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Redrafting the 2008 NFL Draft

With a decade of hindsight, how would teams have valued guys like Joe Flacco, Calais Campbell, and Matt Ryan?

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

In football years, one decade might as well be a century. Ten years ago, the wildcat ripped the league in half, Aaron Rodgers made his first start for the Packers, Brett Favre played 16 games for the Jets, the Patriots missed the playoffs, and most shocking of all, Jeff Fisher coached a team that won—you’re really not gonna believe this—13 whole games. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, then you don’t know where you’re going. So, to better understand what’s ahead in 2018, we’re spending this week looking back on what happened 10 years before. Welcome to 2008 Week!


The 2008 NFL draft produced a future league MVP, a Super Bowl–winning quarterback, a handful of star running backs, and a few top-tier offensive tackles. It featured a few mega-busts, too. Now 10 years gone, the 2008 class stands out as, well, neither great nor terrible. But how different would it look if teams could take a mulligan and, knowing what we know now, do it all over? Here’s how the first round might go down.

1. Miami Dolphins: QB Matt Ryan, Boston College

Original pick: OT Jake Long, Michigan

This is the list of quarterbacks who’ve started for the Dolphins since the 2008 draft: Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill, and Jay Cutler. Long was hardly a bust, but this swap is a no-brainer: Ryan’s thrown for more than 41,000 yards and 260 touchdowns in his 10-year career, and was the league’s MVP for the Falcons in 2016.

2. St. Louis Rams: DE Calais Campbell, Miami

Original pick: DE Chris Long, Virginia

The big, 6-foot-8, 300-pound defensive lineman out of Miami (originally chosen by the Cardinals with the 50th overall pick) is as disruptive as they come: He’s collected 71.0 sacks, 45 pass deflections, 11 forced fumbles, and three picks in his 10-year career, winning All-Pro honors three times (two second team, one first team). He finished tied for second in the league in sacks last year (14.5) for the Jaguars at 31 years old.

3. Atlanta Falcons: OT Ryan Clady, Boise State

Original pick: QB Matt Ryan, Boston College

With Ryan off the board, the Falcons instead shore up their left tackle spot a little early (the first time around, they chose tackle Sam Baker with their second first-rounder). Clady’s career was cut short by injury (he played eight seasons) but he was a top-echelon tackle in his prime, going to four Pro Bowls while being named All-Pro three times.

4. Oakland Raiders: QB Joe Flacco, Delaware

Original pick: RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas

This might feel high for a quarterback who’s really struggled the past few years, but Flacco’s an upgrade at the most important position in sports, not only over then-starter JaMarcus Russell (who’d be done in Oakland by the end of the 2009 season), but also the never-ending turnstile of signal-callers that came after him until the Raiders drafted Derek Carr in 2014. Flacco was a solid starter early in his career, posting strong numbers in the postseason (particularly in 2012, leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl win), and while he might not be anything more than a long-term bridge to Carr in this scenario, that role still might be worth that no. 4 overall pick. Flacco’s position here is a testament to just how valuable a quarterback is—even a thoroughly average one—and Oakland’s chances to contend during the lean years from 2008 to 2015, when the team finished no better than third in its division, could’ve improved substantially with a little stability at the position.

5. Kansas City Chiefs: RB Jamaal Charles, Texas

Original pick: DT Glenn Dorsey, Louisiana State

This is sort of ass backward, considering the Chiefs originally got Charles in the third round. But had Kansas City known just how good he’d become, it would’ve made sense to take the future foundation of its offense this early. Charles provided the Chiefs a dual-threat weapon out of the backfield, slippery as a runner and silky smooth as a pass catcher. If Charles is indeed done (he’s still a free agent), he’ll finish his career first among all running backs in the modern era with a 5.4 yards per carry average—better even than the great Jim Brown.

6. New York Jets: CB Aqib Talib, Kansas

Original pick: DE Vernon Gholston, Ohio State

A secondary built around Talib and the then-23-year-old Darrelle Revis would’ve been one to watch. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound corner has racked up 34 picks and 117 pass deflections in his career thus far, and is still going strong. Instead, Gholston went on to become one of the worst first-round busts in league history, recording zero sacks in three seasons with the team.

