There was no reason to think Malcolm Butler would be worth a draft pick, let alone a first-rounder, before the 2014 NFL Draft.
The cornerback came from tiny Division-II West Alabama, had never played for a Division I program, and had a subpar pro day. The Patriots gave him a chance with a rookie minicamp tryout, and the rest is history.
Butler is a restricted free agent after the 2016 season, and another team might deem him worthy of a top pick if the Patriots place a first-round tender on him. He’s emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber starting cornerback, and he would be taken in the first round if the 2014 NFL Draft were held today.
1. Houston Texans: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh (No. 13 overall)
Actual pick: Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end, South Carolina
Injuries have kept Clowney from living up to his full potential, while Donald has been one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL over the past two seasons. Imagine Donald playing on the same line as J.J. Watt.
2. Washington Redskins: Odell Beckham, Jr., wide receiver, LSU (No. 12)
Actual pick: Traded pick to St. Louis Rams, who selected Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson
College production kept Beckham from being one of the top five picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. He’s now one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, while Robinson has struggled.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, edge defender, Buffalo (No. 5)
Actual pick: Blake Bortles, quarterback, UCF
Bortles showed signs of being a franchise quarterback in 2015, but Mack is a dominant linebacker and edge rusher.
4. Cleveland Browns: Anthony Barr, linebacker, UCLA (No. 9)
Actual pick: Traded pick to Buffalo Bills, who selected Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins
Watkins has been worth the fourth overall pick from a production standpoint, but he showed some diva tendencies in 2015. Barr is an extremely versatile linebacker.
5. Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr, quarterback, Fresno State (No. 36)
Actual pick: Khalil Mack, linebacker, Buffalo
The Raiders can’t grab Mack this time around, but they can select their franchise quarterback. There are better available players at this point, but a quarterback is too valuable to pass up. It was difficult to choose between Carr and Bridgewater, but the former has worked in Oakland, so there’s no reason to change it up.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Zack Martin, guard, Notre Dame (No. 16)
Actual pick: Jake Matthews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M
Martin already is one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL, while Matthews has had an up -and-down two years in the NFL.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Allen Robinson, wide receiver, Penn State (No. 61)
Actual pick: Mike Evans, wide receiver, Texas A&M
It’s unclear why Robinson dropped to the bottom of the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but he’s been fantastic in two NFL seasons. He caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards with 14 touchdowns in 2015.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback, Louisville (No. 32)
Actual pick: Traded pick to Cleveland Browns, who selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert
The Vikings can’t get Barr this time around, but they’ll gladly take their starting quarterback. Gilbert has been a huge bust.
9. Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Clemson (No. 4)
Actual pick:Traded pick to Minnesota Vikings, who selected UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr
You could flip a coin between Robinson and Watkins. Robinson had the better sophomore season. The Bills can still grab Watkins without having to trade up to fourth overall.
10. Detroit Lions: Mike Evans, wide receiver, Texas A&M (No. 7)
Actual pick: Eric Ebron, tight end, North Carolina
Evans has more career yards than Robinson and Watkins. Robinson and Watkins, however, have shown more upside. The Lions could use Evans after Calvin Johnson announced his retirement.
11. Tennessee Titans: Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan (No. 11)
Actual pick: Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan
The Titans like Lewan enough at left tackle to trade out of the top overall spot in the 2016 NFL Draft.
12. New York Giants: Jarvis Landry, wide receiver, LSU (No. 63)
Actual pick: Odell Beckham, Jr., wide receiver, LSU
If the Giants can’t get Beckham, they’ll settle for the other LSU receiver in this draft.
13. St. Louis Rams: Jadeveon Clowney, edge defender, South Carolina (No. 1)
Actual pick: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh
Clowney hasn’t lived up to the hype, but he still has enough upside to be a top 15 pick.
14. Chicago Bears: Jason Verrett, cornerback, TCU (No. 25)
Actual pick: Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech
Fuller has been fine, while Verrett was one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks in 2015.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety, Alabama (No. 21)
Actual pick: Ryan Shazier, linebacker, Ohio State
Clinton-Dix was extremely versatile in 2015, recording 100 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Trai Turner, guard, LSU (No. 92)
Actual pick: Zack Martin, guard, Notre Dame
Turner deservedly earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2015 with the Panthers. He was a third-round steal.
