The 10 Biggest NFL Draft Steals Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2019

The 10 Biggest NFL Draft Steals Since 2000

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Personnel executives and fans have the same dream every year: Find a future superstar at every point of the NFL draft.

    It's a simple mindset, yet an arduous task.

    The football world celebrates the greatest NFL draft steals because finding them is really, really hard. You need a little bit of late-round luck to land a steady contributor or perennial Pro Bowlerlet alone the franchise-changing quarterback the New England Patriots once unearthed.

    While the definition of a "steal" varies, our focus is on players selected in the fourth round or later since 2000. That restriction eliminates well-known players such as Russell Wilson, Steve Smith, Jason Witten and Frank Gore who would otherwise fit.

    Undrafted players (Tony Romo and Antonio Gates, for example) were also not considered.

Honorable Mentions

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    2005: Trent Cole (No. 146 overall)

    The Philadelphia Eagles found a decade of disruption in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. Hailing from Cincinnati, Cole gathered 85.5 sacksthe second-most in team historyand made two Pro Bowls over his 10 years in Philadelphia. He finished with 90.5 career sacks.


    2006: Elvis Dumervil (No. 126 overall)

    Dumervil collected 8.5 sacks as a rookie for the Denver Broncos, paced the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 and amassed 63.5 sacks before he joined the Baltimore Ravens for the 2013 campaign. He retired with 105.5 career sacks, which ranks 26th since 1982, and is one of only two players to record at least a half-sack against all 32 NFL franchises.


    2006: Marques Colston (No. 252 overall)

    Later in that 2006 draft, the New Orleans Saints found a gem from Hofstra. Colston played 10 seasons in New Orleans and owns franchise records across the board with 711 receptions, 9,759 yards and 72 touchdowns. He helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV, too.


    2008: Josh Sitton (No. 135 overall)

    The Green Bay Packers chose the Central Florida offensive lineman in the fourth round, and Sitton soon became a key member in the trenches. He started 112 games for Green Bay, earned second-team All-Pro honors three times and won Super Bowl XLV.

Tom Brady, 2000

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Drafted: Sixth round, No. 199 overall

    If you watch highlights of Tom Brady in college, you'll see a smart player who thrived on quick passes but could struggle to push the ball downfield. His arm was functional, but it wasn't great. While a decent athlete, he wasn't anything special in that department, either.

    And that's how he became a sixth-round pick.

    The New England Patriots can boast about how much they loved him. If they truly thought he was such a promising prospect, though, they wouldn't have risked waiting until the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. He was a low-risk choice with apparent upside.

    But six Super Bowl victories, three league MVPs and 14 Pro Bowls? Top-four all-time totals in completions, yards and touchdowns? Nobodynot a single person in the worldsaw that coming.

    Two decades later, he's the greatest NFL player ever.

Robert Mathis, 2003

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Drafted: Fifth round, No. 138 overall

    Few pass-rushing tandems caused more frustrating Sundays than Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Freeney was the 11th overall pick in 2002; Mathis, however, waited patiently to hear his name in the fifth round one year later.

    The fifth-round selection spent 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, recording seven-plus sacks every year from 2004 through 2013. The defensive end topped out at 19.5 in 2013 when he finished second to Luke Kuechly in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting and secured the last of five trips to the Pro Bowl.

    Unfortunately for Mathis, a torn Achilles ended his 2014 campaign before it began. The injury signaled the decline of his career; he managed 12 sacks in his final two seasons.

    Mathis retired with 123 career sacksthe 19th-most since 1982and his 54 forced fumbles still lead all players since 1993. He even jarred a ball loose during the Colts' victory in Super Bowl XLI.

Jared Allen, 2004

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Drafted: Fourth round, No. 126 overall

    The Kansas City Chiefs found an immediate star from Idaho State.

    In 2004, Jared Allen tallied nine sacks and made the All-Rookie team. During the next three campaigns, he took down the quarterback 34 timeseven leading the NFL with 15.5 in 2007. That season marked his first of three straight with All-Pro honors.

    But the latter two, plus another All-Pro selection in 2011, came with the Minnesota Vikings. They'd acquired Allen after the 2007 season, and he became a fan favorite over six years in Minnesota.

    Allen retired with 136 career sacks—the 11th-highest total since 1982.

Darren Sproles, 2005

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    Drafted: Fourth round, No. 130 overall

    While often important in the NFL, physical size isn't everything. This isn't an eye-rolling trope about the size of a heart, either.

