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This offseason, Bleacher Report is imagining how every NFL draft this century would go down if teams could jump into Dr. Emmett L. Brown’s retrofitted DMC DeLorean and go back in time.
What if they could all set the flux capacitor for April 24, 2004?
In our opinion, you’d end up with three legendary quarterbacks in the top four, an often-overlooked signal-caller joining them in the top 10 and five undrafted players in Round 1.
Here are the specifics in a first-round re-draft that includes four quarterbacks, four wide receivers, two running backs, two tight ends*, four offensive linemen, 10 front-seven defenders and six defensive backs.
*Depending on how you view Jason Peters
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What actually happened: Drafted QB Eli Manning
Where Roethlisberger was actually picked: 11th overall by the Steelers
This is complicated and was likely to be controversial no matter how it was sliced.
Former San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith continues to insist he has no regrets over drafting Eli Manning—who didn’t want to play in San Diego—and flipping him to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers. So it’s still easy to see the Bolts doing that or simply taking Rivers, considering all of the success they had with him, but we don’t really have to cross that bridge because Ben Roethlisberger has had a better career than both.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round pick has the playoff and Super Bowl success to match Manning as well as the individual statistics to match Rivers (their career numbers are eerily similar).
He’s the only player from this draft class who has been a Pro Bowler more than five times and won a Super Bowl. He took the Steelers to three Super Bowls in his first seven seasons. And while he’s never been a Super Bowl MVP like Manning, his consistent success trumps Eli’s flashes in the pan.
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What actually happened: Drafted OT Robert Gallery
Where Manning was actually picked: First overall by the Chargers
Again, championships notwithstanding, Rivers has experienced a far better career than Manning. Twice as many Pro Bowls, a stronger winning percentage and significantly superior rate-based numbers would likely give him the edge before considering Manning’s two Super Bowl MVPs.
But if Rivers could never get to the Super Bowl with the extremely talented Chargers, he likely wouldn’t have been able to deliver a title to an Oakland Raiders team that was never particularly good over the next decade.
Instead, the Raiders would be better off rolling the dice in hopes that Manning’s Super Bowl magic might have worked for them once or twice, just as it did for New York Giants teams that were never dominant.
Regardless, it’s gotta be one of those legendary quarterbacks over Gallery, who never made a Pro Bowl in eight NFL seasons.
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What actually happened: Drafted WR Larry Fitzgerald
Where Fitzgerald was actually picked: Third overall by the Cardinals
Although you could argue that circumstances would have changed if the Steelers, who beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, never had Roethlisberger, this does sort of feel like a concession that the Cards won’t rewrite history with a championship between 2004 and today.
But by retaking Fitzgerald, they at least bolster their chances of still making it to that game in February 2009.
They could go with Rivers, but he wouldn’t have been a significant upgrade over Kurt Warner when Arizona was a contender in 2008 and 2009 or Carson Palmer when the team made another run in 2015. Plus, if you add Rivers in place of those guys, you lose Fitzgerald, who has made a class-leading 11 Pro Bowls during a Hall of Fame career.
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What actually happened: Drafted QB Philip Rivers
Where Rivers was actually picked: Fourth overall by the Giants
I mean, this is technically the guy the Giants drafted. And under these circumstances, Rivers is clearly the best option. The Giants would just have to hope he’d have been able to replicate Manning’s playoff success in 2007 and/or 2011, or lead them on championship runs in other seasons in which Rivers was a standout quarterback and Manning was not (2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013, for example).
There are no other logical options in this spot for the G-Men, who wouldn’t likely be able to flip Rivers for Manning or Roethlisberger this time.
For what it’s worth, they’re trading in the 45th-highest-rated passer in NFL history for a quarterback with a top-10 career passer rating.
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What actually happened: Drafted S Sean Taylor
Where Taylor was actually picked: Fifth overall by the Redskins
I wouldn’t dare mess with this pick. The revered Taylor had become a superstar when he was tragically murdered in a botched burglary in 2007. Gone before his 25th birthday, he’ll always be a Redskins legend.
The team didn’t experience a lot of success during his four years there, but that likely wouldn’t have been any different with any of the other players still on the board. So there’s no reason to tinker here.
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What actually happened: Traded back, drafted WR Roy Williams seventh overall
Where Peters was actually picked: He wasn’t
Jason Peters might have technically been listed as both a tight end and an offensive tackle, but it’s funnier to call him a tight end because that’s where he did most of his work at Arkansas before he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills and eventually moved to tackle.
Incredibly, 16 years later, Peters has Hall of Fame credentials as a still-active nine-time Pro Bowler with a pair of first-team All-Pro nods.
