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Huge NFL Draft regrets: Knowing who you could’ve had will make you sick

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No team is immune to whiffing on many NFL Draft selections and watching several players turn into colossal busts. The real insult, however, comes when you start thinking what might have been for your favorite franchise had it picked a great player who was still on the board.

Looking back at all 32 teams’ draft history, here are the picks they probably wish they could go back and do all over:

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The pick: QB Kelly Stouffer, No. 6 overall in 1987

The miss: CB Rod Woodson, No. 10 overall to Steelers

Stouffer was a terrible pick for the team in St. Louis, both as an unpleasant surprise reach and subsequent holdout who ended up being traded to Seattle a year later. The Cardinals should have gone best player available and chosen Woodson. He was first-team All-Pro five times in Pittsburgh and went on to play 17 NFL seasons. He is third all-time in interceptions (71) and had a record 12 INT returns for TDs.

The Cardinals’ worst draft pick that actually played for them was defensive end Andre Wadsworth (No. 3 overall in 1998), taken third overall and one pick ahead of another Hall of Fame-bound defensive back named Woodson — Charles.

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The pick: LB Aundray Bruce, No. 1 overall in 1988

The miss: WR Tim Brown, No. 6 overall to Raiders

Aundray Bruce edges out Bruce Pickens (No. 3 overall in 1991) as the biggest draft bust in Falcons history. It hurts a little more with Bruce, because many thought the team was giving plenty of consideration to taking Brown, fresh off his spectacular Heisman-winning season at Notre Dame.

While Bruce flamed out as a little-used player over four seasons in Atlanta, Brown immediately exploded with the Raiders as a dynamic return man. He went on to play 16 seasons in Los Angeles and Oakland as one of the game’s most reliable all-around receivers. He got his well-deserved place in Canton in 2015.

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The pick: WR Mark Clayton, No. 22 overall in 2005

The miss: WR Roddy White, No. 27 overall to Falcons

The Ravens haven’t had too many notable misses in the Ozzie Newsome era in any round. Although wide receiver Travis Taylor (No. 10 in 2000) and quarterback Kyle Boller (No. 19 in 2003) may stand out as bigger busts, Clayton is more frustrating knowing the next player taken at the same position. In Atlanta, White was one of the league’s most prolific and reliable receivers over the past 11 seasons. Clayton’s best season was 67 yards, 939 yards and 5 TDs. White averaged 73, 988 and 6 and enjoyed four Pro Bowl seasons.

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The pick: T Mike Williams, No. 4 overall in 2002

The miss: T Bryant McKinnie, No. 7 overall to Vikings

Williams edges out linebacker Tom Cousineau, the team’s first overall pick in 1979, as Buffalo’s worst selection of all time. McKinnie was solid 12-season player for the Vikings and Ravens, getting to one Pro Bowl. That was enough to make him a whole lot better at locking down left tackle than Williams. Many scouts saw McKinnie as being much better before the draft. The Bills got a sluggish prospect who couldn’t work at right tackle, inside or even on defense. Two years later, they were fortunate to land Jason Peters as an undrafted free agent to soften the blow.

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The pick: RB Tim Biakabutuka, No. 8 overall in 1996

The miss: RB Eddie George, No. 14 overall to Oilers

The Panthers were right to find their workhorse in “The Game.” They should have looked more to Ohio State than Michigan, however. Biakabutuka spoiled the Buckeyes’ perfect season by rushing for 313 yards, while George, the ’95 Heisman winner, was held to 104 by the Wolverines.

Biakabutuka’s stock shot up as a potentially more explosive back, but George had more staying power. In Carolina, Biakabutuka struggled through injuries, starting only 35 games in six seasons and totaling 2,530 career rushing yards. In Houston and Nashville, George started by reeling off five consecutive 1,200-yard plus seasons as a four-time Pro Bowl workhorse.

