In a recent re-draft of the 2004 NFL Draft imagined by Bleacher Report, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was chosen #1 overall, going to the San Diego Chargers, instead of Eli Manning—and ultimately, Philip Rivers.
In terms of career production and performance, Roethlisberger to the Chargers makes perfect sense, as he “has the playoff and Super Bowl success to match Manning as well as the individual statistics to match Rivers…” notes Bleacher Report writer Brad Gagnon.
But in reality, it’s an unrealistic choice, as the Chargers appeared to consider Roethlisberger the third-best QB in that draft class, as evinced by their trade for Rivers, who hailed from North Carolina State.
Meanwhile, then-New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi preferred Manning, but would have been happy with Roethlisberger, saying [see the video, immediately below], “I had a good fallback position, because for me it was Roethlisberger. Rivers was good too, but we had Roethlisberger rated second.”
As late as the night before the 2004 NFL Draft it appeared the Giants were going to select Roethlisberger. In fact, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin called Leigh Steinberg, Big Ben’s agent, the night before: “It doesn’t look like this trade’s going to be made, and it looks like Ben’s our guy,” Coughlin said, per the above-referenced video.
Meanwhile, Rivers was expecting to be selected by the Steelers.
“I felt like, honestly, that’s where I was going,” Rivers said, again, in the above video, which documents the drama surrounding the top of the first round of the 2004 draft. That’s hardly a surprise, as Steelers’ head coach Bill Cowher—a North Carolina State alum—was believed to prefer Rivers, at least in terms of the quarterbacks available.
All that said, it’s not realistic that Roethlisberger would have ever been drafted by the Chargers, even with what we know now in terms of career success.
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2004 NFL Draft: The Cleveland Browns Passed on Roethlisberger
But the team that made the biggest mistake in the 2004 NFL Draft was Cleveland, which had the chance to take Roethlisberger, but passed on him in favor of tight end Kellen Winslow II, who went on to struggle with injuries, some of which occurred as a result of a motorcycle accident.
Never mind that Big Ben was from Findlay, Ohio, just two hours west of Cleveland. The Browns decided to sign Jeff Garcia to a four-year $25 million contract in free agency before the draft, essentially taking themselves out of the running for Roethlisberger. Instead they went with Winslow, who managed two strong seasons with the Browns before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009.
Roethlisberger’s ability to win games, even when he doesn’t get much help from his teammates, would no doubt have served him well in potentially reviving a struggling Browns franchise.
Worse yet, for the Browns, is that Big Ben has tortured them ever since, posting a 23-2-1 record against Cleveland, with nary a loss or tie against them at Heinz Field. And to this day, Roethlisberger is still the winningest quarterback in the history of FirstEnergy Stadium, with an 11-2-1 record there as a starting QB, a record that Baker Mayfield—entering his third season with the team—won’t have a chance to break until at least November.
Steelers Select Willie Parker #11 Overall in Re-Draft
As for the Steelers’ pick at #11 overall—that is, the spot where Roethlisberger was actually drafted—Bleacher Report has Pittsburgh selecting RB Willie Parker, who the team signed as an undrafted free agent that spring. Again, not a very realistic selection, but hey, at least it keeps him in Pittsburgh, where he thrived until his NFL career ended in 2009.
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