7. New Orleans Saints: DE Cliff Avril, Purdue

Original pick: DT Sedrick Ellis, USC

The Saints offense led the league in scoring in 2008, and Drew Brees became just the second quarterback ever (Dan Marino was the first) to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. But that squad really could’ve used some help on defense. Ellis never lived up to his billing, playing just five years in the league, and Avril could’ve provided a nice boost to the team’s pass rush. The former Seahawk and Lion flew under the radar for most of his career, but according to the Football Outsiders Almanac, he was one of only two players in the NFL to notch at least five sacks in every year from 2008 to 2016. In his career, he’s collected 74 sacks and forced an incredible 30 fumbles.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars: OG Josh Sitton, Central Florida

Original pick: DE Derrick Harvey, Florida

The Maurice Jones-Drew–led Jaguars offenses of the late-2000s would have benefited from another rugged and versatile lineman like Sitton, who’s gone to four Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro three times.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: ILB Jerod Mayo, Tennessee

Original pick: OLB Keith Rivers, USC

Mike Zimmer’s Bengals defense might’ve been even stronger had the team invested in Mayo over Rivers in 2008. Mayo played his entire eight-year career with the Patriots, going to the Pro Bowl twice while racking up 535 tackles as the anchor in the middle of the New England defense.

10. New England Patriots: WR Jordy Nelson

Original pick: ILB Jerod Mayo, Tennessee

With Mayo off the board, the Patriots go with a deep playmaking heir to Randy Moss, who’d be gone midway through 2010. Nelson’s caught 550 passes for 7,848 yards and 69 touchdowns in his career, and would’ve been a reliable option down the sideline and in the red zone for Tom Brady.

Note: New England traded for this pick. The team surrendered its first-round pick in 2008 as part of the punishment for the Spygate scandal, which is why the first round of this draft had only 31 selections.

11. Buffalo Bills: DE Chris Long, Virginia

Original pick: CB Leodis McKelvin, Troy

McKelvin turned into a solid pro, but where the 2008 Bills really lacked teeth was up front, finishing tied for 28th in sacks that season. Long never lived up to his billing as the no. 2 overall pick, but he’s put together a long, productive career, totaling 63.5 sacks and 13 forced fumbles with three teams (including key roles on two straight Super Bowl squads).

12. Denver Broncos: OT Duane Brown, Virginia Tech

Original pick: OT Ryan Clady, Boise State

With Clady off the board, the Broncos settle for another long-term starter at the position. Durable and tough, Brown’s been one of the most reliable blindside protectors in the game over the past decade, and has been named to four Pro Bowls and won All-Pro honors twice.

13. Carolina Panthers: OT Jake Long, Michigan

Original pick: RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon

The Panthers took explosive runner DeAngelo Williams in the first round just two years earlier, so while Stewart’s had an incredibly impressive career, a top-tier right tackle like Long, who went to four Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro twice, likely provides a bigger impact in both the run game and passing attack. Long would’ve made for a nice bookend right tackle opposite Jordan Gross (Jeff Otah, who the team selected with the 19th overall pick, would last just three seasons in the league).

14. Chicago Bears: RB Matt Forte, Tulane

Original pick: OT Chris Williams, Vanderbilt

Like the Charles pick, this is another bizarro redraft scenario in which the Bears have to use a higher pick on a player they originally got later. But giving up that draft capital would be worth it: Forte became one of the premier hybrid running backs in the league, capable of carrying the ball between the tackles or catching a pass on the outside. He finished his career with nearly 9,800 rushing yards and more than 4,600 receiving yards, totaling 75 scores through land and the air.

15. Kansas City Chiefs: WR DeSean Jackson, Cal

Original pick: OT Branden Albert, Virginia

The combination of peak Dwayne Bowe and elite deep threat DeSean Jackson could’ve been a lot of fun for Chiefs fans. In his prime, Jackson was the league’s most dangerous downfield threat, capable of getting behind a defense on every snap. Oh, and he was also an electric, albeit unconventional, return man—just ask the Giants.

16. Arizona Cardinals: RB Chris Johnson, East Carolina

Original pick: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State

CJ2K is known mostly for his 2,006-yard, 14-touchdown sophomore campaign, but he enjoyed a long and productive career well after that seminal season. In all, he racked up 9,651 yards on the ground, another 2,255 yards as a receiver, and 64 touchdowns. He could’ve been an excellent complement to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in the Kurt Warner–led offense.

17. Detroit Lions: CB Brandon Carr, Grand Valley State

Original pick: OT Gosder Cherilus, Boston College

The Lions went 0-16 in 2008, so really they could’ve used a good player at just about any position at this spot. Cherilus had a good career, but considering Detroit picked off a league-low four passes during its groundbreaking winless season, I think the Lions could’ve used a playmaking corner like Carr here instead. He’s proved to be a versatile cover man, and has racked up 19 interceptions and 123 pass deflections in his career.

18. Baltimore Ravens: OT Branden Albert, Virginia

Original pick: QB Joe Flacco, Delaware

With Flacco gone, the Ravens grab a quality tackle instead. Albert started 118 games in his career and went to the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2015.