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The pick: RB Curtis Enis, No. 5 overall in 1998

The miss: RB Fred Taylor, No. 9 overall to Jaguars

Enis is the biggest draft bust in Bears history, as the Penn State product lasted only three short seasons in the NFL after a rookie holdout, ending it as a glorified fullback. Meanwhile, Taylor, despite carrying the unfair nickname “Fragile Fred”, became a terrific game-breaking back in Jacksonville. He was a lot more of what Chicago wanted to carry the backfield tradition of Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. Taylor also lasted 13 years, staying productive into his 30s before finishing his career in New England.

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The pick: QB Jack Thompson, No. 3 overall in 1979

The miss: DT Dan Hampton, No. 4 overall to Bears

The ’79 draft was doubly painful for the Bengals. They took both Thompson and running back Charles Alexander, both major disappointments, one pick before future Pro Football Hall of Famers. After Alexander, it was tight end Kellen Winslow going to the Chargers.

Hailing from the same college as all-time draft bust Ryan Leaf, Washington State, Thompson didn’t do much in four seasons in Cincinnati before he moved on to Tampa Bay. Hampton, meanwhile, became a Canton-bound “Danimal” in Chicago, wreaking havoc on inside and outside blockers for a dozen seasons.

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The pick: RB William Green, No. 16 overall in 2002

The miss: S Ed Reed, No. 24 overall to Ravens

The Browns have had a ton of bad draft picks since their 1999 reboot, led by quarterback Tim Couch that year. Green got off to a good start three years later, showing the feature back promise he had at Boston College, but issues on and off the field ended his stint in Cleveland after less than four full seasons.

Free safety was a considerable position of need for the Browns in ’02, and by passing on Reed, they allowed rival Baltimore to land a long-time premier playmaker. While Reed will have his bust in Canton, Green goes down as an all-out bust and a source of major regret.

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The pick: LB Greg Ellis, No. 8 overall in 1998

The miss: WR Randy Moss, No. 21 overall to Vikings

Jerry Jones still can’t get over this one, and has apologized many times to Moss about passing on him. Moss took Dallas’ snub as motivation to feast immediately on the Cowboys on Thanksgiving and all other occasions. Jones corrected this a little by not making the same mistake on Dez Bryant, getting him No. 24 overall 12 years later. But after the twilight of the original playmaker, Michael Irvin, it would have been nice to stack on a future Hall of Famer that took it to another level with his size and speed.

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The pick: QB Tim Tebow, No. 25 overall in 2010

The miss: DB Devin McCourty, No. 27 overall to Patriots

The Broncos have done a good job of avoiding major landmines, given their worst-ever pick was throwing away a third-rounder on running back Maurice Clarett in 2005. Five years later, they failed to forget that reaching for a big-name college star with limited pro prospects is a huge mistake. Sure, there was a little spurt of Tebowmania, but not enough to erase a terrible pick for the long term. The much better selection would have McCourty, the versatile and now elite defensive back, a need for Denver’s defense at the time. Picking him also would have kept such a player away from the AFC rival Patriots.

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The pick: WR Charles Rogers, No. 2 overall in 2003

The miss: WR Andre Johnson, No. 3 overall to Texans

Detroit went down the road to East Lansing to try to find its gamebreaking receiver. It should have gone far southeast to Miami. It was a hard, fast crash for Rodgers, thanks to multiple broken collarbones and violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He played in only 15 games over three seasons, catching only 36 career passes. Meanwhile, Johnson became Houston’s go-to wideout right away, and stayed that way for 12 seasons there. He made seven Pro Bowls as the consummate, non-diva pro and is headed for the Hall of Fame. Dishonorable mention goes to taking another bust wide receiver, Mike Williams, No. 10 overall in 2005, one pick ahead of linebacker and pass-rusher extraordinaire DeMarcus Ware.

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The pick: T Tony Mandarich, No. 2 overall in 1989

The miss: RB Barry Sanders, No. 3 overall to Lions

Mandarich is easily the Packers’ worst-ever draft pick and among the biggest busts for any team. It becomes especially painful to know he was taken after one Hall of Famer, quarterback Troy Aikman, and right before three others — Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders. Any of those three would have been great, but imagine Sanders playing with Brett Favre instead of as a rival Lion who shared MVP honors with him in ’97. Green Bay could have used a stud runner to go with Favre, and it could have changed its destiny into more of a dynasty. It also was pretty bad in 1981 when the Packers took quarterback Rich Campbell No. 6 overall. That came two spots ahead of the 49ers taking Hall of Fame, game-changing defensive back Ronnie Lott.

