The Most Surprising Draft Steal in the History of Every NFL Franchise
The NFL draft is known for having its own sorts of drama. Fans watching are just waiting to see if his or her own team is drafting the next franchise player.
For those who are watching into the later rounds, the ever-intriguing late-round “steal” is the topic of debate.
When it gets deeper into the draft, players’ abilities start to blend in with each other, making them nearly identical to their counterparts. All the players are athletic, and all of them have played for years. The question that coaches and scouts ask themselves is whether or not this player can help the team. Those players are not necessarily picked up because the scouts see them becoming the next Terrell Suggs or Peyton Manning.
However, if a team is lucky enough to pick up some real talent with a late-round pick, it definitely helps the head coach keep his job for a little bit longer.
Here are some great “steals” from past NFL drafts.
Atlanta Falcons: Brett Favre, QB (33rd Overall in 1991)
If NFL owners and coaches had the power of hindsight, Favre most likely would have gone first overall. However, assessing college potential in the NFL is a tough thing to do for scouts and coaches. That is probably why Favre dropped down to 33rd overall in the 1991 draft.
Most fans know him for being the former face of the Green Bay franchise. What they probably do not know is that he was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons his first year. He did not play much and was eventually traded.
Although the Falcons did not keep him, Favre has to be the franchise's biggest “steal” by definition.
Arizona Cardinals: Larry Wilson, S (74th Overall in 1960)
His career was highlighted by eight Pro Bowl selections, eight All-Pro selections and nominations to the 1960's and 1970's All-Decade team.
Baltimore Ravens: Adalius Thomas, LB (186th Overall in 2000)
Thomas is one of the main contributors to the Ravens' name being synonymous with the term defense.
Thomas was extremely versatile for the Ravens, spending time on special teams, defensive end, outside linebacker and at cornerback.
He was named to the All-Pro first team in 2006, when he had 83 tackles and 11 sacks.
Buffalo Bills: Thurman Thomas, RB (40th Overall in 1988)
After an injury saw Thomas’ stock slip, he was taken after Tony Jeffery and John Stephens in that same year.
Maybe that gave him energy, because during Thomas’ career, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards eight times, was the AFC rushing leader three times and was selected to five consecutive Pro Bowls.
He was also named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1991 and played in four Super Bowls, making him a definite bargain.
It is tough to make a prediction on Hall of Fame potential, but if there were ever a player who deserves it, it would be Thurman Thomas.
Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith, WR (74th Overall in 2001)
Accolades include five Pro Bowl selections, three-time All-Pro, NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2005) and is the Panthers' all-time leader in receiving yards.
Recently, it looked like Smith was starting to decline and look towards retirement. However, that all seems to have changed after his connection with rookie quarterback Cam Newton.
Chicago Bears: George Blanda, QB/K (119th Overall in 1949)
Some of his career highlights include four AFL All-Star game selections, five All-AFL selections and two All-Pro selections.
In 1981, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To have those awards on one's resume is impressive, especially if you were selected 119th overall and played as both a quarterback and a kicker.
Cincinnati Bengals: Rudi Johnson, RB (100th Overall in 2001)
Coming into the Bengals' organization was not a walk in the park for running back Rudi Johnson. He had to come in and start playing at a level high enough to replace Corey Dillon.
However, playing with Carson Palmer did make life slightly easier. This allowed him to post some strong numbers playing behind a balanced offensive attack.
In Johnson’s six years playing for the Bengals ('02-'07), he managed to garner three seasons of over 1,000 yards rushing while just missing out in 2003 with 957.
Needless to say, being selected 100th overall and putting up those kinds of numbers was a steal for the Bengals’ organization.
Cleveland Browns: Bernie Kosar, QB (1985 Supplemental Draft)
Kosar was not the most athletic man to play quarterback.
He was famously immobile and threw with an unwieldy sidearm motion. However, he threw with a high rate of accuracy and rarely forced throws or made bad decisions. In 1990 and 1991, Kosar set a then-NFL record by throwing 308 consecutive passes without an interception.
He was selected to one Pro Bowl, one All-Pro team and also had a Super Bowl victory.
Dallas Cowboys: Roger Staubach, QB (129th Overall in 1964)
Staubach was instrumental in developing the Cowboys into becoming one of the best teams of the 1970s, and he led the team to nine of the Cowboys' record-setting 20 consecutive winning seasons.
He eventually led the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl victory and as a result, he was named MVP in Super Bowl VI. Staubach was described by legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry as "possibly the best combination of a passer, an athlete and a leader to ever play in the NFL."
Some career highlights include two Super Bowl victories, multiple All-Pro teams and in 1985, a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.
Denver Broncos: Terrell Davis, RB (196th Overall in 1995)
Terrell Davis is the Denver Broncos' all-time leading rusher with 7,607 rushing yards.
In his fairly brief NFL career of eight years, he managed to rush for over 1,000 yards in four of them and even gained over 2,000 in 1998.
