A Draft Do-over for Every NFL Team
What an individual or an organization thinks is amazing in the moment doesn't always age well.
Here's to those of you who rocked a mullet, wore Zubaz pants and enjoyed ice-cold Zimas. Cheers.
Those were superficial mistakes based on trends. Those poor decisions didn't cost anyone their jobs (well, hopefully not). Mistakes during the NFL draft have far-reaching repercussions that can span decades, thus costing multiple decisions-makers their jobs.
No general manager is perfect, because talent evaluation is an inexact science. Everyone misses on certain picks. But some stick out far more than others. These can be defined as franchise-altering events and can't easily be forgiven.
To this day, organizations still wonder what would have happened if they didn't pass on Dan Marino, Randy Moss or Warren Sapp. Don't worry, each of those names will make an appearance a little later. The thought of passing on a Hall of Fame talent for an eventual first-round draft bust has to keep general managers up at night.
It's happened to every franchise, though. The following revisits each team's worst draft-day decision and the prospect who was the right choice at the time.
Arizona Cardinals Draft Chris Jones Instead of Robert Nkemdiche (2016)
The Arizona Cardinals have a long history of poor first-round selections, but we don't have to go any further than Steve Keim's tenure to find some doozies.
Since Keim took over as general manager, the Cardinals have drafted Jonathan Cooper, Deone Bucannon, D.J. Humphries, Robert Nkemdiche, Haason Reddick and Josh Rosen.
But the 2016 draft really hurt when Arizona chose Nkemdiche with the 29th overall pick instead of Chris Jones, who came off the board eight picks later. Sadly, this could have been prevented if the Cardinals brass paid attention to the warning signs flashing around Nkemdiche. The defensive lineman lasted three seasons in the desert before being released.
Jones, a Pro Bowler in 2019, is now one of the league's best defenders and a consistent disruptive force. The Kansas City Chiefs think so highly of the defensive lineman that the organization used its franchise tag on him this offseason.
Atlanta Falcons Draft Tim Brown Instead of Aundray Bruce (1988)
Aundray Bruce is considered one of the worst No. 1 overall picks in NFL history.
The edge-rusher never became the disruptive force many envisioned when the Atlanta Falcons chose him at the top of the 1988 draft. Bruce managed 16 sacks in four seasons before leaving in free agency. The outside linebacker played 11 seasons yet never secured more than six sacks in any campaign.
The problem lies in what happened after Bruce's selection.
Fourteen of the 27 first-round picks, including five of the next eight choices, made at least one Pro Bowl. Three Hall of Fame inductees emerged, with Tim Brown being the first to come off the board.
Brown, who was the reigning Heisman Trophy winner at the time, went on to play 17 seasons with nine Pro Bowl nods and still sits seventh all-time with 14,934 receiving yards.
Baltimore Ravens Draft Randy Moss Instead of Duane Starks (1998)
A delineation was made in this instance where neither the Baltimore Ravens nor the Cleveland Browns would count toward the original franchise that birthed both organizations.
In truth, the Ravens have been one of the league's best at drafting since 1996. Very few outright whiffs can be found in a strong two-decade-plus effort. One glaring exception exists, though.
During the 1998 draft, the Ravens were counted among the teams that passed on Randy Moss. Obviously, Moss is one of the best—if not the greatest—wide receivers of all time. But he fell to the 21st overall pick because of character concerns.
What makes matters worse for the Ravens is they desperately needed wide receiver help after the team's leading wideout, Derrick Alexander, left in free agency, and Baltimore chose Patrick Johnson in the second round.
Neither the 10th overall pick, Duane Starks, nor Johnson lasted more than four seasons in Baltimore. Starks did snag 20 interceptions during his time with the Ravens, but he didn't prove to be a difference-maker.
Buffalo Bills Draft Odell Beckham Jr. Instead of Sammy Watkins (2014)
The Buffalo Bills searched for wide receiver help the last two offseasons and landed John Brown, Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs.
If the team made the correct choice six years ago, the franchise would already have one of the league's best wide receivers.