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The pick: QB David Carr, No. 1 overall in 2002

The miss: DE Julius Peppers, No. 2 overall to Panthers

The Texans were launching in ’02, and the playbook says an expansion team needs to think franchise quarterback first. Houston should have thrown that out the window, going for the enduring pass rusher rather than the soon to be battered passer. The Texans’ coach then, Dom Capers, gets to work with a rejuvenated Peppers at outside linebacker for the Packers now, but it would have been nice to collaborate earlier. Peppers is going into his 14th season with 136 career sacks with Carolina, Chicago and Green Bay. Then consider Carr was sacked 144 times total in his two worst seasons. He was a teammate of Peppers in Carolina in ’07, and at least lasted into his 30s as a backup QB for the Giants.

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The pick: QB John Elway, No. 1 overall in 1983

The miss: QB Dan Marino, No. 27 overall to Dolphins

There was nothing wrong about the deciding Elway was the best player in a loaded ’83 draft. It was the fact the Colts, led by Ernie Accorsi, lost their huge gamble in thinking Elway wanted to play in Baltimore for head coach Frank Kush. Using the threat of opting for baseball and the Yankees as some leverage, Elway got traded to Denver after the draft. But in retrospect, the Colts should have listened to legend Johnny Unitas’ strong suggestion to just take Marino instead. Not landing either Elway or Marino came right before the team moved to Indianapolis and struggled to find any good QB play for a long time, lowlighted by busting on Jeff George seven years later.

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The pick: QB Blaine Gabbert, No. 10 overall in 2011

The miss: DE J.J. Watt, No. 11 overall to Texans

As much as it’s fun to say the Jaguars drafted a punter, Bryan Anger, in the third round, five picks before the Seahawks nabbed Russell Wilson in 2012, Wilson wasn’t an option for Jacksonville there because it had just invested a high first-rounder on Gabbert a year earlier. That was the real mistake. The Jaguars have been looking for a top-flight pass rush for several seasons. Regardless if Watt didn’t appear to be a “good fit” for a 4-3 team at the time, almost every team should regret not taking him.

Every team that selected in the top 11 in ’11 landed a future Pro Bowler — except the Titans and Jaguars. As a bonus, taking Watt also would have kept him from helping Houston get to the playoffs in recent years.

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The pick: QB Todd Blackledge, No. 7 overall in 1983

The miss: QB Dan Marino, No. 27 overall to Dolphins

Here we go again. After Elway was rightfully the No. 1 quarterback taken in ’83 by albeit the wrong team, it was ridiculous that three more QBs came off the board before Marino. Blackledge is a fine foodie and good guy on college football broadcasts now, but as a Penn State product in the NFL, he was the Chiefs’ worst-ever pick. It was only enhanced by the fact that he went a whole 20 picks ahead of Marino, the better prospect from down the road at Pittsburgh.

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The pick: RB Lawrence Phillips, No. 6 overall in 1996

The miss: ILB Ray Lewis, No. 26 overall to Ravens

Phillips had a troubled, tragic life that contributed to him disappointing as a high first-round running back. The Rams should have gone with a completely different position. Their defense was terrible in 1995, and they could have used a dominant middle linebacker. A lot of teams whiffed on not taking Lewis, but it was especially glaring for then St. Louis to ignore a need in favor of Phillips. Later in the round, the Rams took the wrong wide receiver at No. 18, Eddie Kennison. The Colts took future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison one pick later.

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The pick: WR Ted Ginn Jr., No. 9 overall in 2007

The miss: CB Darrelle Revis, No. 14 overall to Jets

Ginn has found some success as a pure speed receiver in Carolina, but there’s no way he should have been that high of a pick. Miami would go on to finish 1-15 that season under coach Cam Cameron, and thinking Ginn’s pass-catching and return skills were that great out of Ohio State was costly. Revis, a shutdown corner from Dan Marino’s alma mater at Pitt, ended up tormenting them in the division as both a Jet and a Patriot.