Davis even finished his rookie year in 1995 with a total of 1,117 rushing yards, becoming the lowest-drafted player to ever gain over 1,000 yards rushing in his first year.
He became a two-time Super Bowl champion and two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year along with the 1998 NFL MVP award.
For even a No. 1 draft pick, those accolades would be pretty impressive, and yet Davis did them starting from a practice squad special teams player.
Detroit Lions: Joe Schmidt, LB (85th Overall in 1953)
Not only is Schmidt one of the best draft steals for the franchise, but he may be one of the better selections overall for Detroit.
Schmidt was a 10-time Pro Bowl inductee and was able to garner eight first-team All-Pro selections. He was also a two-time NFL champion.
Green Bay Packers: Bart Starr, QB (199th Overall in 1956)
Starr began as a backup to Tobin Rote in 1956 and split time with Babe Parilli until 1959, Vince Lombardi's first year as Packers coach. In that season, Lombardi pulled starter Lamar McHan in favor of Starr, and he held the starting job henceforth.
The following season, the Packers advanced to the 1960 NFL Championship Game, but they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, Lombardi's only postseason loss as a head coach. The Packers returned to the title game and won in 1961 and 1962, both over the New York Giants.
In 1966, the Associated Press (AP), the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) and UPI named Starr the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Who would have known that the iconic Bart Starr was selected in Round 12?
Houston Texans: Arian Foster, RB (Undrafted in 2009)
It may be slightly too early to say he is the biggest steal in franchise history. However, with the young background the Texans have, he may be the best steal/pickup Houston has ever had.
His rookie season in 2009 was a struggle, only gaining 257 yards. In 2010 and 2011, he turned it around, gaining 1,616 and 1,224 yards, respectively.
Indianapolis Colts: Robert Mathis, DE (138th Overall in 2003)
Mathis makes this list because he has shown improvement throughout his young career. He has put up double-digit sack totals in four of his nine years playing in the NFL. Another three times he was only .5 of a sack away from making it double digits.
The Colts’ Robert Mathis is still widely considered one of the premier defensive ends in the league. It looks like his pick may have had something to do with the drive and motivation to consistently play at this level.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB (60th Overall in 2006)
Granted, MJD was not necessarily a steal in the draft. However, the Jaguars essentially had no reputable player on their roster before him.
In Drew’s fairly short career thus far, he has managed to acquire three Pro Bowl selections as well as become the NFL Rushing champion in 2011.
He also owns multiple Jaguars franchise records in single-game all-purpose yards, single-season all-purpose yards and single-season rushing yards.
Kansas City Chiefs: Joe Horn, WR (135th Overall in 1996)
This is a situation in which although Joe Horn did not technically brand his name with the Chiefs, he was technically still drafted by that franchise.
In four years with Kansas City, Horn managed to miss the 1,000-yard mark in each year, with the closest still being 414 yards off. However, from 2000 to 2006, Horn moved over to New Orleans and played an impressive few years with the Saints.
In that time span, Horn managed to gain over 1,000 yards receiving on four separate seasons.
For being a 135th overall pick, being named to three Pro Bowls is not too bad.
Miami Dolphins: Zach Thomas, LB (154th Overall in 1996)
For those who were fortunate enough to watch Zach Thomas play, they were in for a treat with his defensive style and effectiveness.
Thomas was known as a defensive leader and has been a fixture of the Miami defense since he entered the league in 1996.
He’s been credited with less than 128 tackles only once and that was when he missed five games in 2000 and posted a total of 99. His career total of more than 1,400 credited tackles is gaudy, and he has also been a member of six Pro Bowl teams.
Thomas is considered probably the best linebacker in Dolphins’ history and will likely have a place in the NFL Hall of Fame.
Minnesota Vikings: Fran Tarkenton, QB (29th Overall in 1961)
Granted, Tarkenton’s selection at 29th overall is not too bad, nor is it a solid “steal” candidate. However, for the amount of work he put in, it is surprising to see him outside of the top five of that draft.
Before Manning, Favre and Marino, he held the record for most career touchdown passes at 342. He also threw for over 47,000 yards, which shot him up to sixth all time.
However, what he is also known for is his ability to run just as effectively as he could throw.
Tarkenton was one of the first and best “dual-threat” type quarterbacks the league had ever seen.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady, QB (199th Overall in 2000)
We all know this one. He may have the most dramatic story in all of football, in fact. Tom Brady has the history and resume to basically write a Disney movie himself.
He was selected in the late rounds and turned out to be a Hall of Fame quarterback, winning three Super Bowls and being named MVP twice. Brady has the stats that any football player dreams about.
From where he was chosen and to what he has accomplished, this makes him probably the biggest steal of NFL history.
New Orleans Saints: Marc Bulger, QB (168th Overall in 2000)
Bulger was technically a draft pick of the New Orleans Saints. However, he made his name while playing for the Rams.
Before Sam Bradford, there was a great quarterback in Marc Bulger running the Rams' offense.