The Detroit Lions have been relatively well-served over the years by left tackles Jeff Backus, Riley Reiff and Taylor Decker, but those guys made a combined zero Pro Bowls in nearly two decades at the position. Peters would have been a massive upgrade in most of those seasons, giving him a slight edge over top alternative Jared Allen, who was a first-team All-Pro four times but didn’t have close to as much longevity.
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What actually happened: Traded up, drafted TE Kellen Winslow II sixth overall
Where Allen was actually picked: Fourth round by the Chiefs
Allen was the only four-time first-team All-Pro from this draft class, so this represents superb value for a Cleveland Browns team that severely lacked talented pretty much everywhere in the years to come.
Cleveland’s defense would soon sadly call Kamerion Wimbley its top pass-rusher, but Allen could have changed that from the get-go. He could have taken that defense to a new level right up until his last of eight double-digit-sack seasons in 2013.
The now-disgraced Winslow had just one special season amid a disappointing five-year run in Cleveland. Even if the Browns went offense, they’d have been better off with Wes Welker or Matt Schaub. But Allen was a higher-impact player than either.
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What actually happened: Drafted CB DeAngelo Hall
Where Welker was actually picked: He wasn’t
Hall wasn’t a bad selection here for the Atlanta Falcons, but the organization drafted wide receiver Michael Jenkins later in this very round. At the time, the Falcons were a playoff-caliber team relying on Peerless Price, Dez White and Brian Finneran at that position.
The only player in NFL history with five 110-catch seasons led the league in that category three times in a career that included five Pro Bowl nods and two first-team All-Pro honors. He also had three 100-yard performances in the playoffs and played in three Super Bowls.
Might as well swing the bat at that instead of Hall, who shined in Atlanta but couldn’t prevent the team from missing the playoffs in three of his four years there.
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What actually happened: Drafted WR Reggie Williams
Where Schaub was actually picked: Third round by the Falcons
This one might raise some eyebrows because Vince Wilfork, Tommie Harris, Bob Sanders and a lot of other players still on the board were much better players than Schaub. But even a decent quarterback can be a bigger difference-maker than an elite defensive player, and Schaub eventually proved he could be a steady if not spectacular starting signal-caller.
In his first full season with the Houston Texans, the Virginia product was a Pro Bowler with the league’s seventh-highest passer rating. Two years later, he led the league with 13.9 yards per completion, and the year after that he made it back to the Pro Bowl while leading the Texans to a 12-4 record.
This move by the Jacksonville Jaguars would at least give them a significant upgrade over Byron Leftwich, David Garrard and, eventually, Blaine Gabbert. It also would have enabled them to draft someone other than Gabbert with a top-10 pick in 2011.
Plus, it would have the added benefit of robbing a division rival of its future starting quarterback. That’s worth passing on some of the intriguing defensive players still available for a team that missed badly with the Williams pick in the first place and already had plenty of talent on D.
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What actually happened: Drafted CB Dunta Robinson
Where Wilfork was actually picked: 21st overall by the Patriots
Wilfork coincidentally enjoyed his twilight with the Texans, who probably would have loved to have him during his six-year prime in which he made five Pro Bowls for the New England Patriots from 2007 to 2012.
He was a first-team All-Pro once and a second-teamer three times, and the Texans could have used his massive presence next to Mario Williams and in front of DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing.
Especially considering Robinson was never a star beyond a standout rookie season, this is an obvious re-draft decision for Houston.
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What actually happened: Drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger
Where Parker was actually picked: He wasn’t
With Roethlisberger now a Charger, it’d be hard for the Pittsburgh Steelers to again win Super Bowls in 2005 and 2008 in this alternate timeline, but drafting Willie Parker would at least allow them to keep a star offensive player from both of those Super Bowl teams.
The undrafted North Carolina product compiled 548 scrimmage yards in those two playoff runs. He also went over 1,400 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive seasons from 2005 to 2007, making the Pro Bowl twice in that span.
Fast Willie wasn’t elite beyond that, and he never played again after 2009, but for several years he was one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL. The Steelers can’t afford to give him up.
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What actually happened: Drafted LB Jonathan Vilma
Where Phillips was actually picked: Fourth round by the Chargers
Until they’re chosen, everybody in this range will strongly consider Harris and Sanders, both of whom were superstars for short periods. But we’re going in a different direction for the New York Jets, mainly because they weren’t consistently competitive at the time and might instead benefit more greatly from the addition of a player who was at his best when they went to back-to-back AFC title games at the end of the decade.
