Right now, no one is going to mistake the 2009 NFL Draft as one that defined a generation. Heck, it barely defined 2009. In fact, plenty of experts call it the worst draft of all time.
Just 11 players chosen have reached the Pro Bowl (well, 10 actually, because the best player overall that year wasn't even drafted). Go through the seven rounds, and it's hard to find a lot of impact players. Or guys who are even still in the league. Conventional wisdom says you need three years to fully judge a draft class. Well, we've had those three years.
So now, I present a re-draft of the top 10 picks in 2009. I'm heading back in time to look at how teams filled their biggest holes -- and then re-filling them with a better choice where applicable.
Had we done this exercise last offseason, it would be Arian Foster in this slot. What a difference a year makes. Stafford turned into a full-blown star and, more importantly, proved he could stay healthy for an entire season plus a playoff game. The Lions needed everything in '09, so Foster could have worked. However, while you can argue who's the better overall player between Stafford and Foster, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and that's not changing. If you have a choice between two studs at those positions, always take the QB. You can find the RB somewhere else.
You know I'm partial to this kid for nomenclature reasons, but I couldn't go back and take him again (even though, in an interview I did with him, he did offer to swap jobs and paychecks with me for a week and host my old radio show while I would play OT for St. Louis). The Rams were looking for another Orlando Pace and instead got Orlando Jones. In 2009, St. Louis was still clinging to the Marc Bulger era and had just released Torry Holt, leaving 2008 second-rounder Donnie Avery to head up the receiving corps. Wallace could have made this offense explosive, and with Steven Jackson in his prime, they may have snuck in a division title in the process. Of course that means this Butterfly Effect could have sent Sam Bradford somewhere else, but I think taking Wallace would have been worth it.
This was tougher than you think. Much like with Stafford, if we had done this a year ago, it would be no contest. Jackson meandered through his first two seasons and no one thought he'd be able to live up to his potential. After all, he was a DE who the Chiefs knew wasn't going to get to the quarterback. That's like me saying, "Oh I'll buy that Cadillac, even though it doesn't have any wheels." However, his 2011 campaign was a bit of a breakthrough. Jackson became a very good run stuffer and the Chiefs' defense was better than everyone thinks it was. But Orakpo is a monster who was selected to Pro Bowls in each of his first three years (he was an alternate last season). He gets to the passer and is a game-changing disruptor. Jackson's solid. That's nice, but I can get "solid" guys easier than I can get someone who can sack the quarterback, play Scrabble and win a showdown with a caveman. And oh by the way, if you were thinking Arian Foster here instead, the Chiefs went into the season with a 1-2 punch of Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles that they were pretty happy with. Last season's injury aside, Charles has been lights-out.
All you need to know here is that after just two seasons the Seahawks shipped Curry to the Raiders for a seventh-round pick and a conditional selection. (And this guy was actually in the mix to be No. 1 overall for a little while!) How much more teeth would there be in that Seahawks defense with Matthews? A Pro Bowler all three years in the league and he was first-team All Pro in 2010. And that hair, my gosh, I would've re-done the pick if I was just getting that part of him. I know, why not Foster? Well, Seattle thought they had their RB situation under control after having just added Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. And now they have the Skittles Beast, so they're all set there.
You wanted ground-and-pound? The Jets could have made it to the AFC title game with Kellen Clemens or Roger Clemens or Pat Clements at QB if they took Foster here. Rex Ryan was in the market for a running back to pair with Thomas Jones, as the Jets selected Shonn Greene with the first pick in the third round. I'm a Jets fan, so this is sort of fun to think about, but it's depressing at the same time. It's hard to ponder how Foster went undrafted, and it's even harder to think where Sanchez would have gone in a re-draft. No one would have touched him in the first round, certainly, and I highly doubt in rounds two or three either. He would have been selected well after that and probably would be quarterbacking the Browns right now.
Again, the magic of the third year for a player. Smith was a washout who played in just 13 games his first two seasons. Highly disappointing. But he drastically improved a year ago. Now we've seemingly forgotten the picture of the saggy pecs that had defined his career until last season. Or maybe not, and that vision is burned in your brain. Either way, even though he's good now, you could get another "good" tackle somewhere, but McCoy is a game-changer and the Eagles' most indispensable player. And here's the thing: The Bengals were desperately looking for a running back. They had unexpectedly released Rudi Johnson at the last minute before the 2008 campaign and finished 29th in rushing offense that season. Can you imagine a big three of Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and McCoy right now in Cincinnati?
For about 10 minutes, we also thought the third season was going to be a breakthrough for Hey-Bey, but down the stretch Carson Palmer threw to him about as often as I turn down dessert. It was a reach then, and it's even more of a reach now. You can't draft a project in the first 10 picks of a draft. You need someone NFL-ready, and Nicks slightly gets the nod here over Percy Harvin because of his ability to dominate games with 10-plus targets on a regular basis. With Nicks, the Raiders take the AFC West title last season.
