|David Duprey / Associated Press|
|If Steve Johnson comes up with this catch, is Blaine Gabbert the Bills' QB of the future?|
What if one or two plays last season had gone differently? How would those snaps affect the drama of last weekend, when the Falcons and Browns engineered a blockbuster trade while the Titans pulled off the Jake Shocker? What are the plays and games that altered the draft to the point that it would've shaken up the whole kit and kaboodle?
While all the draft grades are being tallied, we thought it might be cool to take one last look at the season through the prism of the 2011 draft.
You won't find the Calvin Johnson play on the list. Not enough draft impact. Ditto Marshawn Lynch's historic jaunt, although it was enough to make Vince Lombardi shout "Grab! Grab! Grab! Nobody tacklin'!"
Below is a not-so-definitive list from this humble writer's brain. Your thoughts are welcome.
If the Bills' Steve Johnson catches a bomb to deep-six the Steelers in Week 12 (which he didn't), there are a lot changes for Ralph Wilson's boys. Buffalo goes 5-11, dropping them from the third to the sixth spot in the draft. Marcell Dareus likely would not make it that deep without being swiped off the board.
So would Chan Gailey have rolled the dice on Blaine Gabbert (or another quarterback) instead? Taking one of the quarterbacks early would've possibly affected the Redskins' ability to trade, the Titans' and Vikings' situations, as well as the Jaguars opting for camp competition for David Garrard.
What Drew Brees did to the Bengals in Week 13 was stone cold. Down three, and facing fourth-and-2 from the Cincinnati 7-yard line, the Saints' quarterback did everything he could to make the defense think he was really going to call a play ... and not take the chip-shot field goal. Defensive tackle Pat Sims bought the mustard, Saints got a new set of downs, and New Orleans' win was Big Easy.
Whether 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh secretly preferred Andy Dalton over Colin Kaepernick, we'll never know. But if he did, the best redhead since Sonny Jurgensen and Prince William wouldn't have been sitting there when Cincinnati picked in the second round.
What can Browns do for you?
Cleveland's manhandling of the Patriots and Saints were two of the bigger upsets of the season, personified by a middle-age linebacker (David Bowens) picking a ball off of a Saints player's butt and taking it to the house in Week 7.
If the Browns don't pull off those shockers, Mike Holmgren finishes 3-13 and gets the second overall pick, and Cleveland would've been stuck with little maneuverability to pull off their monster trade with the Falcons.
Interesting enough, Sports Illustrated's Peter King recently reported that A.J. Green was the top player on Holmgren's board. Nabbing Green would have forced Cincinnati to go in a different direction, such as taking Gabbert or even Julio Jones (who Atlanta clearly coveted).
No pick-six, no Pick 32
Packers fans will defend their team to the nth degree no matter what, but it's hard to argue that Detroit didn't give the cheeseheads all they could handle last season. During Week 4, the Aaron Rodgers-led offense struggled in the second half vs. the upstart Lions, but thanks to a clutch defensive play, they could afford to.
Charles Woodson kicked off the second half with a pick-six that would prove to be the deciding points. The narrow 28-26 Packers victory was the difference between sitting at home for the playoffs and eventually making a Super Bowl run.
It also was the difference between picking 32nd and 19th. Would Ted Thompson have taken a five-technique end, like Cameron Jordan, at 19? Or Mark Ingram, whom they coveted at 32 but was taken by the Saints four picks ahead of them?
A Christmas story
The Cowboys' ill-fated comeback on Christmas night -- led by third-string quarterback Stephen McGee -- has to make the list. Kicker David Buehler's missed extra point left Dallas with a precarious two-point lead that ultimately cost them the game.
A Cardinals loss would have put them at 4-12, and with tiebreakers, in the two-hole behind Carolina. Would Ken Whisenhunt have spent that high of a pick on a corner, like he did with Patrick Peterson at five? If not, maybe Carson Palmer would have been throwing to Green after all, except out in the desert instead of Cincinnati.
Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.