This story was published on June 27, 2016, but we think it’s worth reading again as part of our NFL “What If?” week at SB Nation.
When Maurice Jones-Drew bulldozed through a couple of Indianapolis Colts defenders for 5 yards and a first down in the final minutes of a Week 17 game on New Year’s Day in 2012, it sealed a 19-13 victory for the Jacksonville Jaguars and ended a late rally for the Colts.
But if Jones-Drew was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, the NFL might look much different today.
On the previous drive, Dan Orlovsky led the Colts 82 yards in just over three minutes, completing seven of his eight pass attempts, including a 12-yard touchdown to Austin Collie. The Jaguars’ defense was on the ropes, but it was bailed out by a Jones-Drew run that dealt the Colts their 14th and final loss of the season.
If Orlovsky was given one more chance to drive the field with more than two minutes left on the clock, the Colts could have improved to 3-13 — and fallen to No. 2 in the draft order that spring. Then, they may have never had the chance to draft quarterback Andrew Luck.
Instead, the Colts parted ways with Peyton Manning after the 2-14 season, selected Luck with the No. 1 pick of the 2012 NFL Draft and earned a spot in the postseason in the next three years.
New draft order if the Colts beat the Jaguars
Not only would a win for the Colts in Week 17 have dropped Indianapolis from No. 1 in the draft order, but it also would’ve dropped the Jaguars to 4-12 and No. 4 in the draft order. The new top-eight picks of the 2012 NFL Draft would be as follows:
|Actual draft order||New draft order w/ Colts win|
|1||Indianapolis Colts||2-14||0.539||1||St. Louis Rams||2-14||0.590|
|2||St. Louis Rams||2-14||0.590||2||Indianapolis Colts||3-13||0.531|
|3||Minnesota Vikings||3-13||0.559||3||Minnesota Vikings||3-13||0.559|
|4||Cleveland Browns||4-12||0.531||4||Jacksonville Jaguars||4-12||0.508|
|5||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||4-12||0.551||5||Cleveland Browns||4-12||0.531|
|6||Washington||5-11||0.477||6||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||4-12||0.551|
|8||Miami Dolphins||6-10||0.504||8||Miami Dolphins||6-10||0.504|
Suddenly the draft fortunes of a few teams look different.
1. Cleveland Browns (via St. Louis Rams)
The Rams got a haul for the No. 2 pick, trading it to Washington for three first-round picks and a second-round pick. But ownership of the first pick might change that strategy.
It would be revisionist history to say the Rams could use an upgrade from Sam Bradford at that time. Yes, the 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year had a bad second season, but his poor 2011 was attributed to injury and a lack of weapons around him. In Mel Kiper’s first mock draft of the 2012 offseason, he projected the Rams to use the second pick on wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
The option to take Andrew Luck instead of Robert Griffin III may give pause, but the Rams were also just entering the third year of a six-year, $76 million deal with Bradford. If St. Louis picked Luck, the Rams would have no choice but to trade Bradford and his value likely wouldn’t approach Luck’s.
So, the logical end result is that the Rams again trade down and elect to pass on drafting a quarterback. But how much more could they get?
Luck, considered a once-in-a-generation prospect, would certainly be worth more than Griffin, as would the No. 1 pick. If it took three first-rounders for Washington to jump from No. 6 to No. 2 for Griffin, it would almost certainly take more to get to No. 1 from No. 7. It’s hard to imagine Washington being able to afford that, though.
When the Rams announced they would trade the No. 2 pick, the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins were also considered candidates. The Colts, now with the second overall pick, would likely also be in the running to move up to No. 1 for Luck.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the Browns offered as many as three first-round picks and a second-round pick, just like Washington, to try to get a deal done for Griffin. As owners of two first-round picks in 2012 — thanks to the trade in 2011 that landed Julio Jones with the Atlanta Falcons — the Browns are the only team that could offer four first-round picks without dipping into its 2015 draft picks.
Projected result: Rams trade the pick to Browns for four first-round picks; Browns select Andrew Luck
2. Indianapolis Colts
With Luck gone to the Browns with the first pick, there’s reason to second-guess the idea that moving on from Peyton Manning is the best move.
Still, there were plenty of indications at that time that Manning may never play football again after he missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. Hindsight is 20/20, and had the Colts known that Manning would play at the level he did for the Denver Broncos, he likely would’ve stuck in Indianapolis. But in this scenario, taking Robert Griffin III is the easy choice for the Colts now.
