Biggest Steals from Each Round in NFL Draft History
As everyone knows, the NFL draft is as much about value as it is selecting the best players.
Of course, picking the right players really, really helps.
So here’s a look at the biggest steals in draft history, which dates back to 1936. To be clear, this is NFL draft history and its rounds, with all due respect to the AFL draft, which took place from 1960-66.
This is not a case of picking the best players in each respective round, although some may indeed fit the bill. And when it comes to the word steal, we’re combining draft position with school and other circumstances. Obviously, as the rounds goes on, the bargain became much greater.
You’ll notice that the list is extremely offensive-heavy and that’s more by coincidence than design. But you will see other great players picked in those rounds given their due as well.
It makes for a great discussion and it’s hard to go wrong with any of these phenomenal performers.
Round 1: Jim Brown, RB, Cleveland Browns (1957)
It was really tempting to go with Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino here.
After all, in the quarterback-heavy draft of 1983, Marino was the last of six quarterbacks taken in the first round, the 27th overall selection that year.
And you could make the case while he never achieved Super Bowl glory that the game has never seen a better pure passer.
But we’ll go with another Hall of Famer in running back Jim Brown. The former Syracuse star was the sixth player selected in the 1957 draft. Considering Brown’s amazing career with the Cleveland Browns, it’s hard to believe he wasn’t the top pick.
Of course, the first five players selected that year were hardly slouches. Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung went first and fellow Canton enshrine and quarterback Len Dawson went with the fifth pick. Throw in quarterback John Brodie (third overall) and that’s quite a class.
Then again, even after nearly 50 years since he last played, Brown is considered by many to be the best ever at his position and arguably the greatest player in league history.
And at No. 6, that has to be considered a steal.
Round 2: Brett Favre, QB, Atlanta Falcons (1991)
It’s hard to determine whether the Atlanta Falcons stole Brett Favre or the Green Bay Packers stole Favre from the Falcons?
In any case, it worked out okay for the Pack.
The 33rd selection in the 1991 NFL draft, Favre threw about a handful of passes for the Falcons and in 1992 was dealt to the Packers.
Yes, the rest is history. Favre owns all the all-time major passing records, won three straight league MVP awards (1995-97) and led Green Bay to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, winning XXXI and falling short in XXXII.
Along with his 71,838 passing yards and 508 touchdown passes, Favre was picked off a record 336 times.
The lone reason for the mention of the latter is that the player with the most career interceptions (81), Hall of Famer Paul Krause, was a second-round selection as well, taken by the Washington Redskins in 1964.
Round 3: Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 49ers (1979)
It’s funny that teams wound up passing on what proved to be a number of prolific quarterbacks in this round, with the emphasis on passing.
Hall of Famers Dan Fouts and Fran Tarkenton were third-round picks in the 1973 and 1961 NFL drafts by the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings, respectively. Both players threw for well over 40,000 yards. While Fouts’ 254 touchdown passes ranks 14th in NFL history, only three players in league annals can top Sir Francis’ 342 aerial scores.
But the selection here is former Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana, taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the 82nd overall pick in 1979. In his third NFL season, the former Golden Domer would lead his team to the first of four Super Bowl championships in a nine-year span.
In his four appearances in the Big Game, Montana combined to throw 11 touchdown passes without an interception. And he’s the lone player in history to capture Super Bowl MVP honors three times, as was the case in XVI, XIX and XXIV.
Montana finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs and came within a game of a fifth Super Bowl appearance in 1993.
Joe Cool was that indeed.
Round 4: Andre Reed, WR, Buffalo Bills (1985)
Please raise your hand if you know where Kutztown University is?
If you do, it’s likely because of wide receiver Andre Reed (although long-time New York Jets fans would argue that running back Bruce Harper put the Pennsylvania school on the map).
Regardless, Reed was a fourth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 1985 and the 86th overall pick that year. It was a draft class for the team that included defensive end Bruce Smith, who is already enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
In 1986, quarterback Jim Kelly (another Hall of Famer) finally joined the Bills and he and Reed wasted little time getting acquainted.
In 15 seasons in Buffalo, Reed caught 941 passes for 13,095 yards and 86 touchdowns, all team records. His 87 total touchdowns with the Bills is also another franchise high, tied with (you guessed it) Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas.
Yes, we’re often reminded that those Buffalo Bills teams lost four consecutive Super Bowls. But Reed was a big part of a club that got to that game four times in a row, a feat we may not see anytime soon.
Round 5: Mike Webster, C, Pittsburgh Steelers (1974)
It was a draft class that has yet to be duplicated and might never be.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won the first of four Super Bowl titles in a six-year span starting in 1974 and their draft class that year was one of legend.
In the first round they chose wide receiver Lynn Swann. The second round brought linebacker Jack Lambert and a fourth-round pick netted wideout John Stallworth. All are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In the fifth round, head coach Chuck Noll and his staff were looking to fortify the offensive line and tabbed University of Wisconsin’s Mike Webster.
It was a pretty good choice. The 125th pick in that draft went onto become one of the greatest centers in league history and was named to nine Pro Bowls with the Black and Gold.
While Webster played in Super Bowls IX and X, he was the Steelers starting center in Super Bowls XIII and XIV.
The star blocker was enshrined in Canton in 1997, an afternoon which enabled quarterback and teammate Terry Bradshaw (his presenter) to put his hands under Mike Webster’s butt one more time.
Round 6: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (2000)
With apologies to Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, a sixth-round pick by the team in 1995, the choice here is one of the most successful quarterbacks in league history.
Tom Brady and John Elway (speaking of the Broncos) are the only quarterbacks to start five Super Bowls. And while some like to focus on the fact that he and his team lost in their last two appearances, Brady and the New England Patriots did win three titles in a four-year span.
These days, New England continues to win games and Brady is now putting up phenomenal numbers. He now ranks fifth in NFL history with 334 touchdown passes. 187 of those scores have come in his last 81 regular-season games dating back to 2007.
By the way, it should be noted that the lone player drafted in the sixth round that is currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was defensive back Jack Christiansen. The Detroit Lions made him the choice in that round in 1951.
That figures to change…eventually.
Round 7: Shannon Sharpe, TE, Denver Broncos (1990)
Obviously there was some football talent in the Sharpe family. And brothers Sterling and Shannon would arrive in the NFL in two totally different manners.
Sterling Sharpe was the seventh pick in 1988 from South Carolina.
Shannon Sharpe was a seventh-round pick in 1990 from Savannah State.
Shannon, the 192nd player selected in the 1990 draft, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. In 14 seasons with the Broncos and Baltimore Ravens, Sharpe totaled 815 receptions for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns. He also won three Super Bowl rings in a four-year span, first with Denver (XXXII and XXXIII) and later with Baltimore (XXXV).
It’s hard to ignore other Hall of Famers who were seventh-round picks as well, such as middle linebacker Joe Schmidt (Detroit Lions) and safety Larry Wilson (St. Louis Cardinals), to name a few. But in a league with fewer teams, Schmidt was the 85th overall pick in 1953 and Wilson the 74th overall selection in 1960.
Hence Shannon makes for a pretty sharp choice.