Would You Rather? More like, would you like a do-over?
The NFL Draft is as imprecise a science as they come, and accordingly, talented players get underdrafted. I identified five players who were selected on Day 3 who, looking back, other teams likely wish they had drafted instead of some early underachievers that they took on Day 2 -- or even Day 1.
It's worth noting, of course: context, scheme, availability always change the game. Late-round rookies grab a sliver of playing time, get one or two quality plays under their belt, and the snowball of confidence rolls down the mountain into a stellar rookie season. If these players went at these spots, there's a chance the added pressure of the early selection would have built a different narrative.
But we can't prove that, so let's just pretend otherwise.
Darius Slayton, WR, New York Giants
I liked the Darius Slayton pick when it was made at 171 -- the tail end of the fifth round, and only two picks before another honoree in our list here. Slayton was a burner in Auburn who could rip a bubble screen for an explosive play or take the top off a defense with his nine route -- in New York, who already had a ton of underneath route winners, his threat on a straight line was welcome in OBJ's vacuum.
But I don't think anybody expected something like this for Slayton: off of a 14 target, 10 reception, 121 yard, 2 TD game against the Jets, Slayton has elevated himself to the status of Daniel Jones' favored target. His 5 TDs on 45 targets and 27 receptions is almost certainly unsustainable, but it does demonstrate Slayton's homerun ability, as well as emphasizing the role he fills in the offense: they like him down the field, at 14.6 yards/reception, and they like him in shot play territory to hit deep scores.
Tons of teams in front of the Giants' 171st pick would like Slayton on their roster, but no team needs him more sorely than division rival Philadelphia, who lost DeSean Jackson to injury and in doing so, lost their ability to attack deep. Rookie WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside has failed to break into the rotation despite the uninspired WR play in Philly -- replacing his big-body, contested catch approach with Slayton's deep separation profile.
Would Rather: Philadelphia selects Darius Slayton in Round 2, Pick 57 (JJ Arcega-Whiteside)
Gardner Minshew, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Listen, the Jaguars clearly don't want to give Gardner Minshew away -- of course they don't! He's the reason they're still competitive this year. But if NFL teams had known that Minshew was going to play the way he's played this season, you think they wouldn't have been on top of him in the middle rounds?
Minshew's greatest strengths as a passer in John DeFilippo's offense: pocket management, quick release, willingness to take short throws and let his weapons do work for him. He honestly fills the Chase Daniel mold of quarterbacking down to the diminutive frame, and in the limited performances we've seen from Daniel this year, he's outplayed incumbent starter Mitchell Trubisky.
So Chicago is a candidate to draft a QB this year -- or even make a blockbuster trade for one -- but if they had wisened up to Trubisky's limitations before last year's draft, they could have potentially grabbed a young player capable of fighting for the starting job in Minshew. And that's considering that they had both no first and no second rounder, as a result of the Khalil Mack trade -- here, I have them switching out for Riley Ridley, who has been a scratch from gameday more often than not this year.
Would Rather: Chicago selects Gardner Minshew in Round 4, Pick 126 (Riley Ridley)
Cole Holcomb, LB, Washington Redskins
Y'all know who leads the NFL rookies in tackles this year? That'd be Devin Bush of the Steelers -- he was a Top-10 draft pick, and the Steelers traded up to go get him. Cool.
Cole Holcomb is second. He was the 22nd linebacker drafted.
Holcomb was a late riser in the 2019 class, who was lauded for his athletic ability and high-energy play as a potential special-teams maven at the NFL level, with the requisite body type to backup multiple spots on the defense -- and that was likely the plan in Washington, after he was selected at 173 in the final pick of the fifth round. Instead, after Reuben Foster fell to IR, Holcomb grabbed a starting job and never let go, rising quickly above Shaun Dion-Hamilton to win the starting WILL job.
Holcomb wouldn't start on necessarily every team in the league, but he would likely start in Jacksonville, who wasn't getting quality play from third-rounder Quincy Williams when he was healthy, and likely could do for an improvement over Najee Goode as well.
Would Rather: Jacksonville selects Cole Holcomb in Round 3, Pick 98 (Quincy Williams)
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, New Orleans Saints
I will unabashedly proclaim that I was a big Chauncey fan during last year's Draft cycle -- I thought he was a first-round talent. Apparent issues during Combine interviews and even team visits led to an attitude-related fall for Gardner-Johnson, though the Saints were quick to snap him up with their second pick in the draft, though it wasn't until Pick 105 in the fourth round.
Gardner-Johnson is a nickel/safety hybrid, who floats around the box and makes plays in short zones and against slot receivers -- his five PBUs in only two starts this season paces all rookies selected in the fourth round or after, and is third among all rookies total. Those two starts came in nickel corner P.J. Williams' absence from the active roster due to injury, which again highlights the versatility that CGJ brings as a safety prospect.
But even with Williams back from injury, the Saints have worked to keep Gardner-Johnson in the defensive secondary. The Lions could use that from CGJ -- they've played Will Harris this year, and he's seen increased usage since the Quandre Diggs trade -- but he has much the same production as CGJ has, in significantly more starts.
Would Rather: Detroit selects Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in Round 3, Pick 81 (Will Harris)
Maxx Crosby, EDGE, Oakland Raiders
I struggled with getting Crosby into this one, so let's just treat him as an honorable mention. It's not so much the issue of Crosby's play: 7 QB Hits, 2 sacks, 3 PBUs -- that's tremendous, consummate play from Crosby for a team in desperate need of the EDGE help.
However, it's tough to ID the team that would replace him -- this is excusing those players such as Zach Allen and Jaylon Ferguson who've caught IR in their rookie year. L.J. Collier in the first round for Seattle, and even Clelin Ferrell, the other Oakland rusher, are perhaps the two players who have played measurably worse than Crosby this year -- but is Crosby worth that first round selection?
So either way, I'm shaky on Crosby. All I know is he's outplaying his draft spot -- and that's enough for that.
Would Rather: Seattle selects Maxx Crosby in Round 1, Pick 29 (L.J. Collier)