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The pick: DE Dimitrius Underwood, No. 29 overall in 1999

The miss: DE Patrick Kerney, No. 30 overall to Falcons

Underwood carried a lot of baggage from his time at Michigan State, hardly seeing the field late in his college career. He never played a down for the Vikings, as the young man’s off-field troubles never went away. At the same position one pick later was Kerney, a multiple Pro Bowl edge pass rusher with both Atlanta and Seattle.

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The pick: QB Tony Eason, No. 15 overall in 1983

The miss: QB Dan Marino, No. 27 overall to Dolphins

If you didn’t take either John Elway, Jim Kelly or Marino as your first-round QB in ’83, you should have real regrets. Put the Patriots in the same club as the Chiefs. Eason wasn’t as bad as Todd Blackledge, but he wasn’t even as good as Ken O’Brien. He did play in a Super Bowl against the 1985 Bears, but guess which QB led the only defeat of that team that season? Marino, in Miami on a Monday night.

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The pick: K Russell Erxleben, No. 11 overall in 1979

The miss: TE Kellen Winslow, No. 13 overall to Chargers

Erlxeben still lingers as the Saints’ worst draft decision and monumental bust. Really, they could have taken anybody other than a kicker who was seen more as a punter in the first round and it would have been better. They did have good tight end production in ’78, but Winslow would have given them a Hall of Fame receiver to boost a shaky overall passing game.

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The pick: RB Ron Dayne, No. 11 overall in 2000

The miss: RB Shaun Alexander, No. 19 overall to Seahawks

Through the years, with GMs such as George Young and Jerry Reese, the Giants have made mostly good draft decisions. Dayne was drafted this highly after winning the Heisman and setting the college career rushing record at Wisconsin. He had a short stint as the “Thunder” to Tiki Barber’s “Lightning,” but Big Blue would have rolled a lot more by taking Alexander out of the Crimson Tide. Alexander had five monster seasons in Seattle, including 1,880 yards rushing and 27 TDs in his 2005 MVP season.

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The pick: WR Johnny “Lam” Jones, No. 2 overall in 1980

The miss: T Anthony Munoz, No. 3 overall to Bengals

Jones was a speed demon whom the Jets thought would be a great complement to their best receiver, Wesley Walker, when that player (Al Toon) came only five years later in the first round. Jones made a few big plays in five seasons, but he never could make the transition from Texas track star to world-class wideout. Meanwhile, Munoz dominated everyone he faced as a blocker through his brilliant career in Cincinnati. The Hall of Famer is regarded as the best offensive lineman to ever play in the NFL. No biggie, right? In 1995, they did something similar in taking tight end Kyle Brady at No. 9 overall, three spots ahead of Warren Sapp.

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The pick: QB JaMarcus Russell, No. 1 overall in 2007

The miss: WR Calvin Johnson, No. 2 overall to Lions

The Raiders once had a draft reputation of being enamored with measurables. They were drawn to Russell by his immense size and a big arm to match. They should have gone instead for the size, great hands and speed of Megatron. Russell never put in the work to harness his physical tools, while Johnson, the true athletic freak, overwhelmed opponents all the way through his final NFL season in 2015.

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The pick: DE Mike Mamula, No. 7 overall in 1995

The miss: DT Warren Sapp, No. 12 overall to Buccaneers

Mamula blew up at the NFL Combine as a workout warrior before the draft, and his stock had a meteoric rise. Many teams bought into him becoming an unstoppable athletic pass rusher. They were all wrong. It especially hurts Philadelphia because a premier interior defensive lineman in Sapp was still on the board. The Eagles had a couple of other notable whiffs in the first round — taking wide receiver Freddie Mitchell instead of Reggie Wayne in ‘01 and taking defensive end Jerome McDougle one spot ahead of Troy Polamalu in ’03.