Instead, Buffalo traded up to the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft for wide receiver Sammy Watkins. As part of the deal, the Bills handed the Cleveland Browns a 2015 first-round draft pick.
Ironically, the Bills didn't need to trade up to land the best wide receiver in the class, since Odell Beckham Jr. was available with the ninth overall pick.
Watkins has posted one career 1,000-yard campaign with no Pro Bowl berths or All-Pro nods, whereas Beckham has compiled at least 1,000 yards in five of his six seasons while earning 2014 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and three Pro Bowl nominations.
Carolina Panthers Draft Marvin Harrison Instead of Tim Biakabutuka (1996)
In six seasons with the Carolina Panthers, running back Tim Biakabutuka never played a full 16-game slate or came close to eclipsing 1,000 yards.
The Panthers took the wrong approach with the 1996 draft class. Instead of trying to build upon a strength, then-general manager Bill Polian attempted to balance the offense by taking a running back with the eighth overall pick.
Whereas, the Panthers could have added a future Hall of Fame wide receiver to play alongside Mark Carrier.
Marvin Harrison, who sits ninth all-time with 14,580 receiving yards, came off the board 11 picks after Biakabutuka. Ironically, Harrison became an integral part of Polian's lone Super Bowl victory during his time as the Indianapolis Colts general manager.
If the Panthers were dead set on improving their ground attack, Eddie George would have been a better selection than Biakabutuka.
Chicago Bears Draft Patrick Mahomes Instead of Mitchell Trubisky (2017)
The Chicago Bears have a long and storied history, but the organization doesn't need to go back very far to find a massive draft mistake.
The team is still waiting on Mitchell Trubisky to prove himself after being the second overall pick in the 2017 class, while Patrick Mahomes, whom the Kansas City Chiefs drafted eight picks later, already became a league MVP and won a Super Bowl.
Chicago's front office grew so enamored with Trubisky that the team flipped extra third- and fourth-round selections, plus a 2018 third-round pick, to the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot and take the quarterback with the second overall pick.
Currently, Trubisky isn't even guaranteed a starting spot after the Bears traded for Nick Foles. Mahomes, meanwhile, is the best quarterback in the league and well on his way to a gold jacket in Canton.
Cincinnati Bengals Draft Steve McNair Instead of Ki-Jana Carter (1995)
The Cincinnati Bengals traded up to the first overall pick in the 1995 draft to select a [checks notes] running back.
Ki-Jana Carter was an excellent player at Penn State, but his professional career became marred by injuries. He lasted five years in Cincinnati with only 747 rushing yards. Injuries are unpredictable. At the same time, the Bengals could have gotten much better value from a prospect at a premium position.
At the time, former top pick David Klingler was coming off major elbow surgery, and Jeff Blake had yet to establish himself. Yet, the Bengals didn't select quarterback Steve McNair, who came off the board two picks later.
The Bengals wouldn't have been forced to immediately start the small-school prospect with Blake on the roster. But the team would have been much better off since Air McNair developed into a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback and a league MVP (2003).
All-Pro tackle Tony Boselli was an excellent alternative, too, though his career became marred by injuries, like Carter's.
Cleveland Browns Select Kurt Warner During 1999 Expansion Draft
A million different draft scenarios could have improved the Cleveland Browns' fortunes since the team returned in 1999, but the screw-ups started from the onset of the franchise's rebirth.
The St. Louis Rams made a future Hall of Fame quarterback available to the Browns during the team's 1999 expansion draft. Instead, the Browns never selected anyone from the Rams roster and chose quarterback Scott Milanovich from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers four picks later.
"Had I gone to Cleveland, how would my career be different? I have no idea," Warner told reporters during a Pro Football Hall of Fame conference call. "It would have been fun to win a Super Bowl in Cleveland, though. But I think when you're going through the process, and you get to this point I always felt like wherever I was, I would be successful."
All those years, the Browns struggled to find a quarterback because the organization bypassed the best available option long before the team's infamous jersey hung in a storefront.
