The 1998 NFL draft had probably the greatest No. 1 overall pick in league history, and the No. 2 overall pick might have been the biggest bust in league history. Yeah, it was an entertaining draft.
The NFL draft 20 years ago had some incredible players, and other incredible mistakes. In figuring out how the 1998 NFL draft would go down if we could redo it with the gift of hindsight, the two easiest choices might have been that Peyton Manning would be selected first overall again, and there was no way Ryan Leaf would be No. 2.
The 1998 draft had a fun collection of Hall of Famers, other star players, solid contributors, and plenty of horrific busts. Here’s how the 1998 draft would go if everyone got a do-over:
A few notes on the redraft:
• Of the 30 new first-round picks, 17 were not originally picked in the first round. Here are the players who moved up into the first when we redrafted, and their original round:
Corey Chavous (33rd overall)
Tony Parrish (35th overall)
Flozell Adams (38th overall)
Patrick Surtain (44th overall)
Samari Rolle (46th overall)
Jeremy Newberry (58th overall)
Olin Kreutz (64th overall)
Leonard Little (65th overall)
Jeremiah Trotter (72nd overall)
Ahman Green (76th overall)
Mike Goff (78th overall)
Brian Griese (91st overall)
Hines Ward (92nd overall)
Deshea Townsend (117th overall)
Benji Olson (139th overall)
Matt Birk (173rd overall)
Matt Hasselbeck (187th overall)
• Matt Hasselbeck was the biggest mover (only players drafted in 1998 were considered for the redraft, but there were some great undrafted players that year too like Jeff Saturday, London Fletcher and Phil Dawson). Hasselbeck threw for 36,638 yards and 212 touchdowns, made three Pro Bowls and started one Super Bowl. Also, in 1998 the Rams were still on the lookout for a quarterback. Hasselbeck wasn’t a great player, but he was very good and if you gave the Rams back then the chance to draft a quarterback who was solid for 160 career starts with the sixth pick, they would have taken it.
• Ryan Leaf was the highest drafted player who didn’t make the redraft’s first round. The third overall pick, Andre Wadsworth, was also left out, as was fifth pick Curtis Enis. A rookie holdout with the Arizona Cardinals and knee injuries derailed Wadsworth. Enis was a tremendous bust, and he was also affected by knee issues. The Penn State running back gained just 1,497 rushing yards over three seasons with the Bears and never made a second NFL team.
• The call between Randy Moss and Charles Woodson for No. 2 was very tough. Do you go with arguably the greatest defensive back ever, or a receiver who might have been the most physically gifted we have ever seen? Both were lock Hall of Famers. You can’t go wrong with either, but taking Moss (slightly) over Woodson was difficult.
• Leonard Little was a controversial member of that draft class. Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter after killing a woman while driving drunk in 1998. You’d think that would have ended his NFL career, but Little played 141 games over 11 seasons after 1998. It’s hard to knock him out of the redraft when the NFL practically ignored that anything happened and continued to employ him for another decade.
• The last pick of the first round might have been the toughest. There were some solid starters that could have gone to the Broncos at No. 30. But even though Brian Griese wasn’t ultimately successful as Denver’s quarterback, he gave the Broncos 51 starts over five seasons with a respectable 84.1 rating and made a Pro Bowl in 2000. Given the importance of the position, that’s not too bad for the end of the first round.
• The Steelers’ 1998 draft shows the hit-and-miss nature of the draft itself. The Steelers had three of the best picks in the entire draft that year. First-round pick Alan Faneca was a six-time All-Pro at guard and worthy of the fourth pick of the redraft. Receiver Hines Ward, a third-round pick, had more than 12,000 yards, made four Pro Bowls and is one of the most popular Steelers players ever. Fourth-round pick Deshea Townsend played 12 solid seasons at cornerback for Pittsburgh. Those are three fantastic picks. The Steelers had 10 picks in that draft, and the other seven did practically nothing. Not one of them established himself as a long-term NFL starter. The fourth-best player in the Steelers’ class was running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala, who started seven games in seven seasons and had 964 career rushing yards. Even in what has to be considered a fantastic draft, the Steelers only hit on three of 10 picks.
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