He replaced Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner during the 2002 season and in the process, he showed that he had some real NFL talent. In his first seven starts, he posted a passer rating of over 100.
Bulger’s career QBR was 84.4. He gained 22,814 yards and amassed 122 touchdowns.
New York Giants: Harry Carson, LB (105th Overall in 1976)
Some highlights include nine Pro Bowl selections, two first-team All-Pro selections as well as a Super Bowl victory.
He was also inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame and thoroughly helped change the face of the Giants' franchise.
In his 13 seasons, Carson intercepted 11 passes and returned them for a total of 212 yards. He also recovered 14 fumbles, returning them for 36 yards and one touchdown.
New York Jets: Joe Klecko, DE (144th Overall in 1977)
Known to be one of the best defensive lineman to have ever played the game, some of Klecko’s accolades include AFC Defensive Player of the year as well as four Pro Bowl selections.
He has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but his No. 73 has been retired by the New York Jets.
Oakland Raiders: Art Shell, OT (80th Overall in 1968)
Art Shell was one of the best to ever play tackle in the NFL. He was named to eight Pro Bowls and was a three-time first-team All-Pro and a member of the All-Decade Team for the 1970s.
Philadelphia Eagles: Harold Carmichael, WR (161st Overall in 1971)
Carmichael was selected to four Pro Bowls in his NFL career and led the league in receptions and receiving yards during the 1973 season. He finished third in receiving yards in 1978 with 1,072 and was second in receiving touchdowns in 1979 with 11.
He was also the Eagles' top receiver of Super Bowl XV with six catches for 91 yards. He ended his career with 590 receptions for 8,985 yards with 79 career touchdown catches. He still ranks 18th all time in career touchdown receptions.
Finally as the finisher, voters of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selected Carmichael to the 1970's All-Decade Team.
Pittsburgh Steelers: John Stallworth, WR (82nd Overall in 1974)
For a fourth-round pick, Stallworth played some great football for one of the most storied franchises in the NFL.
He was selected to four Pro Bowls and more importantly, is a four-time Super Bowl champion.
Granted, to win championships requires hard work and some luck, but to win it four times and be a contributing factor in all of them says a lot about his skill.
John totaled 537 receptions, 8,723 yards and 63 touchdowns in his career.
San Diego Chargers: Antonio Gates, TE (Undrafted in 2003)
In 2004, his second season in the NFL, Gates became quarterback Drew Brees' favorite target. He finished the season with 81 receptions for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Gates tied the NFL season record for touchdowns by a tight end (13) in a 21–0 win over the Cleveland Browns, and he went on to break that record in an overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts soon after.
Gates has had eight Pro Bowl selections and was elected into the NFL 2000's All-Decade Team.
San Francisco 49ers: Dwight Clark, WR (249th Overall in 1979)
Clark was not necessarily a huge success in the NFL. In fact, his pick was nothing too out of the ordinary for what most wide receivers of his talent could do.
He caught over 500 passes in nine season with the 49ers, but what fans will probably remember most about him was “The Catch” against Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship game.
Seattle Seahawks: Steve Largent, WR (117th Overall in 1976)
Largent spent 13 years with the Seahawks, and while not particularly fast, he was extremely sure-handed. He was selected to the NFL Pro Bowl seven times and was the first Seahawks player to earn that honor.
When Largent retired, he held all major NFL receiving records, including: most receptions in a career (819), most receiving yards in a career (13,089) and most touchdown receptions (100).
Finally in 1995, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
St. Louis Rams: Norm Van Brocklin, QB (37th Overall in 1949)
His career includes nine Pro Bowl selections, two NFL championships and multiple All-Pro selections.
In 1950, he led the Rams to a record 466 points while also averaging a current NFL record of 38.8 points per game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: John Lynch, CB (82nd Overall in 1993)
A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Lynch earned a Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. He also spent time with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots before retiring as a free agent during the 2008 season.
Tennessee Titans: Frank Wychek, TE (160th Overall in 1993 Draft)
Wycheck amassed 505 receptions for 5,126 yards and 28 touchdowns over his 11-year career, one of only six tight ends to surpass 500 receptions in NFL history (the others being Shannon Sharpe, Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates).
Wycheck led the Titans in receiving for three consecutive seasons (1999-2001). Wycheck also went 5-for-6 passing the ball in his career. Granted, they were all on trick plays, but nevertheless, they resulted in 148 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Washington Redskins: Larry Brown, RB (191th Overall in 1969)
He went to four consecutive Pro Bowls during his first four seasons and led the Redskins to their 1973 Super Bowl VII appearance against the "perfect season" Miami Dolphins. Brown was the National Football League's Most Valuable Player in 1972.
He finished top five in the league in rushing yards three times, yards from scrimmage three times and total touchdowns twice. Brown was the first Redskins running back to gain more than 1,000 yards in a single season. He achieved that feat twice in a career that ran from 1969 to 1976. In an eight-year career, Brown was selected to play in the Pro Bowl in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972.
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