Dallas Cowboys Draft Luke Kuechly Instead of Morris Claiborne (2012)
The Dallas Cowboys whiffed at the chance to secure one of the best defenders of his generation, because the organization decided a trade-up to acquire cornerback Morris Claiborne had more value than taking Luke Kuechly with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Kuechly abruptly retired after the 2019 campaign, but the impact he made can't be overlooked.
In eight seasons, the linebacker became the 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, earned seven Pro Bowl nods and developed into the standard by which all subsequent middle linebackers are judged.
Claiborne had one good season (of five) with Dallas before leaving in free agency and signing a minimal deal with the New York Jets.
Sure, the Cowboys were solid at linebacker at the time with the trio of Sean Lee, Dan Connor and Bruce Carter, but none of them came close to Kuechly's quality.
Denver Broncos Draft Rob Gronkowski Instead of Tim Tebow (2010)
Josh McDaniels basically ruined and built a coaching career with one failed draft pick.
McDaniels' fascination with Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to trade up for the left-handed, dual-threat quarterback. Neither Tebow nor McDaniels experienced much success in Denver. In fact, the 2010 campaign proved to be McDaniels' last with the organization, while Tebow was gone after one more season.
However, the coach experienced plenty of success as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. He did so with tight end Rob Gronkowski primarily serving as the unit's biggest receiving threat.
McDaniels could have traded up and selected Gronkowski instead of Tebow.
The Broncos would have landed the best two-way tight end in the game's history and wouldn't have been prevented from taking a far more effective dual-threat quarterback in Colin Kaepernick a year later instead of trading their second-round selection to the San Francisco 49ers, who then drafted the quarterback.
Detroit Lions Draft Ray Lewis Instead of Reggie Brown (1996)
Three linebackers came off the board before the Baltimore Ravens selected Ray Lewis with the 26th overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft.
Two of those franchises, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos can be somewhat excused. Kevin Hardy earned All-Pro honors during the 1999 campaign. Besides, he was an outside linebacker with the ability to rush the passer. The Broncos got eight seasons and an All-Pro effort (1997) out of John Mobley, who won two Super Bowls with the organization.
Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions will never know what Reggie Brown could have become, because the 17th overall pick in that draft suffered a spinal contusion during his second season and never played again.
Lewis, meanwhile, might be the greatest middle linebacker of all time. He spent 17 seasons as the face of the Ravens franchise, earned 13 Pro Bowl nods and became a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Green Bay Packers Draft Barry Sanders Instead of Tony Mandarich (1989)
Take your pick, Green Bay Packers fans, because the team couldn't have botched the 1989 NFL draft any worse than it did.
The top of that class is one of the most star-studded groups in league history. Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders are all household names and some of the greatest to ever play.
Yet, the Packers chose the "Incredible Bulk" Tony Mandarich with the second overall pick, thus passing on three of the previous four names. The heralded blocker found himself out of the league after four seasons before making a comeback at guard for the Indianapolis Colts.
In this case, Barry Sanders gets the nod over Thomas and Sanders, because the Packers had to face the game's niftiest runner twice per year for 10 spectacular seasons. To make matters worse, the 10-time Pro Bowl running back averaged 108.4 rushing yards in 19 career games against the Packers.
Houston Texans Draft Julius Peppers Instead of David Carr (2002)
The Houston Texans took the wrong approach with their first-ever draft pick. With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft, Houston chose quarterback David Carr.
Two mistakes were made at the time.
First, Carr wasn't the best available talent; Julius Peppers was. Second, the organization compounded the problem by not properly protecting Carr, thus ruining his chances of ever developing into a viable long-term starter.
Peppers wouldn't have suffered from the latter issue, because he turned into a game-wrecker opposing offenses had to account for at all times.
The 6'7", 295-pound defender possessed a rare blend of size, athleticism (former college basketball player) and power. Peppers' dominance led to being named to both the NFL 2000s and 2010s All-Decade teams. His 159.5 sacks through a 17-year career rank fourth all-time.
