Top 10 NFL Draft Steals of the 2000s
When NFL draft weekend is over after the third weekend of April, some fans will feel like they're set to make a Super Bowl run, while others will wonder if Beavis and Butt-Head were the ones making their teams' draft day choices.
But not to worry—we all know guys get taken high and look like it's their first time wearing shoulder pads (see: Russell, JaMarcus), but there are also guys who are drafted as the sun goes down Sunday evening and make us wonder what NFL scouts really get paid to do.
This one is for those guys.
As we approach the first draft of the new decade, let's first take a look at the biggest steals of the last one.
But remember, this isn't 'Nam—there are rules.
(If you don't get that reference, I recommend you leave your computer now and go watch The Big Lebowski.)
Here they are:
1. No first rounders. No matter if you're first or 32nd, first rounders should be a given franchise player. (Emphasis on "should be.")
2. They have to have been successful with the team who drafted them. For example, while Marc Bulger turned out to be a nice sixth-round pick, the Rams never utilized him.
3. Rankings are based on where players were drafted as much as they are based on the player's performance. While a fourth round guy might be a better player, the guy who went in the seventh gets the nod. Hence the word "steal" in the title.
Okay, that's enough. Here's the list. Feel free to agree, disagree, or just nod your head and throw back another swig of PBR.
10. Trent Cole (Cincinnati), Rd. 5, No. 146 Overall
Philadelphia got a dandy in the fourth round of the 2005 draft.
Since starting his first full season in 2007, Cole has 34 sacks for the Eagles—just one fewer than Mario Williams, who was taken No. 1 overall the following draft, has for Houston in the same time span.
9. Asante Samuel (UCF), Rd. 4, No. 120 Overall
The Patriots probably didn't imagine Samuel, their fourth round pick in 2003, starting for them at cornerback 22 months later in Super Bowl XXXIX.
But that's the way it went down.
During his final season in New England, Samuel intercepted six passes while deflecting 18. He helped the Patriots complete a perfect regular season and was named first team All-Pro.
8. Brian Westbrook (Villanova), Rd. 3, No. 91 Overall
Westbrook is the only player to make the list drafted before the fourth round of the draft.
The Eagles got Westbrook in the 2002 NFL Draft. He was the seventh running back taken in the draft, with the only notable one taken before him being Clinton Portis.
Westbrook is one of seven NFL players to rush for 30 touchdowns and catch 25.
The Eagles' all-time leader in yards from scrimmage was released this offseason.
7. Adalius Thomas (Southern Mississippi), Rd. 6, No. 186 Overall
Taken in the 2000 draft, Thomas played seven seasons for the Ravens. He recorded 38.5 sacks and six interceptions while suiting up in purple and black.
Thomas was also named All-Pro in 2006 and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
In 2004, he had three defensive touchdowns.
He would have been higher on the list if it didn't seem like every linebacker that was plugged into Rex Ryan's system during his tenure in Baltimore turned into a machine.
6. Cortland Finnegan (Samford), Rd. 7, No. 215 Overall
Projected to go undrafted, Finnegan became the first player from Samford to be drafted since 1969.
The cornerback has become a full-time starter over the past three seasons for Jeff Fisher's squad and was named both a starting Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2008.
In the past two seasons, he has intercepted 10 passes, returning two of them for touchdowns, and deflected 29 attempted completions.
5. Elvis Dumervil (Louisville), Rd. 4, No. 126 Overall
When your first name is Elvis and your middle name is Kool, expectations have to be high, right?
That wasn't the case in the 2006 draft, as 125 others were drafted in front of Dumervil, including the aforementioned No. 1 overall pick that season, Mario Williams.
To date, Dumervil has eight more sacks than Williams.
He set a Broncos franchise record in 2009 with 17 sacks—11 of them coming on third down.
4. T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Oregon State), Rd. 7, No. 207 Overall
Twenty-four wide receivers were taken before Houshmandzadeh in the 2001 draft, and if you saw him on the street today, he could name every single one of them, in order, for you.
Despite playing second fiddle to Chad Ochocinco, Houshmandzadeh set franchise records for most catches in a season (112, tied with Wes Welker for the league lead) in 2007 and most punt return yards in a game (126) in 2001, as a rookie.
He totaled 507 receptions (third in Bengals history), 5,782 yards (sixth in Bengals history), and 37 TDs (fifth in Bengals history) during his tenure in Cincinnati before leaving for Seattle.
Not bad for a seventh round pick who didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school.
3. Jared Allen (Idaho State), Rd. 4, No. 126 Overall
Although he's now with a Super Bowl contender in Minnesota, Allen has been one of the league's best, if not the best, pass rushers in the NFL since entering the league in 2004.
Allen had 43 sacks in four seasons with Kansas City, and attributed much of his pass-rushing ability to his mullet. The fewest sacks he had in a season came in 2006, when he turned out 7.5 despite playing on a poor defense.
He also knocked down 10 passes in each of his last two season with the Chiefs.
Despite a pair of DUIs, Allen was traded to Minnesota in 2008 for the Vikings' first round draft pick and two third rounders.
2. Brandon Marshall (UCF), Rd. 4, No. 119 Overall
Taken by Denver in the 2006 NFL Draft, Marshall is arguably the best receiver in the league, despite his off-the-field troubles.
This past season, he set a new NFL record with 21 receptions in a game against the eventual AFC champion Indianapolis Colts.
Of the top three all-time games in regards to passes caught, Marshall has the two of the three highest totals, with the other belonging to future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens.
He is also one of five NFL receivers to ever post back-to-back-to-back seasons with at least 100 receptions. He caught 100 passes in his second season, joining Isaac Bruce and Larry Fitzgerald as the only three players to have 100 receptions in their second seasons.
At this rate, Marshall looks like he is destined to be one of the all-time great receivers, and definitely one of the all-time NFL draft steals.
1. Tom Brady (Michigan), Rd. 6, No. 200 Overall
If you didn't know Brady was going to be at the top of the list, I'm not sure what you're doing reading an article about the NFL.
Taken by New England in the sixth round in 2000, Brady's name will be on the lists of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game for years to come.
Three Super Bowl rings. Named Super Bowl MVP twice. Six Pro Bowls. Sports Illustrated's 2005 Sportsman of the Year. 2007 NFL MVP. 2000s All-Decade team. 2009 Comeback Player of the Year after suffering a torn ACL in the 2008 opener against Kansas City.
Need I say more?
Brady is one of the all-time greats and is the definition of "diamond in the rough."