12 Draft Freefalls Who Got the Last Laugh

Nick Dimengo@@itsnickdimengoFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2014

12 Draft Freefalls Who Got the Last Laugh

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    JULIE JACOBSON/Associated Press

    If there's one thing that seems to be a constant for all athletes, it's the chance to live out their dreams of playing professionally by hearing a commissioner announce their name.

    Unfortunately, though, sometimes it can take a lot longer than they originally anticipated.

    As we saw a few weeks ago when Johnny Manziel slid all the way to the No. 22 pick in the NFL draft, here are a few other players who not only fell further than they thought, but turned it into motivation—because they've turned their draft snub into incredible careers.

    And I'm not talking about sleepers who have overachieved, like Tom Brady, but guys who were supposed to go high but fell for various reasons.

Bo Jackson

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Round: Fourth

    Pick: 105

    Round: First/Seventh

    Pick: First/183

    Wait, what?

    That might be what you're asking yourself after seeing me put freak athlete Bo Jackson on this list.

    But after dipping to the fourth round as a two-sport athlete in the 1986 MLB draft—in which he eventually went on to play eight years and make an All-Star Game—Jackson found an even bigger slip the following year in the NFL draft.

    That's because, after being selected No. 1 overall in '86 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jackson refused to play there by threatening to just play baseball.

    It was that decision that scared off GMs in the 1987 draft, which saw Bo go to the L.A. Raiders 183rd overall and make quite the name for himself—even if he did have to call it quits after just four seasons.

Cole Hamels

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    LENNY IGNELZI/Associated Press

    Round: First

    Pick: 17th

    An absolute nasty lefty, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels has strung together quite the careers since being draft in 2002.

    But that doesn't mean he couldn't have gone higher.

    Making scouts drool thanks to a mid-90s fastball during his freshman year of high school, Hamels also posted a high SAT score and was described as a great student.

    So why did he fall?

    Due to a broken left humerus his sophomore year, teams became a little wary, making him slide to the middle of the first round.

    With 100 wins, three All-Star appearances and an NLCS and World Series MVP on his resume, the Phillies are happy teams got so nervous.

Chad Johnson

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Round: Second

    Pick: 36th

    Fans might best remember former NFL wide receiver Chad Johnson (Ochocinco) for some of the antics he brought to the field, but make no mistake, the dude could straight-up ball.

    A perennial Pro Bowler, Johnson had a run of seven 1,000-yard campaigns in eight years, including a league-leading 1,369 yards in 2006.

    And I can't help but think he carried a chip on his shoulder to accomplish it all.

    After a fairly decent season at Oregon State, Johnson slipped out of the first round to the Cincinnati Bengals, which, after a few more down years, eventually paired him up with top pick Carson Palmer to form a difficult quarterback-wide receiver duo in Cincy.

CC Sabathia

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Round: First

    Pick: 20th

    With the second-most wins among active pitchers right now in the major leagues, it's easy to second-guess every team who passed on current New York Yankees hurler CC Sabathia.

    Listed as a top draft prospect in California by Baseball Prospectus in 2001, one would imagine that Sabathia would find himself in the top 10 at the very least.

    Fortunately for the Cleveland Indians, though, CC fell all the way to No. 20, where they happily picked him to anchor their staff before he eventually became the ace, winning the Cy Young Award in 2007.

Warren Sapp

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Round: First

    Pick: 12th

    Even after 11 teams passed over now-Hall of Famer defensive tackle Warren Sapp in the 1995 draft, one could see that he had the skills and rare ability that other players didn't.

    Still, that didn't mean those front offices were prepared to take a risk on the former University of Miami star.

    Sapp fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to a disputed drug test result, which left teams wondering if the dude was worth the headache of building a defense around.

    Turns out that he was, as he won a Super Bowl and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in 1999.

Troy Polamalu

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    GENE J. PUSKAR/Associated Press

    Round: First

    Pick: 16th

    Looking back, seeing Troy Polamalu slip to the 16th overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft probably isn't that surprising—considering most teams don't take safeties much higher than that.

    But after seeing how one team in particular passed over Polamalu in that process, that's most shocking.

    An All-American at Southern Cal in 2002, the future Hall of Famer was there for the taking for the San Diego Chargers, who needed a replacement for departed All-Pro Rodney Harrison but were concerned over Troy's knee injury that caused him to miss the Senior Bowl and combine.