Carr spent more than half his career as a backup.
Indianapolis Colts Draft Russell Wilson Instead of Andrew Luck (2012)
When Andrew Luck entered the NFL, evaluators viewed him as the perfect quarterback prospect.
He had the requisite size, arm talent, movement skills and a brilliant mind in addition to experience in a pro-style scheme for the Indianapolis Colts to move on from Peyton Manning and not seriously consider anyone else with the first pick in the 2012 draft.
Luck put together an excellent career, but multiple injuries forced an early retirement.
Even if Luck continued his career, Russell Wilson is the best quarterback from their class.
Wilson broke down barriers. Quarterbacks under 6'2" simply weren't viewed as top prospects. The 5'11" signal-caller fell to the third round, where the Seattle Seahawks gladly drafted him.
Today, Wilson is a yearly MVP candidate, impossible to contain in the pocket and a top-two or -three quarterback. He won a Super Bowl, made seven Pro Bowls and once led the league in touchdown passes (2017).
Luck was good; Wilson is better and should have been the No. 1 pick.
Jacksonville Jaguars Draft Terrell Suggs Instead of Byron Leftwich (2003)
The Jacksonville Jaguars gave up on quarterback Mark Brunell a little too early when the organization chose Byron Leftwich with the seventh pick of the 2003 draft.
Leftwich took over as the Jaguars' first-string quarterback by the end of the first month of his professional career, and Brunell didn't start another game for Jacksonville.
Two years later, Brunell threw for 3,050 yards and a career-high 23 touchdowns as a member of the Washington Redskins. Leftwich never reached either of those numbers during his 10-year career.
Jacksonville should have capitalized on Brunell's last few quality years and chosen Terrell Suggs instead of Leftwich. Sadly, the Jaguars passed on the NFL's eighth all-time leading sack artist despite not having anyone on the roster eclipse 6.5 sacks during the previous season.
Maybe the future Hall of Fame edge-defender would still be leading Jacksonville's defense today.
Kansas City Chiefs Draft Jim Kelly Instead of Todd Blackledge (1983)
The famed 1983 quarterback class gave the NFL three Hall of Fame quarterbacks in John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
Unfortunately for the Kansas City Chiefs, the franchise chose Todd Blackledge with the seventh overall pick. The team's decision to pass on Marino can be rationalized since he tumbled all the way to the bottom of the first round, though then-head coach John Mackovic reportedly wanted Blackledge or Marino, per David Hyde of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The biggest issue stems from the Chiefs overlooking Kelly, whom the Buffalo Bills chose seven picks after Blackledge.
Kelly didn't want to play for the Bills and joined the USFL's Houston Gamblers. But the Chiefs weren't counted among the teams the quarterback said he didn't want to play for. Kansas City was in position to draft Kelly and have him for the entirety of his career.
Instead, Mackovic chose Blackledge, who lasted all of five years in Kansas City and never started more than eight games in a season.
Las Vegas Raiders Draft Calvin Johnson Instead of JaMarcus Russell (2007)
Former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis built a reputation on drafting the biggest and fastest athletes he could possibly find.
Davis had the opportunity to select the most physically imposing wide receiver of all time in Calvin Johnson yet decided to use the 2007 first overall pick on quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
Russell's lack of commitment to the game pushed him out of the league within four years.
The 6'5", 237-pound Johnson, aka Megatron, posted 1,000 or more receiving yards in seven of his nine seasons and led the league twice in the category. The wide receiver went to six Pro Bowls and became part of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team.
The Raiders actually had a competent starting quarterback option in Josh McCown when they selected Russell, while the team's wide receivers weren't optimal.
Los Angeles Chargers Draft Charles Woodson Instead of Ryan Leaf (1998)
Ryan Leaf is one of the NFL's all-time draft busts.
At the time, the then-San Diego Chargers were at the mercy of the Indianapolis Colts, who owned the first overall pick in the 1998 draft. The Colts chose Peyton Manning, while the Chargers settled on Leaf. The rest is history.
But the Chargers could have weighed other options and clearly should have.
Obviously, quarterback is always the priority when a team feels it doesn't have a legit franchise option. That's all well and good unless the options aren't necessarily on equal planes.
Charles Woodson came off the board two picks later. Woodson was the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and a special talent because of his versatility. While Leaf's career imploded, the defensive back excelled as a cornerback and safety. Woodson won the 1998 Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2009 Defensive Player of the Year awards along with being named to nine Pro Bowls.
Los Angeles Rams Draft Khalil Mack Instead of Greg Robinson (2014)
The 2014 draft turned into something special. Thirteen of the first 17 selections made a Pro Bowl in their first six seasons.
The then-St. Louis Rams made the first major mistake when the organization chose offensive tackle Greg Robinson with the second overall pick.
Robinson couldn't make the adjustments to the professional game despite his prodigious talent and disappointed at three different stops.
However, a potential Hall of Fame talent came off the board three picks later when the then-Oakland Raiders drafted Khalil Mack.The five-time Pro Bowl performer and 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is a wrecking ball off the edge. He's an elite pass-rusher and sets the edge as well or better than anyone currently in the NFL.
Yes, the Rams already had Robert Quinn and Chris Long, but the team could have added Mack and created an unblockable front seven.
Miami Dolphins Draft Matt Ryan Instead of Jake Long (2008)
The search for Dan Marino's replacement continues unabated.
The Miami Dolphins have gone through Jay Fiedler, Gus Frerotte, Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington, Trent Green, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and a few others sprinkled in among this motley crew.
In total, 21 different quarterbacks started a game since Marino retired after the 1999 campaign. The Dolphins should have a chance to address the issue in this year's draft, but the same goal could have been achieved 12 years ago.
The Dolphins owned the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft only to select left tackle Jake Long instead of quarterback Matt Ryan. Long was a good player with four Pro Bowl berths, but injuries derailed his career in Miami.
Ryan, on the other hand, is still playing at a relatively high level with nine straight 4,000-yard passing campaigns. The 2008 third overall pick even became the 2016 league MVP.
Minnesota Vikings Draft Michael Thomas Instead of Laquon Treadwell (2016)
In four seasons, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas shattered records with 470 receptions for 5,512 yards.
But he should have never made it to the Saints with the 47th overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Five other wide receiver prospects, including four in the first round, came off the board before Thomas heard his name called. Those four first-round targets—Corey Coleman, Will Fuller IV, Josh Docston and Laquon Treadwell—have combined to make 363 receptions for 4,821 yards.
Any of the teams that spent a first-round pick on a receiver other than Thomas should be put on blast. However, the Minnesota Vikings had the last chance among those squads to select Thomas but opted for Treadwell.
Of the four, Treadwell produced the least with 701 receiving yards. Ouch. He's now a member of the Atlanta Falcons.
New England Patriots Draft Ed Reed Instead of Daniel Graham (2002)
Just the mere thought of Bill Belichick concocting game plans with Ed Reed prowling the back line should send shivers down the spine of anyone who didn't work or root for the New England Patriots.
Two decades of dominance might have been even better if the Patriots wrote Reed's name down on the card instead of tight end Daniel Graham during the 2002 draft.
The greatest head coach of all time and de facto Patriots general manager didn't have the foresight to select Reed. Graham had a solid 11-year career, including the first five seasons in New England. But the tight end can't compare to the most instinctive free safety the game has ever seen.
Reed led the league in interceptions three times, earned nine Pro Bowl berths, became the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year and was included in the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Imagine Reed and Lawyer Milloy, then Rodney Harrison, leading the Patriots defense. Brrr.
New Orleans Saints Draft Troy Polamalu Instead of Johnathan Sullivan (2003)
The New Orleans Saints made a bold move during the 2003 draft to trade a pair of first-round picks and move from the middle of the frame to the sixth overall pick so the team could select defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan.
The Saints needed to trade up to acquire a generational talent in that class, but Sullivan wasn't the one.
