2023 NFL mock draft: Biggest what-ifs in NFL history

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 30: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs with the football during the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri, United States. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 30: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs with the football during the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri, United States. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images) /

We continue our series of NFL mock draft: Mocking The Mocks. This time we’re looking at the biggest what-ifs for every team since 1980. Some of them are devastating.

Welcome to the fourth edition of Mocking The Mocks. Missed the first three? Just click here, here and/or here.

Instead of boring us all to the point of needing court-ordered therapy with 2023 NFL mock drafts every week until the end of April, we’ve decided to have fun. Take the idea of a mock draft, twist it and have a field day.

Alright, this week’s ground rules:

  • 32 picks, 32 teams
  • Worst what-ifs at the top, working our way down.
  • The player chosen for each team’s worst miss MUST have been selected within two choices of the team’s draft selection. They must have been a top-32 pick. They also had to be a player who was projected in that area. No Tom Brady-type nonsense.
  • All players are from the 1980 NFL Draft until now.

Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. QB. Texas Tech - 2017 (9th overall). player. 56. Patrick Mahomes. 1

The Bengals can rest easy now knowing they have Joe Burrow. At thew time, they had Andy Dalton, and took receiver John Ross. Ross promptly caught 51 passes for 733 yards in his career with Cincinnati.

Pick Analysis. LB. 15. Scouting Report. North Carolina - 1981 (1st overall). Lawrence Taylor. 2. player

As most teams picking No. 1 overall do, the Saints had holes across their roster. They decided to take a running back in George Rogers over the greatest defensive player to ever live.

Jerry Rice. 3. 124. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. WR. Miss. Valley St. - 1985 (15th overall). player

The Chiefs could have drafted the greatest receiver of all time. Instead, they selected running back Ethan Horton, who they cut after one season. He then went to their rivals in the Los Angeles Raiders, who turned Horton into a Pro Bowl tight end.

Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. Aaron Rodgers. 4. QB. California - 2005 (23rd overall). player. 28

The Raiders were trotting out Kerry Collins at this point, fresh off a 20-interception season. Rodgers played in their backyard. Instead, they selected Fabian Washington, a corner who washed out after six unremarkable NFL seasons.

Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. QB. Purdue - 2001 (31st overall). Drew Brees. 5. player. 26

Baltimore actually took a two-time Pro Bowler here in tight end Todd Heap, but remember all those years where the Ravens had no quarterback, wasting an all-time defense? Taking Brees would have solved that issue.

6. player. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. USC - 1980 (2nd overall). Anthony Munoz. 30. OT

Munoz is arguably the greatest left tackle in NFL history. The Jets decided to pass, instead selecting receiver Johnny Lam Jones. Jones played seven seasons and totaled 2,322 receiving yards.

USC - 1981 (6th overall). Scouting Report. Ronnie Lott. 7. player. 49. Pick Analysis. S

Lott was considered a can’t-miss safety coming out, but the Packers chose quarterback Rich Campbell instead. Lott is the position’s standard to this day, winning four Super Bowls … which is four more games than Campbell ever started.

Pick Analysis. CB. 51. Scouting Report. Pittsburgh - 2007 (13th overall). Darrelle Revis. 8. player

Remember how great Adam Carriker was? Nobody does, but the Rams took him one spot before Revis went off the board and became a generational talent at corner.

Pick Analysis. QB. Miami (FL) - 1983 (13th overall). 50. Scouting Report. Jim Kelly. 9. player

Hey, you can’t blame the Lions for passing on a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback to take a fullback named James Jones, right? Actually, you can, because they had Gary Danielson as their starter.

Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. Wisconsin - 2011 (10th overall). player. DE. J.J. Watt. 10. 52

The Jaguars traded up to select quarterback Blaine Gabbert, one of the biggest busts of the last 20 years. With the next pick, their AFC South rivals, the Houston Texans, took Watt.

Scouting Report. Miami (FL) - 1996 (25th overall). Ray Lewis. 11. Pick Analysis. LB. player. 54

Imagine Lewis playing in Philadelphia. What an insane fit of player and fan attitude. Instead, Lewis had a first-ballot Hall of Fame career with the Ravens, while the Eagles ended up with a one-time Pro Bowl tackle in Jermane Mayberry.

USC - 2003 (14th overall). 57. Scouting Report. S. 12. player. Pick Analysis. Troy Polamalu

Polamalu on those mid-2000s Bears defense? Forget it. Literally. Because Chicago instead took Michael Haynes two picks earlier. Haynes started four career games, lasting three years.

player. 59. OT. Oklahoma - 2013 (3rd overall). Lane Johnson. 13. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis

Johnson will waltz into Canton when he’s playing days are over. The Dolphins had their shot at him with the No. 3 overall pick, but instead took Dion Jordan, who played on four teams across six years.

LaDainian Tomlinson. 14. Pick Analysis. player. 53. Scouting Report. RB. TCU - 2001 (3rd overall)

Tomlinson is one of the great running backs ever. He was an MVP, three-time First-Team All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowler. The Browns took Gerard Warren two picks ahead of him.

player. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. DT. Warren Sapp. Miami (FL) - 1995 (10th overall). 15. 42

The Niners were insanely loaded and coming off a Super Bowl victory. Imagine if they took Sapp — the best defensive tackle of his era — instead of receiver J.J. Stokes. San Francisco did have Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young, so it’s understandable, but still a miss.