Not only was Shaun Phillips good enough to help the Jets right away, but he also could have been a true difference-maker on those playoff runs. He forced a league-high seven fumbles in 2009 and made the Pro Bowl with 11 sacks the following year. Nobody on the team had more than six sacks that season.
Vilma wasn’t a bad pick either. In fact, he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in ’04. But he didn’t stick with the Jets. That’s their mistake, but this re-draft isn’t about correcting the errors they made in the 2008 offseason.
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What actually happened: Drafted WR Lee Evans
Where Dansby was actually picked: Second round by the Cardinals
The Buffalo Bills didn’t make the playoffs in any of the next four seasons and had a losing record in three of those campaigns. That’s the window in which Harris and Sanders were at their best, and at the time the Bills already had Sam Adams, Lawyer Milloy and Troy Vincent in those spots.
So we’ll again focus on longevity over concentrated dominance by giving the Bills linebacker Karlos Dansby, who intercepted as many passes in 2015 as he did in 2005 (three in each campaign). The Auburn product never peaked to the same degree as Harris or Sanders, but he had 11 90-plus-tackle seasons.
Dansby finished his career with at least 20 picks, sacks and forced fumbles, six defensive touchdowns, more than 1,400 tackles and 193 starts. That’s more valuable to the Bills than short-term success from better players.
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What actually happened: Drafted DT Tommie Harris
Where Sanders was actually picked: Second round by the Colts
Harris can’t drop beyond the Chicago Bears team that went to Super Bowl XLI partly as a result of his contributions, can he? It’s a toss-up between Harris and Sanders, who likely would have given just as big a boost to that defense when he was a first-team All-Pro in 2005 and 2007.
We’ll roll with Sanders over Harris mainly because the former peaked higher when he was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. And while it’s true the safety out of Iowa was injured for most of the 2006 season before his Colts beat the Bears in that Super Bowl, he played in the playoffs and had an interception in that title-winning game—and Harris was also sidelined with an injury down the stretch that year.
Maybe both players’ fates would have changed under these circumstances. The Bears might be willing to find out.
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What actually happened: Drafted WR Michael Clayton
Where Harris was actually picked: 14th overall by the Bears
Harris was at his best in 2005 and 2007, which also happen to be the only two seasons in which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made the playoffs since 2003. Could Harris have put them over the top as an upgrade over Anthony McFarland in ’05 or Chris Hovan in ’07?
Maybe, maybe not. But it’s worth finding out.
The Oklahoma product edges Hall, who intercepted a combined 11 passes in those two seasons, but the Bucs already had Ronde Barber leading a pretty strong secondary.
Regardless, either would beat out Clayton. The former LSU standout went over 1,100 yards as a rookie and then never hit the 500-yard mark again in his career.
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What actually happened: Traded back twice, drafted WR Rashaun Woods 31st overall
Where Hall was actually picked: Eighth overall by the Falcons
By trading back here, the San Francisco 49ers at least added eventual longtime starting cornerback Shawntae Spencer in Round 2. But Hall was about a billion times better than Spencer, and Woods caught just seven passes in his NFL career.
Spencer was never a Pro Bowler. He picked off 11 passes in nine pro seasons. Meanwhile, Hall had 12 picks in his first three years alone and was a three-time Pro Bowler who retired with 43 picks.
The 49ers weren’t good at the time, but Hall also had the staying power to remain a factor when they became competitive in the Jim Harbaugh era.
He easily beats out intriguing front-seven defenders Will Smith, Darnell Dockett and Vilma, none of whom would have been as helpful because the 49ers were already stacked up front during that competitive window.
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What actually happened: Drafted LB D.J. Williams
Where Smith was actually picked: 18th overall by the Saints
Williams had a solid career with the Denver Broncos, but he was hardly ever a standout player, and Denver didn’t do a lot of winning during his career. So it would make sense for the Broncos to go in a different direction with a bigger defensive difference-maker like Smith.
The 2006 Pro Bowler had a pair of double-digit-sack seasons, he forced six fumbles as a rookie in 2004, and he was a key puzzle piece when the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009.
He was never a superstar, but the Ohio State product would have fit in nicely alongside Reggie Hayward in the early days and Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller later on.
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What actually happened: Drafted EDGE Will Smith
Where Dockett was actually picked: Third round by the Cardinals
With that Super Bowl XLIV experience in mind, the Saints surely would have reselected Smith had he not been stolen by the Broncos. And while the next logical pick might be fellow 2009 Saint Jonathan Vilma, Darnell Dockett was simply a better player that year.