The defensive tackle played three seasons in New Orleans and recorded a measly 56 total tackles and 1.5 sacks before being traded to the New England Patriots, who subsequently released him during the 2006 campaign.
Safety Troy Polamalu emerged as the class' real gem.
The long-haired Tasmanian Devil tortured opponents thanks to incredible instincts, spectacular sideline-to-sideline range and a knack for big plays. The defensive back went to eight Pro Bowls, won two Super Bowls and became the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year before being named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
New York Giants Draft Tony Gonzalez Instead of Ike Hilliard (1997)
The New York Giants' 1992 selection of tight end Derek Brown is considered one of the worst draft decisions in the franchise's near-century-long history.
The Giants didn't draft another first-round tight end until a decade later when Jeremy Shockey joined the squad.
But New York could have rectified two mistakes by selecting Tony Gonzalez instead of Ike Hilliard with the seventh pick in the 1997 draft.
Gonzalez's selection would have erased the stink of the previous Brown addition while simultaneously avoiding the addition of a mediocre wide receiver, who never posted a 1,000-yard campaign in eight seasons with the team.
New York's top two tight ends, Howard Cross and Aaron Pierce, combined for 197 receiving yards during the 1997 campaign.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, nearly doubled that number in his first season before going on to become the greatest receiving tight end in league history. The Hall of Famer still ranks sixth all-time with 15,127 receiving yards.
New York Jets Draft Dan Marino Instead of Ken O'Brien (1983)
The New York Jets haven't had a true franchise quarterback since Joe Namath left the organization 44 years ago. Sure, Sam Darnold brings promising potential, but the team hasn't seen consistent quality quarterbacking in nearly half a century.
It didn't have to be this way.
Seven years after Namath's departure, the Jets had an opportunity to draft the greatest pure passer in NFL history. Instead, the organization chose Ken O'Brien over Dan Marino with the 24th overall pick in the 1983 draft.
Questions about character forced Marino down boards as he became the sixth quarterback drafted in the famous class. Some made sense. John Elway and Jim Kelly are Hall of Famers. Tony Eason at least helped the New England Patriots reach a Super Bowl.
But O'Brien, who did make two Pro Bowls, paled in comparison to Marino, who left the game as its all-time leading passer.
Philadelphia Eagles Draft DeMarcus Lawrence Instead of Marcus Smith (2014)
Chip Kelly's tenure as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach got worse with each passing season, and an internal struggle between him and general manager Howie Roseman resulted in Marcus Smith becoming the 26th overall pick in 2014 draft.
Smith was never fully utilized during his time with the Eagles. In fact, he didn't play a full 16-game slate until the year after Kelly had been fired.
Organizational strife prevented the Eagles from identifying a superior edge-defender in DeMarcus Lawrence, whom the rival Dallas Cowboys chose eight picks later.
Smith is already out of the league after registering 6.5 career sacks, whereas Lawrence developed into one of the league's best pass-rushers with 30 sacks over the last three seasons.
Three years later, the Eagles drafted Derek Barnett in the first round in part because Smith did not work out in the team's favor.
Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Brett Favre Instead of Huey Richardson (1991)
The Pittsburgh Steelers organization signifies stability, consistency and a quality product over multiple decades.
Not every Steelers first-round pick worked out in the franchise's favor, but more hits than misses can be found.
The 1991 selection of Huey Richardson is the worst of the bunch, though.
Pittsburgh chose the linebacker with the 15th overall pick, yet the edge-defender played five games during one season with the Steelers before being traded to the Washington Redskins. In total, Richardson played in 16 contests before his career was over.
The pick itself is bad enough. The fact that the Steelers moved forward with Bubby Brister and Neil O'Donnell as their quarterbacks when Brett Favre was available in Richardson's draft class is even worse.
O'Donnell played in one Super Bowl; Favre brought the Lombardi Trophy home as a member of the Green Bay Packers during a decorated career as the NFL's greatest iron man.