17. Baltimore Ravens: Malcolm Butler, cornerback, West Alabama (Undrafted)
Actual pick: C.J. Mosley, linebacker, Alabama
Mosley was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, then his play dropped in 2015. Butler is a Super Bowl hero and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2015.
18. New York Jets: Blake Bortles, quarterback, UCF (No. 3)
Actual pick: Calvin Pryor, safety, Louisville
The Jets would much prefer to start Bortles over Geno Smith or Bryce Petty in 2016.
19. Miami Dolphins: Bradley Roby, cornerback, Ohio State (No. 31)
Actual pick: Ja’Wuan James, offensive tackle, Tennessee
Roby is the third banana with the Broncos behind Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, but he would be the top cornerback in Miami.
20. Arizona Cardinals: John Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburg State (No. 91)
Actual pick: Traded pick to New Orleans Saints, who selected Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks
It was difficult to decide between Brown and Cooks here, but Brown has had so much success with the Cardinals that they’d gladly take him in the first round.
21. Green Bay Packers: Demarcus Lawrence, edge defender, Boise State (No. 34)
Actual pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety, Alabama
The Packers got a steal in Clinton-Dix. Lawrence emerged as a top pass rusher in 2015.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Deone Bucannon, linebacker/safety, Washington State
Actual pick: Traded pick to Cleveland Browns, who selected Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel
The Browns selected the 2014 NFL Draft’s two biggest busts by taking Gilbert and Manziel. Bucannon has emerged in a hybrid role with the Cardinals.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: C.J. Mosley, linebacker, Alabama (No. 17)
Actual pick: Dee Ford, defensive end, Auburn
Ford was a strange pick at the time, and he hasn’t done anything in the NFL to prove he was worthy of a first-round pick.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Oregon State (No. 20)
Actual pick: Darqueze Dennard, cornerback, Michigan State
The Bengals could use Cooks after losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu this offseason.
25. San Diego Chargers: Bashaud Breeland, cornerback, Clemson (No. 102)
Actual pick: Jason Verrett, cornerback, TCU
With Verrett gone, the Chargers could turn to Breeland, who has been a steal for Washington.
26. Indianapolis Colts: Jack Mewhort, offensive lineman, Ohio State (No. 59)
Actual pick: Traded pick to Philadelphia Eagles, who selected Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith
The Colts found a second-round steal in Mewhort. Smith has just 1.5 sacks in the pros.
27. New Orleans Saints: Allen Hurns, wide receiver, Miami (undrafted)
Actual pick: Traded pick to Arizona Cardinals, who selected Washington State linebacker/safety Deone Bucannon
Hurns is the second biggest undrafted find in the 2014 draft class. He had 64 receptions for 1,031 yards with 10 touchdowns in 2015.
28. Carolina Panthers: Gabe Jackson, guard, Florida State (No. 81)
Actual pick: Kelvin Benjamin, wide receiver, Florida State
With Turner off the board to the Cowboys, the Panthers need another guard. Jackson has been a nice find for the Raiders.
29. New England Patriots: Jake Matthews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M (No. 6)
Actual pick: Dominique Easley, defensive tackle, Florida
The Patriots need an offensive tackle with upside, and Matthews provides that. He looked like a bust after his rookie season but bounced back nicely in 2015.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Weston Richburg, center, Colorado State (No. 43)
Actual pick: Jimmie Ward, safety, NIU
Richburg was one of the NFL’s top centers in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus’s player grades.
31. Denver Broncos: Stephon Tuitt, defensive lineman, Notre Dame (No. 46)
Actual pick: Bradley Roby, cornerback, Ohio State
Tuitt fell to the second round but has been a nice pickup for the Steelers. He’s solid as a pass rusher and run defender.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Ja’Wuan James, offensive tackle, Tennessee (No. 19)
Actual pick: Traded pick to Minnesota Vikings, who selected Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
The Seahawks constantly seem to need offensive line help. James has been up and down for the Dolphins, but he still has enough upside to be a first-rounder.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Jan 16, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) celebrates from the field against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half in the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 20-27. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports