Ranking the 10 Biggest NFL Draft Steals of the Last Decade

Marcus Mosher@@Marcus_MosherFeatured Columnist IApril 12, 2020

Ranking the 10 Biggest NFL Draft Steals of the Last Decade

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    A few players go under the radar in every NFL draft and wind up having Pro Bowl-caliber careers. They fall for a variety of reasons—sometimes through no fault of their own.

    But who among those gems provided the best value over the last decade? 

    We limited our choices to players selected after the first two rounds. First-rounders such as Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, who have significantly outplayed their draft position, deserve credit, but we're interested in stars from later rounds. 

    Positional value was a factor, as finding franchise quarterbacks late is nearly impossible. But draft positions will also be considered, since players found late on Day 3 will carry more value than others taken inside the top 100. 

    Here are the 10 best picks of the NFL draft since 2010. 

             

Honorable Mentions

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Not everyone can crack the top 10 of the best draft steals of the last decade. But here is a list players who had strong arguments for inclusion:

    • WR T.Y. Hilton, Colts (pick No. 92 in 2012)
    • DT Jurrell Casey, Titans (pick No. 77 in 2011)
    • LB Justin Houston, Chiefs (pick No. 70 in 2011)
    • QB Kirk Cousins, Redskins (pick No. 102 in 2012)
    • DE Everson Griffen, Vikings (pick No. 100 in 2010)
    • RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys (pick No. 71 in 2011)
    • TE Jimmy Graham, Saints (pick No. 95 in 2010)
    • WR Keenan Allen, Chargers (pick No. 76 in 2013)
    • SS Kam Chancellor, Seahawks (pick No. 133 in 2010)
    • WR Stefon Diggs, Vikings (pick No. 146 in 2014)
    • TE George Kittle, 49ers (pick No. 146 in 2017)
    • RB David Johnson, Cardinals (pick No. 86 in 2015)
    • DB Tyrann Mathieu, Cardinals (pick No. 69 in 2013)
    • RB Alvin Kamara, Saints (pick No. 67 in 2017)
    • DT Akiem Hicks, Saints (pick No. 89 in 2012)

10. LT David Bakhtiari, Packers

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Pick No. 109 in 2013 Draft 

    Green Bay Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari is one of the most underrated offensive linemen of the last decade. His two Pro Bowl selections don't represent just how well he has played over the last seven seasons. 

    After falling to the fourth round because of a lack of size (weighed 299 pounds at the NFL combine), Bakhtiari started all 16 games at left tackle as a rookie. Since, he's missed just six starts and is widely considered one of the NFL's best pass-blocking tackles. 

    His best season came in 2018 when he was named a first-team All-Pro. Following that year, Pro Football Focus named him the best pass-blocking offensive lineman in the league after he allowed just 25 total pressures. 

    In the fourth round, the Packers stole one of the league's best offensive linemen. And at just age 28, he should protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side for the remainder of his career. 

9. C Jason Kelce, Eagles

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Pick No. 191 in 2011 NFL Draft

    Finding quality offensive linemen is more difficult than ever. But finding All-Pro offensive linemen in the draft's final rounds is unheard of. But that's exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles did when they grabbed Jason Kelce in 2011's sixth round.

    Kelce fell to Day 3 for one simple reason: his weight. At the combine, he weighed in at just 280 pounds. While that was a major issue, his athleticism was not. He ran an impressive 4.93 40-yard dash and tested in the 91st percentile or better in the broad jump, three-cone and 20-yard shuttle drills, per NFL Combine Results.  

    Lack of size never proved to be a problem for Kelce. He was so impressive as a rookie in training camp and in the preseason that he earned a starting job and never looked back. Since being drafted, he's started 126 games for the Eagles, including in 2017 when he helped lead them to their first Super Bowl win. 

    Kelce was named to three All-Pro teams (2017, 2018, 2019) and made the Pro Bowl in three seasons (2014, 2016, 2019). He's been one of the most reliable, dominant centers of the decade. 

8. TE Travis Kelce, Chiefs

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Pick No. 63 in 2013 NFL Draft

    Travis Kelce, Jason's brother, barely clears our criteria, as he was the first pick of the third round in 2013. However, it would have been impossible to leave him out after the way he has dominated in the past five seasons.

    Kelce fell in the 2013 draft after failing a drug test in college, which led to a year-long suspension in 2010 while at Cincinnati. But in Andy Reid's first year coaching the Kansas City Chiefs, he took a chance on Kelce's elite receiving potential.

    After not catching a pass as a rookie and only appearing in one game, Kelce emerged as a star in 2014, grabbing 67 passes for 862 yards and five touchdowns. He followed with a similar season in 2015, but this time, he earned his first Pro Bowl berth.

    From that point on, Kelce was a star. From 2016 to 2019, he averaged 1,182 yards per season and seven touchdowns. He's made the Pro Bowl in five straight seasons and was named an All-Pro twice during that span.

    Kelce was at his best during Kansas City's Super Bowl run last season, as he caught four touchdowns in the playoffs, three of which came against the Houston Texans in the divisional round. Kelce is the league's best receiving tight end, and with Mahomes throwing him the football, he should continue to stack several more years of elite production onto his resume.

7. LB NaVorro Bowman, 49ers

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Pick No. 91 in 2010 Draft

    For most of his career in college and in the NFL, NaVorro Bowman was known as the "other" linebacker. At Penn State, he played next to standout Sean Lee, and with the San Francisco 49ers, he was often overshadowed by All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis.

    However, Bowman had quite the NFL career, which lasted until 2017, despite falling into the latter stages of the third round. He went on to make four All-Pro teams and three Pro Bowls. While he dealt with injuries in the middle of his career, Bowman remained one of the league's most consistent linebackers whenever he was on the field—leading the league in tackles in 2015 and racking up triple-digit stops five times in six full seasons. 

    While Bowman probably won't make the Hall of Fame, there weren't many linebackers better than him during the last decade. He remains one of the best selections of the 2010s after nearly falling outside the top 100 picks.  

6. WR Tyreek Hill, Chiefs

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Pick No. 165 in 2016 NFL Draft

    Most of the players on this list fell down draft boards because they were undersized or had subpar athletic measurables. However, it is well-documented Tyreek Hill slipped to the fifth round after Oklahoma State kicked him off the team amid domestic violence charges. Hill served three years' probation after pleading guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation.

    There have since been further questions about Hill's life away from football after the release a recording of a conversation with his then-fiancee, Crystal Espinal, that included allegations Hill caused his son to suffer a broken arm. He was neither charged by police nor suspended by the NFL after separate investigations.

    On the field, however, Hill has been one of the best picks over the last decade, as he's made the Pro Bowl in every season he's been in the NFL. He had a career year in 2018, totaling 1,630 yards from scrimmage on just 109 touches. He dealt with a shoulder issue in 2019, but he still racked up 883 yards in 12 games and helped the Chiefs win the Super Bowl.

    Hill isn't the NFL's most complete receiver, but he is one of its fastest. He is the perfect receiver to pair with Mahomes, and the 26-year-old is only scratching the surface of his receiving ability.

    Look for Hill to continue to be among the best receivers in the AFC for the next several seasons.    

5. DT Geno Atkins, Bengals

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    Pick No. 120 in 2010 NFL Draft

    It's still hard to understand why Geno Atkins slipped in 2010. While he was slightly undersized at 6'1", 293 pounds, he ran a 4.75 40-yard dash and posted an elite broad jump of 117 inches. Not only was he a tremendous athlete, but he was also a great college player, as he posted 33.5 career tackles for loss at Georgia. 

    Nevertheless, he fell to the fourth round, and the Cincinnati Bengals scooped up one of the best defensive tackles of the decade. Atkins has racked up 171 quarterback hits along with 75.5 sacks since 2010. He's been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and made two All-Pro teams. 

    Earlier this month, Atkins was named to the All-Decade Team along with fellow defensive tackles Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. 

    While he's not as explosive as he was earlier in his career, Atkins is still one of the better defensive tackles in the league as he enters his age-32 campaign. If he can continue to produce at this level for the next few seasons, he will have a strong case to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

4. Quarterback Dak Prescott, Cowboys

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Pick No. 135 in 2016 Draft 

    There aren't many Day 3 picks who wind up as opening-day starters during their rookie seasons—and certainly not at quarterback. However, Dak Prescott has proved time and time again that he isn't a typical Day 3 pick. 

    When Dallas Cowboys starter Tony Romo was injured during a 2016 preseason game, Prescott was named the team's interim starter. But he played so well that the Cowboys stuck with him even when Romo was ready to return, and Prescott led the Cowboys to the NFC's No. 1 seed.

    He has started every game for the Cowboys since and has never had a losing season. He's a two-time Pro Bowler, and his game is only improving. In 2019, he threw a career-high 30 touchdowns and added three on the ground. He boosted his yards per attempt to 8.2 and had a passer rating of 99.7. 

    Soon, he will likely be one of the league's highest-paid players, and it's tough to argue against that, as it appears the fourth-rounder hasn't hit his ceiling.

3. WR Antonio Brown, Steelers

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    Pick No. 195 in 2010 Draft 

    Antonio Brown has been accused by former trainer Britney Taylor of three instances of sexual assault, including one instance of rape, and allegedly sent intimidating texts to another woman who had previously accused him of sexual misconduct. He is facing an NFL investigation over the allegations, and three franchises moved on from him in 2019.

    Though his play pales in comparison to those issues, from a football standpoint, he dominated the decade. 

    After being a sixth-round pick in 2010, Brown sat behind the likes of Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders as a rookie. But from 2011 to 2018, there wasn't a more productive receiver in football. During that eight-year stretch, Brown caught 821 passes for 11,040 yards and 74 touchdowns. No player had more receptions, receiving yards or touchdown catches during that stretch.

    Brown finished the decade with seven Pro Bowl selections and was named an All-Pro four times. He was also named to the 2010s All-Decade Team along with fellow receivers Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones

    While it's becoming more and more unlikely that he will play another snap in the NFL, Brown has a strong case to be a Hall of Famer. 

2. CB Richard Sherman, Seahawks

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Pick No. 154 in 2011 Draft 

    Throughout NFL history, teams have done a good job of evaluating elite cornerback prospects, as most of the top defensive backs have been first-round selections. Players such as Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey and Darrelle Revis were all top-15 picks in their respective drafts. 

    It's not often that you find All-Pro cornerbacks on Day 3, but that is exactly what the Seahawks did when they nabbed Richard Sherman in 2011. Sherman fell in the draft after running a 4.56 40-yard dash, but his elite length and explosion should have been a sign that he would do just fine in the NFL. 

    He became the leader of the Seahawks defense for most of the decade and was named to five career Pro Bowls. He made three straight All-Pro teams from 2012 to 2014 and won a Super Bowl in Seattle after the 2013 season. He was also named to the 2010s All-Decade Team, along with outside cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Revis. 

    Even at age 31, Sherman had a Pro Bowl season in 2019 with the 49ers and went to the Super Bowl in his second year with the team. He is one of the best Day 3 picks in NFL history and one of the game's all-time best cornerbacks. 

1. QB Russell Wilson, Seahawks

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Pick No. 75 in 2012 draft 

    While there have been dozens of draft steals over the last decade, Russell Wilson was the biggest of them all. 

    Despite putting up huge numbers at two colleges, NC State and Wisconsin, Wilson fell to the third round because of a lack of height. Measuring in at 5'11", he didn't hit the arbitrary 6'0" threshold that many teams still use. Not only did Wilson start four years in college and average 7.9 yards per passing attempt, but he also tested as an elite athlete. He ran a 4.55 40-yard dash and had the second-best 20-yard shuttle time among QBs.   

    Wilson beat out Matt Flynn as a rookie and has started every game since. Not only has he won a Super Bowl and been to another, but the Seahawks have had a winning season every year since drafting him.

    He's become one of the league's most dynamic quarterbacks over the last three seasons, throwing 100 touchdowns and just 23 interceptions despite playing behind a poor offensive line. Wilson has six Pro Bowls under his belt and is still getting better.

    Finding starting-caliber quarterbacks after the first few rounds is incredibly difficult. But finding Super Bowl-winning passers after the top 60 picks happens just once every few decades. 

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