San Francisco 49ers Draft Aaron Rodgers Instead of Alex Smith (2005)
Every NFL fan, member of the media, scout and general manager remembers Aaron Rodgers' excruciating wait to hear his name called during the 2005 draft. After all, he sat in the NFL's green room with every pained look broadcast for the world to see.
The San Francisco 49ers decided to select fellow quarterback Alex Smith over Rodgers with the first overall pick. Then, the famous first-round slide began, because other teams weren't searching for a signal-caller to their long-term dismay.
Smith went on to have a solid, albeit unspectacular, career with the 49ers before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Rodgers, whom the Green Bay Packers eventually chose with the 24th pick, is arguably the most gifted quarterback the league has ever seen with eight Pro Bowl appearances, two league MVPs, a Super Bowl XLV championship and a Super Bowl MVP.
The 49ers picked the wrong quarterback, and Rodgers made the rest of the league pay during his ongoing 15-year career.
Seattle Seahawks Draft Clay Matthews Instead of Aaron Curry (2009)
The hardest aspect of talent evaluation is looking into an individual's mindset to find out how much he loves the game.
Aaron Curry, whom the Seattle Seahawks drafted with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, wasn't passionate enough about football to maximize his prodigious talent.
"My goal was to get paid, and I got paid," Curry told Sports Illustrated's Jonathan Jones. "... I look back on it and I realize I was a victim of having a motivation that wasn't everlasting, that wasn't going to keep me going when things got hard. I had a goal that wasn't fulfilling."
Clay Matthews didn't have the same motivation. He comes from a football family. It's in his blood. And he played like it after the Green Bay Packers made him the 26th overall pick.
Matthews developed into everything Curry was supposed to be as a six-time Pro Bowler and the Packers' all-time sack leader.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Draft DeMarcus Ware Instead of Cadillac Williams (2005)
The butterfly effect from a single draft pick can sometimes be seen quite clearly.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose Auburn running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams with the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, though Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott were already on the roster. Pittman ran for nearly 1,000 yards the prior season.
Now it's easy to say, "But Williams won the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year."
Yet, both Simeon Rice and Greg Spires turned 31 during the 2005 campaign. The team wasn't fully prepared to transition at a premium position even though DeMarcus Ware remained available.
Williams' career never again reached the heights of his rookie season, while Ware became the NFL's ninth all-time leading sack artist with 138.5.
On top of that, Williams' presence caused the Bucs to pass on Adrian Peterson two years later. Why? The team needed defensive end help and chose Gaines Adams.
Tennessee Titans Draft J.J. Watt Instead of Jake Locker (2011)
The Tennessee Titans could have avoided so many headaches and plenty of disappointment if the organization chose defensive end J.J. Watt instead of quarterback Jake Locker in the 2011 draft.
Locker's last NFL season came six years ago, while Watt continues to perform at a high level during a highly decorated career.
The Houston Texans defensive end is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the 2010s All-Decade Team. Watt is currently tied with the Arizona Cardinals' Chandler Jones for fourth among active players with 96 career sacks.
The top of the 2011 NFL draft was absolutely loaded with the first seven selections making at least one Pro Bowl. Then, the Titans decided to jump the gun on a quarterback with the eighth overall pick, while a division rival drafted a future Hall of Fame defensive end three picks later.
Washington Redskins Draft Warren Sapp Instead of Michael Westbrook (1995)
Warren Sapp was arguably the best player in college football during the 1994 season. The defensive tackle earned unanimous All-America status and even became a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Yet, his draft stock plummeted after he reportedly failed cocaine and marijuana tests. The report proved to be erroneous, but the damage was already done. Sapp slipped to the 12th overall pick, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him and benefited from his Hall of Fame career.
NFL teams' inability to differentiate between false reports and actual facts has wrecked the draft stock of multiple talented players. The Washington Redskins may have been affected the most since the team passed on Sapp for Michael Westbrook, who never proved himself to be anything more than a middling wide receiver.
Some of the other teams in that year's top five can rationalize their selections. Washington can't.