Scouting Report. QB. Louisville - 2018 (31st overall). Lamar Jackson. 16. Pick Analysis. player. 47

The Patriots could have went from Tom Brady to Lamar Jackson. Instead, they’re now playing Mac Jones because in 2018, they selected running back Sony Michel.

LB. player. Pick Analysis. USC - 1990 (4th overall). Junior Seau. 17. 48. Scouting Report

It’s no surprise the Buccaneers missed on an elite talent. They were the definition of disaster for most of their first 25 years. Instead of taking a Hall-of-Fame linebacker in Seau, Tampa Bay went with Keith McCants, who also played linebacker.

player. 32. CB. Michigan - 1998 (3rd overall). Charles Woodson. 18. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis

Instead of taking the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy — who went on to become an all-time talent — the Cardinals rolled with Andre Wadsworth.

player. 31. WR. Michael Irvin. 19. Miami (FL) - 1988 (10th overall). Scouting Report. Pick Analysis

The Giants were everything Irvin wasn’t in 1988. They ran the ball, had no offensive flash. Yet he would have made them a much more dangerous team and helped them as Phil Simms aged. Instead, they selected guard Eric Moore, who never made a Pro Bowl.

Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. 46. DT. Notre Dame - 1994 (5th overall). Bryant Young. 20. player

With the No. 5 overall pick, the Colts wanted to upgrade the middle of their defense. They had a future Hall of Fame waiting for them. And they took linebacker Trev Alberts. San Francisco scooped Young up two picks later.

16. Scouting Report. Buffalo - 2014 (4th overall). 21. Pick Analysis. EDGE. Khalil Mack. player

Mack played his college ball in Buffalo. The Bills, picked fourth-overall, could have taken him. Instead, they went with receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins has been decent, but injuries have forced him to play with five teams. Mack will be a Hall of Famer.

22. 44. RB. Marcus Allen. USC - 1982 (9th overall). player. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis

What makes this particularly hilarious is the Falcons took a running back here, just Gerald Riggs instead of Allen. Riggs was good, but Allen was one of the best to ever play.

Pick Analysis. LB. Florida St. - 1995 (28th overall). 23. player. Scouting Report. Derrick Brooks. 55

This falls down the list because Pittsburgh was loaded at linebacker, but they could have used an upgrade inside with Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd on the outside. Instead, Pittsburgh drafted tight end Mark Bruener.

Pick Analysis. Ty Law. 24. player. Scouting Report. CB. Michigan - 1995 (22nd overall). 87

The expansion Panthers took a corner at 22nd-overall whose name began with Ty. Somehow, it was Tyrone Poole and not Ty Law. Poole played three years in Carolina before bouncing around. Law won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and resides in the Hall of Fame.

Michigan - 2001 (15th overall). Steve Hutchinson. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. G. 25. player. 58

Hutchinson was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time First-Team All-Pro, earning 2000s All-Decade status. Washington instead selected receiver Rod Gardner, who did not earn All-Decade status to the shock of many.

26. player. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. Ole Miss - 2007 (10th overall). LB. Patrick Willis. 10

Willis played eight NFL seasons and was an All-Pro in six of them (five times on the First Team). Houston had him on its board, but instead went with 19-year-old Amobi Okoye. It didn’t work out.

Mike Munchak. 27. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. G. Penn State - 1982 (7th overall). player. 60

Munchak was an eight-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowl guard with the Houston Oilers, earning enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Minnesota decided to pass on him, instead taking running back Darrin Nelson.

T.J. Watt. player. Pick Analysis. EDGE. 28. 123. Scouting Report. Wisconsin - 2017 (28th overall)

Imagine for a second, seeing Watt and Micah Parsons screaming off the edge. It could have happened for Dallas, but instead the Cowboys took Taco Charlton. Charlton has played on five teams in six seasons.

OT. 29. USC - 2011 (8th overall). Tyron Smith. player. 35. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis

The Titans took a reach at quarterback with Jake Locker instead of landing a stud left tackle in Smith, who has made eight Pro Bowls over his career with the Cowboys.

30. 13. Pick Analysis. S. Scouting Report. Texas - 2010 (12th overall). Earl Thomas. player

Thomas was a dominant force with the Legion of Boom, and it all happened because the Chargers selected running back Ryan Mathews. Not ideal.

Pick Analysis. player. 36. Scouting Report. CB. Ohio St. - 1999 (22nd overall). Antoine Winfield. 31

Winfield was a great player, enjoying 14 seasons and making three Pro Bowls. However, the Seahawks drafted defensive end Lamar King, who lasted five years and was finished.

45. EDGE. South Carolina St. - 1992 (25th overall). Robert Porcher. player. Scouting Report. Pick Analysis. 32

The Broncos didn’t miss any major talents in the first rounds, but this was one. Porcher was a three-time Pro Bowler who amassed 95.5 career sacks. Denver took quarterback Tommy Maddox, who started exactly four games over two years in the Mile High City.