Both Vilma and Dockett made the Pro Bowl in 2009 (and on two other occasions each), but Dockett was a second-team All-Pro with seven sacks and 16 quarterback hits. He could replace some of the pass-rushing prowess lost with Smith, and he’d provide a hell of an upgrade over Remi Ayodele or Sedrick Ellis.
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What actually happened: Traded back, drafted EDGE Kenechi Udeze 20th overall
Where Gamble was actually picked: 28th overall by the Panthers
Vilma would make sense as the best defensive player available for the Vikings, who unfortunately didn’t get much out of Udeze. But E.J. Henderson was emerging as a steady middle linebacker at this point, so they’d be better off looking for a long-term option to team up with veteran Antoine Winfield in coverage.
Enter cornerback Chris Gamble, who intercepted 13 passes in his first two seasons in the NFL and remained an effective starter into the next decade. He wasn’t a star, but his coverage presence and playmaking ability would come in handy for a defense that often had a revolving door in the spot opposite Winfield.
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What actually happened: Traded up, drafted OT Vernon Carey 19th overall
Where Vilma was actually picked: 12th overall by the Jets
Carey was an unspectacular starter for the Miami Dolphins for the remainder of the decade, but that was a stretch during which Miami won zero playoff games. Might as well go in a different direction in hopes that somebody more accomplished could have put you over the top when you had a winning record in 2005 and 2008.
One of the few three-time Pro Bowlers still available in this spot, Vilma can’t drop any further. Sure, the Dolphins would have had to get creative with Zach Thomas already on the roster, but imagine those two together with overlapping primes, plus Jason Taylor on the edge.
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What actually happened: Drafted DT Vince Wilfork
Where Starks was actually picked: Third round by the Titans
With Wilfork long gone, it’s the next defensive tackle up for the New England Patriots. And no, Randy Starks never peaked as high as Wilfork, but those are the breaks when you’re redrafting in the bottom 12.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Starks had 42 sacks and made 147 starts during an underrated 12-year career in Tennessee, Miami and Cleveland. You know Bill Belichick would have figured he could get even more out of him in New England.
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What actually happened: Traded out of Round 1, acquired a first-round pick in 2005
Where Jackson was actually picked: 24th overall by the Rams
This pick essentially became defensive end Marcus Spears when the Cowboys used Buffalo’s first-round selection on him in 2005. Losing Spears hurts a tiny bit, but it’s important to note that the other key player Dallas landed in that trade with Buffalo was running back Julius Jones.
All the more reason the Cowboys wouldn’t again pass on a sliding Steven Jackson, who was dropping in the actual draft because of concerns regarding a knee injury.
Jones had a so-so four-year run as the team’s go-to back, but he never excelled like Jackson. The three-time Pro Bowler went over 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons with the Rams. Dallas could have used a weapon like that when Jones and Marion Barber failed to ignite the running game during a competitive window that lasted the remainder of the decade.
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What actually happened: Drafted DT Marcus Tubbs
Where Vasher was actually picked: Fourth round by the Bears
When they lost Super Bowl XL to the Steelers, the Seattle Seahawks’ starting cornerback opposite the magnificent Marcus Trufant was the ordinary Andre Dyson. Imagine how much better off Seattle would have been with Nathan Vasher in that spot.
The Texas product didn’t have a long starting career in the NFL, but he made the Pro Bowl with eight interceptions and two forced fumbles in that 2005 season. He would have provided a huge upgrade opposite Trufant, and he certainly would have made a bigger difference than Tubbs, who recorded just seven sacks and 60 tackles in three NFL campaigns.
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What actually happened: Traded back, drafted RB Chris Perry 26th overall
Where Smith was actually picked: Second round by the Jaguars
That rare first-round trade for the Cincinnati Bengals was a mistake, as Perry started just nine games in four seasons with the team. Turns out, the Bengals could have traded back and still landed a player like Daryl Smith, who started 184 games over 13 seasons with the Jaguars, Ravens and Buccaneers.
Smith wasn’t a game-changer, but the Georgia Tech product registered more than 30 sacks, a dozen picks and over 1,000 tackles during that run. His staying power counts for something, as he could have helped a Bengals team that was competitive on and off for a decade to come and was never loaded with talent at linebacker.
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What actually happened: Drafted CB Ahmad Carroll
Where Snee was actually picked: Second round by the Giants
At this point, the Green Bay Packers were on the verge of cutting ties with aging guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle. In 2005, they’d turn things over to Scott Wells (who eventually jumped to center), and they didn’t have a ton of continuity at that position in the years to come.
They could have gotten that from Chris Snee.
Excluding punter Andy Lee, Snee is the last remaining member of this draft class to make three or more Pro Bowls. He in fact made four during a 10-year career that included two championships and 141 regular-season starts.