Given the results of the last four seasons, that seems like a disaster for the Colts, but the fortunes of Griffin may have been much different in a new setting. Maybe he wouldn’t have been injured so much. Maybe he would have developed as a quarterback. Mike Shanahan and Dan Snyder made several mistakes in how they handled Griffin in Washington. However, he would have been under the tutelage of Bruce Arians in Indianapolis, at least for one season.
Maybe things would’ve ended the same for Griffin, but there’s no way they could’ve gone worse than they did in Washington.
Projected result: Colts select Robert Griffin III
3. Minnesota Vikings
Nothing changes for the Vikings, except, instead of dropping back one pick to No. 4 after a trade with the Browns, Minnesota stays at No. 3 to take offensive tackle Matt Kalil. A small difference, but the Vikings don’t get the pair of fourth-round picks they used to select Jarius Wright and Robert Blanton.
Projected result: Vikings select Matt Kalil
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Week 17 loss for the Jaguars means they get the No. 4 pick instead of No. 7. It also means the trade that the Jaguars brokered with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to move up to No. 5 is unnecessary. Jacksonville can hang on to the fourth-round pick it sent to Tampa Bay and just select wide receiver Justin Blackmon at No. 4 overall.
Projected result: Jaguars select Justin Blackmon
5. St. Louis Rams
Now owners of the No. 5 and No. 22 picks thanks to the Browns, there’s less incentive for the Rams to pull off the big trade down with the Dallas Cowboys that eventually landed them defensive tackle Michael Brockers. St. Louis also has the chance to take running back Trent Richardson, a player who was considered the team’s top choice.
The Rams liked him so much that the Browns moved up from No. 4 to No. 3, a seemingly pointless trade, just to make sure nobody like St. Louis scooped them for the highly touted running back. In hindsight, the Rams were lucky to dodge Richardson but with him falling right in their laps, there’s no way they pass.
Projected result: Rams select Trent Richardson
6. Washington (via Buccaneers)
This one is tough.
Many believed the Buccaneers were leaning toward LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne with the No. 5 pick, but when they were on the clock, Tampa Bay traded to No. 7 with the Jaguars. Dallas eventually swooped in to take Claiborne at No. 6 before the Buccaneers had a chance again, but Tampa Bay swore that Mark Barron was the move all along.
With both Claiborne and Barron on the board, it’s anyone’s guess if the Buccaneers would’ve selected either of those players at No. 6 or traded down. The Cowboys really liked Claiborne and gave up a lot to grab the pick from the Rams, but that was because Dallas felt it needed to jump the Buccaneers. There’s much less incentive to jump in front of Washington.
The team that does have incentive to jump in front of Washington is Miami, because its chance of landing Ryan Tannehill is now in jeopardy. Washington needs a quarterback badly, so there’s a small bidding war for the No. 6 pick between Miami and Washington.
Washington won the bidding war for the No. 2 pick, so it’s probably a safer bet to assume it’s willing to part with more to get the No. 6 pick.
Projected result: Buccaneers trade pick to Washington for third-round pick; Washington selects Ryan Tannehill
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (via Washington)
Well what do you know, the Buccaneers land at No. 7 after a trade down and get the guy they wanted with a little extra value. Things worked out nearly the exact same way for Tampa Bay.
Projected result: Buccaneers select Mark Barron
8. Dallas Cowboys (via Dolphins)
The Dolphins tried to move up to No. 1, but the price was far too steep. Then, they tried to move up to No. 6, except they were unwilling to outbid Washington. It’s a bad shake for the Dolphins, but somebody has to end up without a quarterback and Miami drew the short straw.
Morris Claiborne sliding all the way to No. 8 makes for an attractive option for the Dolphins, but now the Cowboys are getting antsy about the player they were already willing to go up even higher to get. The Cowboys finally get the deal done and grab the player they wanted all along, while the Dolphins move down to No. 14 and cross their fingers that a player like Michael Floyd, Melvin Ingram or Quinton Coples is still available when they’re up again.
Projected result: Dolphins trade pick to Cowboys for third-round pick; Cowboys select Morris Claiborne
The full before and after for the top eight picks of the 2012 NFL Draft:
The butterfly effect says that even the smallest change to something in the past can snowball and create huge changes to the future. There are likely plenty of small moments in NFL history that seem inconsequential, but could’ve altered much of NFL history.
Jones-Drew’s 5-yard run clinched the No. 1 pick for the Colts in the 2012 NFL Draft, but if he had been stuffed, it could have triggered a chain reaction that would have changed the future for several teams in the league.