The 2008 NFL draft was stacked with talented running backs.
Some of the best backs in the NFL were taken that year, but it’s not surprising that the Oakland Raiders picked the wrong one first. In a draft class loaded with Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte, the Raiders picked injury-prone Darren McFadden No. 4 overall.
Typically, running backs aren’t worthy of a first-round pick, but since this draft’s backs were so strong, NESN.com has three going off the board in the top 10 picks in the draft reset.
Check out how the 2008 draft should have gone down.
1. Miami Dolphins: Matt Ryan, quarterback, Boston College (drafted No. 3 overall)
Actual pick: Jake Long, offensive tackle, Michigan
Long worked out just fine as the No. 1 overall pick, but the Dolphins could have had their franchise quarterback in Ryan. The BC product might not have reached the “elite” level quite yet, but quarterbacks like Ryan don’t come around every year.
2. St. Louis Rams: Ryan Clady, offensive tackle, Boise State (No. 12)
Actual pick: Chris Long, defensive end, Virginia
Clady has dealt with some injuries during his career, but when he’s healthy, he’s the best blocker from the 2008 draft. The Rams have had trouble finding offensive linemen to protect quarterback Sam Bradford.
3. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Long, offensive tackle, Michigan (No. 1)
Actual pick: Ryan
The Falcons likely would love to take Ryan again, but he’s not available this time. Long, like Clady, has dealt with health issues, but he’s absolutely worth a top five pick.
4. Oakland Raiders: Joe Flacco, quarterback, Delaware (No. 18)
Actual pick: Darren McFadden, running back, Arkansas
The Raiders have plenty of better running backs than McFadden to choose from, but they should take Flacco instead. Just one year after wasting a pick on JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders get a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
5. Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles, running back, Texas (No. 73)
Actual pick: Glenn Dorsey, defensive tackle, LSU
It was extremely close between Charles and Ray Rice, but Charles’ better 2013 season pushed him above the Baltimore Ravens running back. The Chiefs got a steal in Charles in real life. They’ll have to take him much higher in the reset.
6. New York Jets: Ray Rice, running back, Rutgers (No. 55)
Actual pick: Vernon Gholston, defensive end, Ohio State
Rice took a step back in 2013, but he had five fantastic seasons before his drop-off. The Jets would be happy to take the running back with a top 10 pick.
7. San Francisco 49ers: DeSean Jackson, wide receiver, Cal (No. 49)
Actual pick: Traded selection to New Orleans Saints, who took USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis
The 49ers have had a lot of trouble finding wide receivers, and while Jackson’s not a top 10 receiver, he’s the best in this class. Jackson’s speed makes him dangerous as a receiver and punt returner.
8. Baltimore Ravens: Matt Forte, running back, Tulane (No. 44)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Jacksonville Jaguars, who took Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey
The Ravens didn’t wind up with Flacco or Rice, but they can take Forte No. 8 overall. Forte has been one of the best dual-threat running backs in the NFL since being a second-round pick.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Aqib Talib, cornerback, Kansas (No. 20)
Actual pick: Keith Rivers, linebacker, USC
Talib is set to make a ton of money in free agency, as he seems to be getting better and better as his career progresses. Talib has had some off-field issues, but his play on the field warrants a top 10 selection.
10. New Orleans Saints: Duane Brown, offensive tackle, Virginia Tech (No. 26)
Actual pick: Traded selection to New England Patriots, who took Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo
If Duane Brown is still on the board, the Saints wouldn’t trade out this time. Brown has been one of the best finesse tackles in the NFL since being taken late in the first round.
11. Buffalo Bills: Calais Campbell, defensive lineman, Miami (No. 50)
Actual pick: Leodis McKelvin, cornerback, Troy
Campbell is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. As a five-technique defensive end, he can set the edge against the run and get after the quarterback as a pass rusher.
12. Denver Broncos: Chris Johnson, running back, East Carolina (No. 24)
Actual pick: Clady
Johnson’s play has dropped off since his 2,000-yard season, but he has still started his career with six straight 1,000-yard seasons.
13. Carolina Panthers: Branden Albert, offensive tackle, Virginia (No. 15)
Actual pick: Jonathan Stewart, running back, Oregon
The Panthers wouldn’t take Stewart, who’s had a decent but unspectacular career, if they could take back their No. 13 overall pick. Albert is set to earn a big contract this offseason as a free agent.
14. Chicago Bears: Jordy Nelson, wide receiver, Kansas State (No. 36)
Actual pick: Chris Williams, offensive tackle, Vanderbilt
It took a while for the Bears to find their twin tower wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Drafting Nelson instead of Williams would have given quarterback Jay Cutler a solid target when he was traded to the Bears.