Again, the third year meant everything for Eugene Monroe, who will continue to start at LT for Jacksonville after finally "getting it" a bit last season. But again, just like the Bengals before, you want a franchise-type player when you're drafting in the top 10. Even though he's had some controversy, Cushing is every bit the superstar. The 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year was the Texans' 2011 Team MVP and second-team All-Pro. The Jaguars have holes everywhere, so it would be nice to at least have the leader of your defense for the next 10 years in place. And here I was thinking Rey Maualuga was going to be the best of those USC linebackers. Can I get a do-over on that opinion?
Well, finally another pick that doesn't have to be re-done. Raji is a physical force who blossomed in Year 2. And let's be honest, Green Bay would take him all over again here just because of his pick-six that sealed the NFC title game two years ago. Well, that and the dance that's given Aaron Rodgers so much joy. He made the Pro Bowl this year, he's scoring TDs out of the backfield (unlike actual Packers running backs) and with "The Freezer," he's got the best nickname on the team.
Here's how you judge the talent level of the 49ers: When Michael Crabtree is your top wideout, you're not very good at that position. When he's your third-best wideout (like he is now), then things are better. I admit, I thought he was going to be the next Keyshawn Johnson, but instead he goes weeks without impacting a game. If San Francisco could do it again, Harvin is the selection. The Niners could have gotten him the ball in so many different ways. He would have been another security blanket for Alex Smith -- in addition to Vernon Davis -- and Smith might be better than he is now. Harvin is starting to become an absolute nightmare for opposing coaches because he's getting consistent. There might not have been a better wideout the final six weeks of 2011.
After Further Review
Knocked it out of the park: They didn't have a lot of selections early, but you can't ignore what the Philadelphia Eagles did. Take a look at their 2009 draft weekend. First, they get Jeremy Maclin at 19, and I put him just a hair behind Harvin for potentially being a top-10 pick. In the second round, they grab Shady McCoy, who has become one of the top five RBs in the game. Don't forget they also traded their other first-round pick (No. 28 overall) as part of a deal to get OT Jason Peters, who has been to five straight Pro Bowls (though his status for this year is in doubt after an achilles injury). You can't touch that.
Wasted draft: When you say a team whiffed on a draft, you have to define it. It's not about taking a player widely regarded and having him turn into a bust (Aaron Curry), it's more about taking chances on players in different situations and having that not work out for you. Yes, I'm talking to you, Raiders. DHB in the first round was an absolute brain cramp. Any other WR who was taken in the first would have been better: Crabtree, Nicks, Harvin, Maclin, Kenny Britt, Cliff Branch or James Jett. Mike Mitchell was the Raiders' second-round pick; some teams didn't even have him on their draft board. He's currently a backup. Third-round pick Matt Shaughnessy is a part-time player who got hurt last year. Fourth-rounder Slade Norris was only active briefly before being waived. I know, the Raiders are an easy target, but that doesn't mean it's not deserved. Missing completely on a draft sets you back three years and makes you spend more money in free agency.
How did he go there?! Award: Um, you mean besides Arian Foster? In a hundred years, we might still be talking about him as the greatest bargain in the history of the NFL, going undrafted after a subpar senior season at Tennessee. But he's easy. If you're looking for another great draft bargain, I present to you Titans CB Jason McCourty. He's gone from sixth-round flier to part-time starter to full-time starter to leader of the secondary now that Cortland Finnegan is gone. While the spotlight will be on him this season and we'll see just how good he really is, bottom line is Tennessee got a gift with the 203rd overall pick. Honorable mention goes to the Bears' Johnny Knox, selected in the fifth round. He's not a top-flight wideout, but he's already made a Pro Bowl as a returner and has flashed big talent from time to time. He could flourish this season opposite Brandon Marshall if he's able to return from a gruesome back injury.
Mr. Irrelevant of 2009: It's funny because he's actually relevant. The Chiefs selected kicker Ryan Succop, who has done a solid job with Kansas City since being chosen. He had a terrific rookie season in which he set Chiefs records, and followed it up with a solid 2010 that included an overtime winner. In 2011, he had a stretch where he made 22 field goals in a row. He signed a 5-year, $14 million extension with the team this offseason. How many guys taken ahead of him would like to switch salaries right now?
Fun facts about the '09 draft: Could we see the next Arian Foster this season? A fellow member of the 2009 undrafted class is Isaac Redman, who right now is projected to be the starting running back for the Steelers due to the uncertainty surrounding Rashard Mendenhall's recovery from a knee injury. Also, remember the 2008 Brett Favre trade to the Jets? New York sent a conditional fourth-round pick to Green Bay for Favre. But Favre played in more than 50 percent of the Jets' snaps, so that turned the pick into a third-rounder. The Packers then included that pick with some others to grab the 26th pick, where they selected ... Clay Matthews. Packers 1, Favre 0.