The 2006 NFL draft narrative quickly became centered around the debate of whether Mario Williams or Reggie Bush would become the better player. Had Houston made a big mistake at No. 1? Obviously, you'd probably give the edge at this point to Williams, but it's not by much. But what if we re-drafted the entire first round based on what we know now, after six full years of NFL play? Well, I did. But consider the parameters:
1. This order doesn't just reflect what players have done, but what they still have left.
2. I'm not as concerned with need, or an attempt to re-write history. This is about performance.
Why six? Well, we did 2005 last year, in looking at Aaron Rodgers' rise. So why break the pattern -- it's a good length to give a sense of a class while still allowing at least some projection. Remember, this follows the actual order.
Houston TexansRecord: 2-14Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon
He's played in 94 of 96 possible regular season games, plays a premium position, is a Pro Bowl shoo-in and would dominate in any system. Safe to say the guy Ray Lewis pushed for to free up the Baltimore linebackers has worked out just fine, and the future holds plenty more. Previous draft spot: No. 12
New Orleans SaintsRecord: 3-13Nick Mangold, C, Ohio St.
A center at No. 2 is preposterous in a real draft because it's not considered a premium position. But Mangold transcends that because he's the best in the NFL, and would make any offense better. No member of this class has more Pro Bowl appearances, or is as universally regarded as the best at what he does. Previous draft spot: No. 29
Tennessee TitansRecord: 4-12Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, UCLA
Coming off a year in which he was close to unstoppable even within an offense that was far too easy to stop, Jones Drew has over 1,700 yards more than any other running back in this draft class after six years. Given his body type, he could be good for another five years, which puts him in elite territory historically. Previous draft spot: No. 60
New York JetsRecord: 4-12Tamba Hali, DE, Penn St.
Who has the most sacks from this class? It's not Williams, the former No. 1 pick. No, it's Hali, who has been brilliant since converting to the 3-4 as an OLB. With 53.5 sacks in five seasons -- and only getting better -- he's quietly been very, very good, and quite durable, playing in 95 of 96 games. Imagine him in Rex Ryan's system. Previous draft spot: No. 20
Green Bay PackersRecord: 4-12Mario Williams, DE, North Carolina St.
Just behind Hali in sack production, but you have to factor in the injury he suffered this year. Minus that, he'd be the draft class leader in the category. Now converted in from DE in the 4-3 to upright in the 3-4, is the upside the same? Regardless, Williams has put most all questions about his selection to rest. Too bad he didn't get to experience the Houston playoff run this year. Previous draft spot: No. 1
San Francisco 49ersRecord: 4-12Jahri Evans, OT, Bloomsburg
One of the steals of the draft, Evans went No. 108 overall from Bloomsburg. Now a Pro Bowl tackle in New Orleans, it's safe to say he'd be a top-10 lock if we knew then what we know now. Previous draft spot: No. 108
Oakland RaidersRecord: 4-12Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt
Based on positional scarcity, Cutler could almost be higher. The next highest passing yardage total in this class is Vince Young with just 8,964 yards. Cutler will reach 20,000 around the midway point of 2012 if healthy. Enigmatic, but still with an element of promise, San Fran would certainly take him over Alex Smith for the past five seasons.
Previous draft spot: No. 11
Buffalo BillsRecord: 5-11Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland
He has just five more catches (304) than the next closest tight end in the class, but consider what he's done with a mostly bad QB situatiion in San Fran over the last six years, and he might just be hitting his stride. Davis still has a lot of good football left, and it's clear the speed is still there. Previous draft spot: No. 6
Detroit LionsRecord: 5-11Greg Jennings, WR, Western Michigan
He fell to No. 52 overall based somewhat on competition level after dominating at Western Michigan, but Jennings was ready to help Green Bay early. Leads the draft class in TD receptions with 49, and solid clutch credentials. Jennings has plenty left.
Previous draft spot: No. 52
Arizona CardinalsRecord: 5-11D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OT, Virginia
Drafted at No. 4 overall, Ferguson was expected to be very good, and he has been. A Pro Bowl regular, he may be overshadowed by the excellence of Mangold, but plenty of teams would love to get what he provides the Jets. Previous draft spot: No. 4
Denver BroncosRecord: 13-3Brandon Marshall, WR, Central Florida
He may not be considered a game-breaker, but Marshall leads the draft class in both receiving yards and catches. In fact, Marshall has 45 more catches than anyone else in the class. This for a guy that went No. 119 overall. Back in Denver!
Previous draft spot: No. 119
Baltimore RavensRecord: 6-10Reggie Bush, RB, USC
People who want to call Bush a bust simply aren't watching the tape. He's only a disappointment if you had Hall of Fame projections because of where he was taken. But Bush has done plenty. Not only is he fourth in this draft class in rushing yards (and he'll be higher when he's finished), Bush has 337 catches. For context, consider that Santonio Holmes, a Round 1 pick who's had a pretty good career thus far, has 338. Bush was a key part of a Saints renaissance and Super Bowl team, and he clearly has a lot left after a great year running the ball. Previous draft spot: No. 2
Cleveland BrownsRecord: 6-10Devin Hester, CB, Miami (Fla.)