15. Detroit Lions: Jerod Mayo, linebacker, Tennessee (No. 10)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Chiefs, who took Albert
Mayo drops a little bit in the draft reset, but as a Pro Bowl linebacker, he’s still deserving of a mid-first-round selection. Mayo’s 2013 season ended early after he tore his pectoral muscle.
16. Arizona Cardinals: Brandon Flowers, cornerback, Virginia Tech (No. 35)
Actual pick: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback, Tennessee State
Rodgers-Cromartie had the better 2013 season, but Flowers has had the better overall career since being drafted in 2008.
17. Minnesota Vikings: Carl Nicks, guard, Nebraska (No. 164)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Lions, who took Boston College offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus
Guards are always underdrafted, but Nicks has been one of the best, most consistent players to come out of the 2008 draft.
18. Houston Texans: Josh Sitton, guard, Central Florida (No. 135)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Ravens, who took Flacco
Sitton, like Nicks, is not a superstar, but he’s been fantastic as a run and pass blocker for the Packers since being a fourth-round selection.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback, Tennessee State (No. 16)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Panthers, who took Pittsburgh offensive tackle Jeff Otah
The Eagles tried Rodgers-Cromartie as a zone corner in 2011 and 2012. He had a great season with the Broncos in 2013 and could earn a big contract this offseason.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: John Sullivan, center, Notre Dame (No. 187)
Actual pick: Talib
The Buccaneers can’t get Talib this time, but they’ll settle for one of the NFL’s best centers. Sullivan was a well-deserved All-Pro in 2012.
21. Washington Redskins: Kendall Langford, defensive end, Hampton (No. 66)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Falcons, who took USC offensive tackle Sam Baker
Langford is a versatile defender who can get after the passer as a 4-3 defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end. Baker would not come off the board in the first round in a draft reset.
22. Cleveland Browns: Pierre Garcon, wide receiver, Mount Union (No. 205)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Dallas Cowboys, who took Arkansas running back Felix Jones
Garcon was one of the best steals of the 2008 draft. He has 4,498 career receiving yards and 25 touchdowns.
23. Pittsburgh Steelers: Thomas DeCoud, safety, Cal (No. 98)
Actual pick: Rashard Mendenhall, running back, Illinois
The Steelers wouldn’t take Mendenhall if they could do it all over again. DeCoud, a 2012 Pro Bowl selection, is well worth a first-round pick.
24. Tennessee Titans: Brandon Carr, cornerback, Grand Valley State (No. 140)
Actual pick: Johnson
The Titans can’t get Johnson late in the first round again, so they’ll grab Carr, who signed a $50 million deal with the Cowboys in 2012.
25. Seattle Seahawks: Steve Johnson, wide receiver, Kentucky (No. 224)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Cowboys, who took South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins
Johnson, like Garcon, was a late-round steal. He’s not an ideal No. 1 receiver, but he’s dangerous as a No. 2 option in any offense.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars: Red Bryant, defensive tackle, Texas A&M (No. 121)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Texans, who took Brown
The Jaguars signed Bryant this offseason after he was cut by the Seattle Seahawks before free agency began. The Jaguars could have had Bryant six years earlier by making him their first-round pick.
27. San Diego Chargers: Danny Amendola, wide receiver, Texas Tech (Undrafted)
Actual pick: Antoine Cason, cornerback, Arizona State
Amendola has had his fair share of injuries since coming into the NFL as an undrafted free agent. But he’s dangerous and reliable when he’s on the field.
28. Dallas Cowboys: Jason Jones, defensive lineman, Eastern Michigan (No. 54)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Seahawks, who took USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson
Jones was injured in 2013, but he was extremely effective as a situational pass rusher for the Seahawks in 2012.
29. Indianapolis Colts: Jermichael Finley, tight end, Texas (No. 91)
Actual pick: Traded selection to 49ers, who took UNC defensive tackle Kenwan Balmer
Finley’s had an inconsistent career, but he’s the best tight end in the draft class. The Colts get a player who can line up out wide and inline.
30. Green Bay Packers: Martellus Bennett, tight end, Texas A&M (No. 61)
Actual pick: Traded selection to Jets, who took Purdue tight end Dustin Keller
Bennett’s career got off to a slow start with the Cowboys after he was a second-round pick, but his career has rounded into shape since he left Texas.
31. New England Patriots: Danny Woodhead, running back, Chadron State (Undrafted)
Actual pick: Forfeited selection due to “Spygate”
In this alternate universe, the Patriots don’t lose their pick to “Spygate,” because this draft reset is more fun that way. A third-down back like Woodhead is hard to come by, so he jumps from undrafted to first-rounder. The Patriots messed up by letting Woodhead leave as a free agent in 2013.
32. New York Giants: Dustin Keller, tight end, Purdue (No. 30)
Actual pick: Kenny Phillips, safety, Miami
Keller becomes the third tight end off the board in the first round. He’s had trouble staying on the field the last two seasons, but when he’s healthy, he’s a top player at his position.