19. Carolina Panthers: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State

Original pick: OT Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh

Starting corner Ken Lucas would go on to sign with the Seahawks in 2009, making Rodgers-Cromartie a high-quality, versatile successor to a key role in Carolina’s secondary. Rodgers-Cromartie, who earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2016 and has gone to two Pro Bowls, has 30 picks, six defensive scores, and 150 pass deflections on his résumé.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Pierre Garcon, Mt. Union

Original pick: CB Aqib Talib, Kansas

Talib’s long gone, so with little depth behind Antonio Bryant (who’d be out of the league by 2009), the Bucs add a fierce, playmaking pass catcher in Garcon here instead. The D-III product, who was originally a sixth-rounder, has made quite a career for himself, breaking into the Colts lineup in his second year and eventually notching a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in Washington.

21. Atlanta Falcons: CB Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech

Original pick: OT Sam Baker, USC

After grabbing a tackle with the third pick, the Falcons look to their defense here and go with cornerback Brandon Flowers. Flowers proved to be a ball-hawking corner during his nine-year career, stockpiling 21 picks and 111 passes defensed playing with the Chiefs and Chargers.

22. Dallas Cowboys: OG Carl Nicks, Nebraska

Original pick: RB Felix Jones, Arkansas

Jones never turned into the type of feature back the team envisioned, and Dallas would’ve been better off investing in the offensive line instead. Nicks played only six seasons, retiring early because of complications from a MRSA infection, but was an elite, immovable force in his prime with New Orleans, winning All-Pro honors twice.

23. Pittsburgh Steelers: OG Jeremy Zuttah, Rutgers

Original pick: RB Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois

Mendenhall had three solid seasons with the Steelers, but much like Dallas, Pittsburgh would’ve gotten more value in the long term out of a top-tier offensive lineman here instead of taking a running back. Zuttah played both guard spots and at center in his nine-year career, and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2016.

24. Tennessee Titans: WR Steve Johnson, Kentucky

Original pick: RB Chris Johnson, East Carolina

Chris Johnson’s gone, so the Titans shore up their pass-catching corps with Stevie Johnson at this spot. The playmaker out of Kentucky likely would’ve seen playing time early on, considering Tennessee’s receptions leader in 2008 was someone named Brandon Jones, who finished the year with 41 catches. Johnson notched three straight 1,000-yard seasons in Buffalo—the first player to do that for the Bills.

25. Dallas Cowboys: CB Leodis McKelvin, Troy

Original pick: CB Mike Jenkins, South Florida

Jenkins wasn’t a bad pick here, and played eight seasons with the Cowboys, Raiders, and Bucs—but McKelvin gets the slight edge. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner played eight seasons with the Bills before finishing his career in Philly, and grabbed 15 picks and 81 passes defensed.

26. Houston Texans: C John Sullivan, Notre Dame

Original pick: OT Duane Brown, Virginia Tech

Brown is long gone, so the Texans go with another reliable, long-term starter in Sullivan. Sullivan was a longtime anchor of the Vikings offensive line, and is still playing at a high level as the Rams’ man in the middle.

27. San Diego Chargers: RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon

Original pick: CB Antoine Cason, Arizona

Heading into the 2008 season, LaDainian Tomlinson was coming off of back-to-back first-team All-Pro performances, but he’d be done in San Diego by 2010—making Stewart a quality heir ready to step in and take over the team’s dominant ground game. Stewart’s a physical downhill runner and would’ve been a steady and dependable presence in the team’s backfield.

28. Seattle Seahawks: OT Gosder Cherilus, Boston College

Original pick: DE Lawrence Jackson, USC

Walter Jones retired after the 2008 season, making the tackle position a huge position of need. Cherilus never went to the Pro Bowl, but missed just five games in his first six seasons, eventually starting 116 games in a nine-year career. Seattle could’ve done worse at this spot (and, well, it did).

29. San Francisco 49ers: CB Tracy Porter, Indiana

Original pick: DT Kentwan Balmer, North Carolina

Balmer lasted just two seasons in San Francisco. Instead, the Niners pick up a physical starting corner in Porter at this spot, shoring up a secondary that lacked playmakers. Porter grabbed 13 picks and 75 passes defensed in his nine-year career, playing for five different teams. His fourth-quarter pick-six of Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLIV sealed the win for the Saints.

30. New York Jets: TE Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M

Original pick: TE Dustin Keller, Purdue

Keller played well at times for New York, and led the team in receptions in both 2010 and 2011. But the Jets would’ve been better off going with Bennett here, a more dynamic downfield threat capable of lining up all over the formation. Bennett caught 30 touchdowns in his career and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2014.

31. New York Giants: S Thomas DeCoud, Cal

Original pick: S Kenny Phillips, Miami

Phillips was a good player, but struggled to stay healthy, missing big chunks of the 2009 and 2012 seasons to a series of knee injuries that eventually forced him to retire. New York could’ve gone with DeCoud here instead, who proved to be, at worst, a durable playmaker in his seven years in the league. The hard-hitting former Falcons safety racked up 15 interceptions, 31 pass deflections, and four forced fumbles in his career, and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012.