    With San Diego trading out of the 15th slot, the Steelers jumped on the opportunity, happily plucking the long-haired Polamalu as the center fielder of their defense.

Tony Parker

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Round: First

    Pick: 28th

    After being invited by the San Antonio Spurs to a few predraft workouts in 2001, Tony Parker was initially unimpressive to head coach Gregg Popovich, who saw Parker get pushed around by a team scout.

    With Parker helping himself after a few early jitters in the workout, Pop warmed up to him a bit more, actually putting him atop the team's draft board in hopes that he'd fall to the 28th pick.

    Ironically enough, not many teams had even given Parker a look, meaning he basically fell into the laps of the Spurs, where he has made six All-Star teams, guided them to three NBA titles and took home the Finals MVP in 2007.

    Some hope for luck to get the No. 1 pick, but I'd say the 28th worked out well for San Antonio here.

Aaron Rodgers

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    Round: First

    Pick: 24th

    The slide of current Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the most well-documented in recent years.

    Potentially talked about as the top pick in the 2005 draft—which ended up being another California-raised kid, Utah quarterback Alex Smith—Rodgers didn't just slide a couple of picks, but got absolutely humiliated, finding himself finally get plucked by the Green Bay Packers at No. 24.

    Even though Green Bay didn't have a glaring weakness at the quarterback position—they had some guy named Brett Favre still playing—the team gladly scooped up his successor, with Rodgers backing up Favre for a few seasons before taking over and becoming a league MVP and one of the best passers in the game.

Paul Pierce

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    Round: First

    Pick: 10th

    After an impressive college career at the University of Kansas, Paul Pierce was looked at as one of the best prospects in the entire 1998 NBA draft.

    Then, it happened—he began to slide.

    In fact, as a seventh grader who was never fond of Pierce, I remember laughing with my friends when the former All-American got drafted after some German guy named Dirk Nowitzki—more on him later.

    Turns out I was way wrong on both, as Pierce has transformed from a good player to a Hall of Fame one, evolving his game into more than just a scorer for bad teams to an eventual NBA champion.

    Odd enough, now I've got a soft spot for Pierce because of the grit and drive he has played with for 16 seasons.

Randy Moss

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    TOM OLMSCHEID/Associated Press

    Round: First

    Pick: 21st

    Arguably the most physically gifted wide receiver in NFL history, Randy Moss' name dominated headlines leading up to the 1998 draft just as much as he dominated defenders during his 14 seasons in the the league.

    Nearly immediately after the former Marshall star declared for the draft, teams began digging as deep as they could to find a reason not to draft the guy, with rumors even stirring that he ditched out on the combine because he was avoiding the mandatory drug test—with Moss claiming it was because of his wisdom teeth being taken out.

    With a bunch of teams skipping over him, Moss got taken 21st by the Minnesota Vikings, where all he did was make the Pro Bowl, finish third in the league in receiving yards and haul in a rookie record 17 touchdowns.

    Yeah, he'll be in Canton soon.

Dirk Nowitzki

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    Round: First

    Pick: Ninth

    Thankfully, for all the teams who passed over Dirk Nowitzki in the 1998 NBA draft, he wasn't the first All-Star from the class—as Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter were taken ahead of him and earned the honor.

    Still, that's a small consolation seeing how Dirk's career has gone since.

    A 12-time All-Star, league and Finals MVP and world champion, Nowitzki has been the face of the Dallas Mavericks for his entire 16 seasons in the league, averaging less than 14.5 points per game just once—in his rookie season.

    Making matters worse—especially for Milwaukee Bucks fans—is that Dirk wasn't even picked by the Mavs, as Big D acquired him from the Bucks in a trade on draft night.

    With Dirk accomplishing all that he has, I have plenty of sympathy for Bucks fans.

Dan Marino

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    Associated Press

    Round: First

    Pick: 27th

    One man's trash is another man's treasure.

    That might be the best way to describe how signal-caller Dan Marino actually ended up in South Beach to play for the Miami Dolphins in 1983.

    Owning the most passing yards in NFL history at the time of his retirement, Marino may have never won the Super Bowl in the 17 seasons he led the Dolphins huddle, but he's still regarded as one of the best ever.

    So how did it happen that he fell all the way to No. 27?

    During the predraft process, word leaked out that Dan was Marijuano-ing and cocaining up, with five quarterbacks selected ahead of the former Pitt star after he was believed to be a surefire top-five selection.

    The GMs who passed on him can stare at his bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.