    No, Darren Sproles was flat-out exceptional despite standing just 5'6".

    After mostly contributing as a returner in 2005 and 2007a broken ankle sidelined him in 2006Sproles added "third-down back" to his roles. Over the next nine seasons, the shifty player averaged 1,764.8 all-purpose yards and scored 57 total touchdowns.

    Sproles, who has played for the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, ranks sixth in career all-purpose yards. He celebrated the Super Bowl LII victory with the Eagles, too.

Jahri Evans, 2006

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Drafted: Fourth round, No. 108 overall

    The New Orleans Saints found a gem in Division II.

    Jahri Evans attended Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania—a program that has barely produced double-digit pros. But this offensive lineman put together a standout NFL career.

    Evans won a full-time starting job as a rookie and never relinquished it, earning four All-Pro and six Pro Bowl nods along with a Super Bowl XLIV win. In 2010, he signed a seven-year, $56.7 million deal that, at the time, made him the highest-paid interior lineman in NFL history.

    After 11 seasons and 169 games as a member of the Saints, Evans played one year for the Green Bay Packers.

Brandon Marshall, 2006

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Drafted: Fourth round, No. 119 overall

    Brandon Marshall spent one season as a backup for the Denver Broncos, but he quickly became a respected wide receiver.

    From 2007-16, he attracted at least 100 targets every season. He peaked at 192 with the Chicago Bears in 2012 and also gathered 140-plus targets eight times during that stretch.

    Marshall's eight seasons of 1,000-plus yards are tied for the seventh-most in NFL history, per Pro Football Reference.

    The veteran is currently a free agent, but he doesn't have to sign with a new team and add a 14th professional season to his resume in order to cement himself as a draft steal. 

Kyle Williams, 2006

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    Rich Barnes/Associated Press

    Drafted: Fifth round, No. 134 overall

    2006 was quite the year for underrated players, huh?

    Kyle Williams had an even longer wait than Jahri Evans and Brandon Marshall, but the delay was worth it. The Buffalo Bills scooped up the LSU product, and he played all 13 of his NFL seasons with the franchise.

    Along the way, Williams landed six Pro Bowl appearances and was a second-team All-Pro honoree in 2010. He accumulated 611 total tackles (103 for loss) and added 141 quarterback hits.

    Williams retired after the 2018 season. The defensive tackle actually recorded a nine-yard receptionhis first career catch—during his final quarter of professional football. 

Geno Atkins, 2010

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Drafted: Fourth round, No. 120 overall

    Four years after the Cincinnati Bengals chose Domata Peko in the fourth round, they solidified the long-term interior of the defensive line with Geno Atkins.

    The Georgia product earned a starting role for the Bengals as a second-year player in 2011 and has since appeared in 121 of 128 possible regular-season games. He has recorded nine-plus sacks in five campaigns and enters 2019 riding a four-year streak.

    For a defensive tackle, that is nothing short of sensational.

    A two-time first-team All-Pro, Atkins has secured seven Pro Bowl trips while rising into the top 100 on the leaderboard for career sacks.

Antonio Brown, 2010

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Drafted: Sixth round, No. 195 overall

    Sure, the 2019 offseason has been loaded with Antonio Brown drama. That doesn't at all mitigate what he's accomplished on the field.

    The 2010 sixth-round pick developed into a perennial All-Pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers, nabbing first-team honors in four consecutive years after a second-team nod in 2013.

    According to Pro Football Reference, Brown is the only player in NFL history with at least five straight seasons of 100-plus catches. Heading into 2019, he's working on a six-year streak. He's already 28th in league history with 837 career receptions.

    Brown, who will turn 31 in July, is on track to retire as one of the most prolific receivers the league has ever seen.

Richard Sherman, 2011

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Drafted: Fifth round, No. 154 overall

    Richard Sherman was a standout receiver for Stanford as a freshman, grabbing 34 passes for 581 yards and three touchdowns. But after a knee injury in 2008, he morphed into a receiver's worst nightmare.

    During the 2011 draft, the Seattle Seahawks used a fifth-round pick on Shermanthe 24th cornerback selected that year.

    Nevertheless, his presence soon completely altered game plans. Perhaps the most notable moment was when Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers completely avoided the cornerback's third of the field during the 2014 season opener.

    Entering 2019Sherman's second year with the San Francisco 49ershe's a three-time first-team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler. The Super Bowl XLVIII champion has picked off 32 passes and defended 103 throughout his career.


    Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.