Considering that Carroll lasted less than three years in Green Bay, it’s not a tough call.
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What actually happened: Traded up, drafted RB Steven Jackson 24th overall
Where Adams was actually picked: He wasn’t
This isn’t a sexy pick for the St. Louis Rams, but safety Mike Adams can offer the team the critical advantage of longevity.
After all, the Rams were about to embark on a 13-year stretch without a winning season. Nobody re-drafted 26th overall could have made much of a difference during those dark ages, but Adams was so effective for so long that he could have helped when the Los Angeles Rams began to contend midway through the teens.
The recently retired Delaware product was a Pro Bowler with the Colts in 2014 and 2015, and he started 16 games for the Panthers in 2018.
Plus, maybe now, the undrafted Adams wouldn’t be overlooked early in his career.
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What actually happened: Traded out of Round 1 in exchange for picks in Rounds 2, 3 and 4 (there was also a pick swap with the Texans in Round 5)
Where Williams was actually picked: Seventh overall by the Lions
No trade option here, so the Tennessee Titans instead address a receiving corps that lacked top-end talent at the time with Roy Williams, who happened to play with eventual Titans starting quarterback Vince Young when the two were at Texas.
For what it’s worth, Tennessee missed the playoffs by one game in 2006, which was Williams’ best season as a pro. The original top-10 pick made the Pro Bowl with more than 1,300 yards that year, while the Titans’ leading receiver, Drew Bennett, caught 46 passes for 737 yards and three touchdowns.
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What actually happened: Traded up, drafted G Shawn Andrews 16th overall
Where Evans was actually picked: 13th overall by the Bills
The trade up for Andrews was bad for a Philadelphia Eagles team that fell just short of winning the Super Bowl in 2004 despite the fact that it didn’t receive any legit contributions from first- or second-round rookies. Andrews did earn a couple of Pro Bowl nods later in his tenure with the Eagles, but he made just 50 starts in Philly and didn’t amount to much beyond that.
Instead, since the Eagles can benefit from hindsight and see that top receiver Terrell Owens will break his leg down the stretch, they’d be better off taking Lee Evans in this spot.
The Wisconsin product went over 1,000 yards just twice in his career, but he put up 843 yards and scored nine touchdowns as a rookie in Buffalo, with 336 of those yards and six of those touchdowns coming in December.
He would earn reps with Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell.
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What actually happened: Traded out of Round 1 in exchange for picks in Rounds 2 and 4 (there was also a pick swap with the Falcons in Round 3)
Where Scott was actually picked: Fifth round by the Colts
Nobody can replace Sanders here, but the Indianapolis Colts can at least grab another player from this draft class who was a key member of that 2006 Super Bowl team.
Jake Scott started all 20 regular-season and playoff games that year, and he didn’t miss a single start during a stable seven-year run in Indy and Tennessee. He was never a big name but was one of the team’s most reliable players during a competitive stretch.
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What actually happened: Traded out of Round 1 in exchange for picks in Rounds 2 and 4
Where Clabo was actually picked: He wasn’t
There’s also no replacing Allen if you’re the Kansas City Chiefs in this spot, so again we’ll go the boring-but-helpful route with an undrafted offensive lineman who crushed expectations as an eight-year starter in Atlanta and Miami.
The Chiefs were competitive in 2005, 2006 and 2010, and they either lacked stability or top-end talent at the right tackle position in all of those campaigns. Tyson Clabo might have helped with that, especially when he was a Pro Bowler in 2010.
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What actually happened: Traded up, drafted CB Chris Gamble 28th overall
Where Hardwick was actually picked: Third round by the Chargers
Gamble’s gone, so the Carolina Panthers might instead be smart to consider who might have been able to help them when they made a run to the NFC Championship Game in 2005, and possibly when they went 12-4 but lost in the 2008 divisional playoffs.
Center Nick Hardwick was a quality starter in both of those seasons in San Diego, and he could have brought some stability to an interior offensive line that lacked continuity for several years.
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What actually happened: Drafted TE Benjamin Watson
Where Cooley was actually picked: Third round by the Redskins
The Patriots oughta be thinking here about who could have put them over the top in 2005, 2006 and 2007 after they won back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004. And while Watson was a solid tight end, Chris Cooley was better during that particular stretch.
The two-time Pro Bowler went over 700 yards in four consecutive seasons with the Redskins and was at his best when the Pats fell just short of another championship in ’07 (786 yards and a career-high eight touchdowns).
New England’s only completion to a tight end in that crushing Super Bowl loss was a three-yard pass to Kyle Brady.