It's hard to say where Hester will be viewed as a wideout, but he may be the greatest returner we've ever seen, played a huge role in a Super Bowl run and did all this after being drafted as a corner. He's made himself valuable, a great credit to him.
Previous draft spot: No. 57
Philadelphia EaglesRecord: 6-10Elvis Dumervil, DE, Louisville
He's faced a major injury, and even then Dumervil is exactly a half-sack behind Mario Williams one behind Tamba Hali, and this after being taken No. 126 overall. Sure, he faced height questions, but Dumervil simply gets to quarterbacks. Previous draft spot: No. 126
St. Louis RamsRecord: 6-10Marques Colston, WR, Hofstra
What's the most impressive number -- the 449 catches, 48 TD catches, or 6,240 receiving yards? Actually, it's none of those. It's No. 252, where Colston was drafted just moments before Mr. Irrelevant. (Hofstra doesn't even field a football team anymore.) The one Super Bowl ring isn't shabby, either. Previous draft spot: No. 252
Miami DolphinsRecord: 9-7DeMeco Ryans, LB, Alabama
The Houston defense hasn't always been this good while he's been around, but Ryan has 482 tackles, easily the best in his class, and some frequent flyer miles to Hawaii.
Previous draft spot: No. 33
Minnesota VikingsRecord: 9-7Andrew Whitworth, OT, LSU
He may never get the credit he deserves, but Whitworth is a really good left tackle and was a huge part of the success in Cincinnati this year. How he hasn't been to a Pro Bowl is beyond me. Maybe one of the more underrated players in the league.
Previous draft spot: No. 55
Dallas CowboysRecord: 9-7Johnathan Joseph, CB, South Carolina
Not much of a surprise for me that Joseph has been this good; the No. 24 overall pick is the kind of player you want locked up with a No. 1 receiver. Certainly in the upper echelon of NFL corners. Previous draft spot: No. 24
San Diego ChargersRecord: 9-7DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis
He has nearly 500 fewer carries than Jones-Drew, but also a real shot at 10,000 rushing yards if he stays healhy enough to go perhaps another five seasons.
Previous draft spot: No. 27
Kansas City ChiefsRecord: 10-6Davin Joseph, G, Oklahoma
Not a household name, but the people who fill out Pro Bowl rosters know Joseph as one of the better guards in the league over the last handful of seasons.
Previous draft spot: No. 23
New England PatriotsRecord: 10-6Antonio Cromartie, CB, Florida St.
Now the lesser of the Jets' top two corners, Cromartie has still carved out a very good career. He leads this draft class in INTs by four, and has been a Pro Bowl player. Probably doesn't have the same promise we saw from him early, but still a solid corner.
Previous draft spot: No. 19
San Francisco 49ersRecord: 4-12Roman Harper, CB, Alabama
The second of five total players taken out of Alabama in this draft, Harper has been a Pro Bowl corner and a steady force in the New Orleans secondary. Not always consistent, but he'd be a solid addition to any team. Previous draft spot: No. 43
Tampa Bay BuccaneersRecord: 11-5Kamerion Wimbley, DE, Florida St.
The Raiders may have shelled out a little too much to get Wimbley last offseason in the eyes of some, but he's behind only Williams, Hali and Dumervil in sacks for this class, so he's carved out a pretty decent career as a guy that specializes in rushing the QB. Not a major surprise for a No. 13 overall pick. Previous draft spot: No. 13
Cincinnati BengalsRecord: 11-5Eric Winston, OT, Miami (Fla.)
In the last five seasons, Winston has started 80 out of a possible 80 games. He plays a big part of what makes Houston's run and play-action game perhaps the best in the NFL. Previous draft spot: No. 66
Pittsburgh SteelersRecord: 11-5Marcedes Lewis, TE, UCLA
It's criminal that Lewis had just 39 receptions this season, but such is life in the Jacksonville offense. Could be far more productive had he been in a better setting, but hasn't been bad where he is with 220 catches in six seasons. Previous draft spot: No. 28
Buffalo BillsRecord: 5-11Owen Daniels, TE, Wisconsin
Has carved out a very productive career in Houston, with 299 catches. Not bad at all for a No. 98 overall pick. Wisconsin is a program scouts keep an eye on looking for tight end talent, and Daniels is a part of the reason why. Previous draft spot: No. 98
Carolina PanthersRecord: 11-5Antoine Bethea, CB, Howard
The No. 207 overall pick has proven to be a Pro Bowl player. No other safety or corner from the draft class can top his 414 career tackles. Previous draft spot: No. 207
Jacksonville JaguarsRecord: 12-4Marcus McNeill, OT, Auburn
Really hope that McNeill can come back in 2012 fully healthy. At his best, he's a big-time talent at left tackle, and his play early in his career made that clear. He drops some here because it's hard to project if he'll be at that level again. Previous draft spot: No. 50
New York JetsRecord: 4-12Richard Marshall, CB, Fresno St.
By no means a star, Marshall has carved out a solid career. He's third in this class in INTs with 17, and also has over 400 tackles in his career. Previous draft spot: No. 58
Indianapolis ColtsRecord: 14-2Danieal Manning, S, Abilene Christian
This is a player who cracks the first round because I still think his best is yet to come. Manning has been a solid return man, but his play in the secondary has been underrated, and he had a solid year for the Texans. Previous draft spot: No. 42