useful in passing situations. Still, you can’t deny his impact as a runner. Johnson has tallied four 1,000-yard seasons and established himself as one of the most feared running backs in the league. For the first time in his career, he’s working out with the team in the offseason.
Re-Draft: You can never have too many pass rushers, right? Like Cliff Avril.
25. Mike Jenkins, CB, Dallas Cowboys
Key Stat: Allowed just a 51.9% completion percentage in his coverage, but only picked off one ball and broke up five others while giving up four touchdowns in 2011.
Notes: After a strong 2009 campaign, Jenkins looked primed to become one of the league’s top cornerbacks. A poor 2010 followed by a decent 2011 aren’t exactly what Cowboys fans would have been hoping for. A competent starter, Dallas likely wanted Jenkins to be more of a difference-maker.
Re-Draft: Landing Stevie Johnson means they likely would have never traded for the former Lion, Roy Williams.
26. Duane Brown, OT, Houston Texans
Key Stat: The only starting tackle in the league to play more than six games and not give up a sack all year.
Notes: Brown was something of a project, that the Texans stuck with and are now reaping the rewards. Made our Second Team All-Pro in 2011 as Houston benefited from their patience in developing a player who was god awful when he first entered the league.
Re-Draft: They nailed it first time round. Duane Brown, you remain a Texan.
27. Antoine Cason, CB, San Diego Chargers
Key Stat: This cornerback has broken up 26 passes over the past two years.
Notes: There was a time when Cason looked swiftly on his way to bustville. Benched throughout 2009 and terrible when he actually made it onto the field. Cason finally turned his career around with a fine 2010, finishing the year with our 12th-highest grade in coverage. He didn’t have quite as good a year in 2011 but has turned into a mostly reliable starter.
Re-Draft: A middle linebacker group in transition, Jerod Mayo could slot in and immediately become an every down player.
28. Lawrence Jackson, DE, Seattle Seahawks
Key Stat: Managed just 39 combined sacks, hits and hurries as a Seahawk. In two years as a Lion, as a backup playing less snaps, Jackson has pulled in a total of 44.
Notes: There are a number of reasons why it didn’t work out for Jackson in Seattle (some of which we discussed with Jackson), but fundamentally it just wasn’t a match. Constantly changing coaching staffs, injuries, and being used out of position left Jackson something of an afterthought who has since flourished in Detroit.
Re-Draft: There was a definite lack of talent on offense, and while they handed Julius Jones some money, Rashard Mendenhall would have offered a better return.
29. Kentwan Balmer, DE, San Francisco 49ers
Key Stat: Two seasons with the 49ers resulted in just one hit, two hurries, and six defensive stops.
Notes: A rare big miss from the 49ers, Balmer looked terrible nearly every time he hit the field. Traded two years after being drafted, Balmer was even worse in Seattle who likely rued wasting a sixth round pick on a non-entity like the former 49er. Played in different schemes and been poor regardless.
Re-Draft: In the middle of a change to a 3-4, Kendall Langford would make a nice bookend to Justin Smith.
30. Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets
Key Stat: Has dropped 27 passes, but forced 24 missed tackles since entering the league.
Notes: You can’t deny that Keller makes some plays, but a history of dropped passes and poor run blocking have seen him rarely live up to the status as a former first round pick. May consistently be among the league leaders for tight ends when it comes to yards, when you factor in his all-around game and how much the ball is thrown to him, you’d want more.
Re-Draft: David Harris needs an active linebacker who takes blocks on head on to get the best out of him. Curtis Lofton could be that guy.
31. New York Giants, S, Kenny Phillips
Key Stat: Finished with a positive grade in every single year.
Notes: Phillips has gone about quietly making himself one of the most reliable safeties in the league. Before 2011, we hadn’t exactly seen him making plays, but neither had he been exposed like the majority of safeties seem to be. Last year, however, he finished with four interceptions and five more pass break ups on his way to our sixth-highest grade of all his peers.
Re-Draft: A team that could use some safety help, Tyvon Branch is one of the best players left on the board.