As SB Nation continues with its week of “What If?,” we continue here at The Falcoholic with a difficult scenario to consider.
What if the Atlanta Falcons had not traded up and selected Michael Vick in the 2001 NFL Draft?
First, let’s rehash what did happen. The Falcons traded their first and third-round picks in the 2001 NFL Draft, a 2002 second-round pick, and kick returner Tim Dwight to the San Diego Chargers for the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.
The Falcons obviously selected quarterback Michal Vick with the first overall selection. The Chargers selected running back LaDainian Tomlinson in the first round, defensive back Tay Cody in the second round and wide receiver Reche Caldwell in the following year’s draft.
So let’s pretend the Falcons decided NOT to do this trade.
In this scenario, the Chargers still have an obvious need at quarterback and running back. According to the San Diego Tribune, Chargers GM A.J. Smith was not going to select Michael Vick, perhaps due to the previous failure of selecting quarterback Ryan Leaf high in the draft and it not panning out. Also, the Chargers wouldn’t have taken L.T. first overall.
“L.T. would not have been our No. 1 overall pick,” said Smith. “We had him penciled in at 5, solid at 5 — still, a little nervous for us, but solid.”
With that knowledge, the Chargers would’ve stayed at No. 1 and selected defensive end Justin Smith, because Smith noted that’s who he would’ve selected. The second pick was held by the Arizona Cardinals, who were coming off a 3-13 season with quarterback Jake Plummer. Knowing that Plummer had 13 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 2000, and the team moved on from him in 2002, we’ll assume the Cardinals take Michael Vick in this scenario.
With Justin Smith and Michael Vick off the board, the Cleveland Browns are now on the clock and address their need at defensive tackle, and select Gerard Warren, as they did in real life. The Cincinnati Bengals would be up next, and the player they selected in our universe, Justin Smith, is not available. They heavily relied on running back Corey Dillon who rushed for 1,435 yards in 2000, so L.T. would not be the pick here. Their offensive line allowed 52 sacks in 2000, and the best available player happens to be an offensive guard. The Bengals select Leonard Davis.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for – the Atlanta Falcons are on the clock at No. 5. The question is, what would they do?
The Falcons coming off a 4-12 season have some holes to fill. Journeyman quarterback Chris Chandler is getting older, and had 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2000. Running back Jamal Anderson rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2000, and we unfortunately must ignore that he tears his ACL in the 2001 season. In hindsight, the pick is obviously LaDainian Tomlinson. It’s impossible to know for sure what the Falcons would do here, but knowing what we do, I would say they look to the defensive side of the ball, and select defensive tackle Richard Seymour out of Georgia.
The New England Patriots, who held the next pick, possibly would’ve taken L.T., and thinking about Tom Brady and L.T. on the field together gives me anxiety.
To recap, the Falcons stay pat at No. 5 and select defensive tackle Richard Seymour. They keep their picks and Tim Dwight, although they would still have a need at quarterback. Drew Brees is the best available after Vick, who in reality, went to the Chargers at the beginning of Round 2. It’s entirely possible that the Falcons try trading to that spot for Brees, but we could never know. We’ll pretend the Chargers, who still need a quarterback, take Brees here and the Falcons again take tight end Alge Crumpler at No. 35.
The Falcons have their No. 67 pick, so who do they select here? The best quarterback available is Chris Weinke, but he has a fourth-round grade and would’ve been a reach here. For the rest of Round 3, the only notable player selected was wide receiver Steve Smith by the Carolina Panthers. It’s possible the Falcons select Smith to add to their receiving corps of Terance Mathis and Shawn Jefferson. The team eventually drafted wide receiver Vinny Sutherland in the fifth round, brought back Tony Martin, and signed Brian Finneran, so they clearly had a need at receiver. If they didn’t go Smith here, it likely would’ve been one of the numerous players in Round 3 who didn’t really make a splash in the NFL.
The fourth round rolls around and the Falcons in reality take center Roberto Garza, who went on to have a solid career in Chicago. Perhaps here they would’ve been tempted to select the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Chris Weinke. There’s no way to know for sure, but pretty interesting to consider. With their other fourth-round pick, the Falcons took linebacker Matt Stewart, and it’s possible they do the same in this scenario.
The fifth round is upon us, and the Falcons might’ve already taken Steve Smith, so they no longer need to take a wide receiver. Nobody notable was selected in this round, so it’s likely the Falcons take someone you’ve never heard of.
In the sixth round, the Falcons selected defensive end Randy Garner. Nobody notable was selected in this round, so we’ll just say the Falcons take Garner again. To finish off their 2001 draft, the Falcons selected defensive back Corey Hall, guard Kynan Forney, defensive end Ronald Flemons and wide receiver Quentin McCord. Unless you have a time machine, there’s no way of telling if these picks would’ve changed.
As part of the Michael Vick trade, the Falcons also sent their second-round pick in 2002 to the Chargers. Since this would still be a Falcons pick, we’ll consider who they could’ve selected. The 2001 season took place in this scenario, so we’ll assume running back Jamal Anderson still tore his ACL, ending his NFL career. In Round 1, the team took running back T.J. Duckett. In hindsight, the Falcons should’ve taken safety Ed Reed in Round 1 and then taken running back Clinton Portis in Round 2.
Since there’s no way of knowing what their second-round pick would’ve been, we can only look at who they took in the third round: linebacker Will Overstreet. Assuming they decide to go linebacker in Round 2 instead, the best available would’ve been Levar Fisher, who went on to play a few seasons in Arizona.
So according to this scenario, if the Falcons didn’t trade up for Michael Vick, they possibly would’ve ended up with:
DT Richard Seymour, TE Alge Crumpler, WR Steve Smith, QB Chris Weinke, C Matt Stewart, someone you’ve never heard of, DE Randy Garner, DB Corey Hall, OG Kynan Forney, DE Ronald Flemons, WR Quentin McCord, LB Levar Fisher and kept kick returner Tim Dwight.
Before you yell at me, remember this is in theory. Nobody knows for certain what would’ve happened had the Falcons not traded up for Michael Vick. However, we do know that it would’ve made the road to eventually selecting quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008 uncertain.
Give me your best what ifs for this particular scenario, if you would.