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What might have been: NFC West edition

Posted by Doug on May 2, 2009

In the comments to Chase's post on the Jets' draft, football historian extraodinaire and p-f-r friend Sean Lahman pointed out that the Jets drafted Ken O'Brien, Al Toon, and Blair Thomas instead of Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, and Jerry Rice. That prompted me to investigate other teams who might have just missed on all-time greats. It was so much fun that I decided to turn it into an eight-part series, looking at one division at a time. For no particular reason, I'll lead off with the NFC West.

Although it might make sense in some cases to look at the player(s) drafted immediately after a particular pick, I'm going to limit my attention to players at the same position. For example, in 1996, the Eagles took guard Jermane Mayberry one pick before the Ravens took Ray Lewis. Passing on Ray Lewis is never a good idea, but I'm not going to kill the Eagles for that pick. Instead of comparing Mayberry to Lewis, I'll compare Mayberry to the next guard taken, who happened to be the undistinguished Jason Layman. In that light, the Mayberry pick looks OK. I understand that that's an arbitrary choice, but it makes the comparisons a little cleaner. These are supposed to be fun posts, not serious analysis.

Before I get to it, let me first just say for the record that I understand that each team's draft board and draft strategy is different, and just because Layman was the next guard taken after Mayberry in no way means that the Eagles were sitting there on the clock trying to decide between Mayberry and Layman. So please understand that

Team X drafted Player Y instead of Player Z


Team X passed on Player Z to take Player Y

are merely shorthand for

Team X drafted Player Y, and the very next player taken at Player Y's position in that draft was Player Z

Again, this is just for fun.


In the big picture, Seahawk fans really don't have too much to complain about draft-wise, but Seattle's 1981 draft is perhaps one of the worst what-might-have-beens there is. And the killer is that it actually wasn't that bad of a draft. It's just that the guys they passed on turned out to be much better.

With the fourth overall pick, Seattle took Kenny Easley, who was a terrific player. About the only guy that could make Easley look like a bad pick is Ronnie Lott, who was the next defensive back taken, at #8 by the 49ers. The Seahawks next two picks were running back David Hughes and guard Bill Dugan. The next RB and guard taken were James Wilder and Russ Grimm. So instead of Lott, Wilder, and Grimm, they end up with Easley, Hughes and Dugan. The rest of the draft was full of less dramatic misses, but ones that could have changed the Seahawks fortunes in the 1980s: Seahawk draftees Steve Durham, Brad Scovil, Jim Stone, and Jeff Whatley started a total of zero NFL games, while the players at the same positions drafted immediately afterward --- Pete Kugler, Pete Holohan, Stump Mitchell, and Mike Wilson --- would all end up being multiple year starters in the NFL.

Astute readers will of course realize that these what-if games can boomerang back in the other direction as well. Had the Seahawks taken James Wilder or Stump Mitchell in 1981, they might not have taken John L. Williams a few years later, and I don't think Seahawk fans would trade Williams for anything. Even Ronnie Lott.


Lots to choose from here.

In 1986, they took Colin Scotts instead of Henry Thomas and Kelly Stouffer instead of a case of Busch (the respectable Chris Miller was the next quarterback taken), and in 1987 they took Tony Jeffery just two picks ahead of Buffalo's selection of Thurman Thomas. In 1999, they took Johnny Rutledge and Tom Burke just ahead of Joey Porter and Chike Okeafor.

Ultimately, I chose the three-year period from 1976 to 1978. In 1976, the Cards took tackle Brad Oates three picks before the Rams took Hall of Famer Jackie Slater. Their first round pick the following year was quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz. The next quarterback taken was Tommy Kramer, who had a pretty nice career, but between Jim Hart and Neil Lomax, quarterback was the least of the Cardinals' worries. But they also passed on Joe Klecko in favor of Ernest Lee. Finally in 1978 they took defensive back Jimmy Childs and tight end Joe Mosley, neither of whom ever started an NFL game, ahead of 8-year starter Mike Renfro and 6-year starter Bruce Hardy.


The biggie is drafting linebacker Mel Owens in 1981 when the next linebacker selected would be Mike Singletary. But Owens wasn't terrible and there were 30 picks between the two, so it's hard to be too tough on the Rams for that.

From 2001 to 2003, Rams passed on:

Marcus Stroud, Nate Clements, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Morlon Greenwood, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Ty Warren, and Terence McGee

in favor of:

Damione Lewis, Adam Archuleta, Ryan Pickett, Brian Allen, Francis St. Paul, Lamar Gordon, Jimmy Kennedy, and DeJuan Groce.

[Note that I'm lumping all defensive backs into one big pile, hence the Clements-for-Archuleta suggestion, which you may or may not consider appropriate.]


If you want to let your imagination run wild, consider this: the year before Joe Montana was drafted, the 49ers passed on Ozzie Newsome to take Ken MacAfee. In the same draft, they took Dan Bunz instead of a guy who would turn into one of the eight best linebackers of the 1980s.

From 1991 to 1993, the 49ers drafted some good defensive players: Ted Washington, Merton Hanks, Dana Stubblefield. But they could also have had William Thomas, Dale Carter, Chris Slade, Ray Buchanan, and Chidi Ahanotu. Instead they ended up with Mitch Donahue, Dana Hall, Todd Kelly, Adrian Hardy, and Artie Smith. So here is the defensive starting lineup for the 1993 Faux-ty Niners (har har):

Line: Dana Stubblefield, Ted Washington, Chidi Ahanotu
Linebackers: Chris Slade, William Thomas, Bill Romanowski, Mike Walter
Backs: Eric Davis, Dale Carter, Tim McDonald, Merton Hanks (Ray Buchanan is the nickel back).

The only non-pro-bowlers there are Ahanotu and Walter, and they started 236 career games between them.