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The pick: DT Gabe Rivera, No. 21 overall in 1983

The miss: QB Dan Marino, No. 27 overall to Dolphins

It took until Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 for the Steelers to find their next best QB after Terry Bradshaw. But they could have had an Andrew Luck-Peyton Manning situation if they had a little more foresight. After struggling to rush the passer inside as a rookie, tragedy struck Rivera in the form of a drunken driving accident that left him paralyzed. Regardless of whom Pittsburgh had taken, not taking the Pitt product Marino to become Bradshaw’s successor wasn’t a good call.

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The pick: QB Ryan Leaf, No. 2 overall in 1998

The miss: CB Charles Woodson, No. 4 overall to Raiders

The Chargers thought they smelled all roses with Leaf after Peyton Manning, given his big arm and classic frame. But they should have taken the defensive player who helped Michigan win that same Rose Bowl over Washington State, with both a Heisman Trophy and national championship to show for it. As Leaf turned out to be the biggest draft bust ever, anybody would have been great. But it doesn’t get any worse than missing out on Woodson, who went to the rival Raiders and continued his Hall of Fame ways in the NFL through the 2015 season.

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The pick: QB Giovanni Carmazzi, No. 65 overall in 2000

The miss: QB Tom Brady, No. 199 overall to Patriots

There were six quarterbacks taken before Brady in the 2000 draft before New England pulled the trigger in the sixth round. While every team passed and didn’t have any idea that Brady would turn into maybe the greatest quarterback of all time with his four Super Bowl rings, this move by the Niners looks most embarrassing. Brady, a Bay Area native who worshipped Joe Montana, should have gotten a chance from San Francisco as an underrated prospect from Michigan. Instead, the team went for a kid from that QB hotbed, Hofstra.

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The pick: OLB Aaron Curry, No. 9 overall in 2009

The miss: OLB Clay Matthews, No. 26 overall to Packers

Curry fell well short of his expectations as a can’t-miss pass rusher and impact playmaker coming out of an exceptional final season at Wake Forest. He lasted only three humdrum seasons in Seattle, then didn’t do much more with Oakland. It’s too bad Pete Carroll was one year away from being the Seahawks’ head coach, because he probably would have recommended Matthews. Matthews had the pedigree with his family and USC, and keeps living up to that with Green Bay.

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The pick: S Mark Barron, No. 7 overall in 2012

The miss: ILB Luke Kuechly, No. 9 to Panthers

The Buccaneers have made many regrettable picks on defense over the years. This recent whiff should begin to sting a little bit more. Barron, out of Alabama, was seen as a playmaking thumper with the potential of becoming the next John Lynch. But at the same time, Tampa Bay really needed a stud middle linebacker, and was attached to taking Kuechly in several mock drafts. Instead, Barron had one semi-decent season before becoming trade bait, while Kuechly now dominates for the Bucs’ division-winning rivals in Carolina.

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The pick: CB Andre Woolfolk, No. 28 overall in 2003

The miss: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, No. 31 overall to Raiders

The way Adam Jones crashed and burned as Pacman makes him the Oilers/Titans worst-ever pick, but in terms of production, no first-round defensive back gave them more disappointment than Woolfolk. Tennessee was right to take a corner at this spot of that draft, but totally whiffed by not making him Asomugha, who had several good shutdown seasons in Oakland.

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The pick: CB Carlos Rogers, No. 9 overall in 2005

The miss: QB Aaron Rodgers, No. 24 overall to Packers

The Redskins needed a quarterback in this draft, evidenced by them taking Jason Campbell a pick after Rodgers at No. 25. After Alex Smith went No. 1 overall to the 49ers, Rodgers had a well documented slip to Green Bay, who could afford to stash behind him Brett Favre for three seasons. Of all the teams, Washington had no good reason to let Rodgers slide.  

Sure, Rodgers might have been messed up by starting as a rookie and going through all the different offenses Campbell did, but now no one will ever know. Rogers turned into a pretty good corner, but that really wasn’t until he signed with the 49ers as a free agent in 2011. In some form, whether using No. 9 or working a deal with their other pick, the Redskins whiffed by not ending up with Rodgers instead.

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Next Up:
Career-defining moments for RGIII

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