The 7 Best NFL Draft Late-Round Steals in the Last 10 Years

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2021

The 7 Best NFL Draft Late-Round Steals in the Last 10 Years

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The NFL draft is ultimately a lottery, but the final day is loaded with long shots. The simple truth is most players selected never become more than short-term contributors.

    Once in a while, though, teams strike gold.

    In the last 10 yearssince the 2011 draft, to be specificseven players stand out as the most successful late-round steals. Each has turned a fourth- to seventh-round selection into an All-Pro or Pro Bowl career. Several have won Super Bowls too.   

    The list is subjective but considers career performance, individual accolades, longevity and positional value.

Honorable Mentions

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    Corey Linsley, C

    During the 2014 draft, the Green Bay Packers picked Linsley in the fifth round. He immediately stepped in at center, and the Ohio State product has since developed into a star. He earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2020 and signed a five-year, $62.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason.


    Eddie Jackson, S

    After an injury-shortened final season with Alabama, Jackson slipped to the Chicago Bears in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. He's started 62 of 64 possible regular-season games, earned two Pro Bowl nods and secured first-team All-Pro recognition in 2018.


    George Kittle, TE

    The tight end factory that is Iowa football produced George Kittle, a fifth-round selection of the San Francisco 49ers in 2017. Kittle turned in two straight 85-catch, 1,000-plus-yard seasonswith a first-team All-Pro choice in 2019before an injury-shortened 2020.


    Aaron Jones, RB

    Following a terrific but under-the-radar college career at UTEP, Jones fell to the fifth round in 2017. Green Bay found an absolute gem in Jones, who collected 3,017 yards from scrimmage and 30 total touchdowns in 2019 and 2020 combined. Jones inked a four-year, $48 million extension after the 2020 campaign.   

Kirk Cousins, QB

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Washington grabbed Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft. As a result, the franchise turned some heads with a fourth-round selection of Kirk Cousins.

    The backup plan became necessary.

    Griffin dealt with a string of injuries, and Cousins made scattered starts until taking the full-time job in 2015. He's since compiled a 49-44-2 record with Washington and the Minnesota Vikings, averaging 4,223.7 yards and 28.7 touchdowns per season.

    While he's not an elite QB by any means, Cousins has provided a great return on his fourth-round value. NFL teams can be searching for decades to even find his base level of competence.       

Stefon Diggs, WR

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    Stefon Diggs showed off his explosiveness at Maryland, but his relatively small stature and injury history scared off teams in 2015. He finally went to the Vikings in the fifth round.

    As a rookie, the 6'0", 191-pound wideout pulled in 52 passes for 720 yards and four touchdowns. That's more production than seven of the 18 receivers picked before him amassed in their entire NFL careers. And through six seasons, that's the worst year for Diggs.

    In five seasons with Minnesota, he collected 365 receptions for 4,623 yards and 30 scores. Diggs engineered a trade to the Buffalo Bills prior to a first-team All-Pro 2020 season in which he posted league-high marks of 127 catches and 1,535 yards, along with eight touchdowns.

    Diggs' production is similar to that of Amari Cooper, a four-time Pro Bowler and the No. 4 overall pick of the same draft.      

Tyreek Hill, WR

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Tyreek Hill was a controversial draft pick. In 2014, he was arrested after choking and punching then-girlfriend Crystal Espinal, who was pregnant with their son. He pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation in 2015. 

    Head coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs decided he was worth the risk and used a 2016 fifth-round choice on Hill, who racked up 1,836 all-purpose yards as a rookie. He earned a larger role on offense in 2017 and has averaged nearly 77 receptions and 1,200 yards per season since then.

    Hill landed Pro Bowl recognition in each of his first five years and has been an All-Pro selection both as a punt returner and receiver.

    Still, Hill's tenure with the team hasn't been without concern. In April 2019, Hill and fiancee Espinal had their three-old-year son removed from their home amid a child-abuse investigation after he suffered a broken arm he told Espinal was caused by Hill. In June of that year, police closed the investigation, no criminal charges were filed and Hill was not suspended by the NFL.

    When the Chiefs beat San Francisco in Super Bowl LIV, Hill made a crucial 44-yard catch to spark the 10-point comeback. He notched game-high totals of nine receptions and 105 yards.         

Dak Prescott, QB

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Dak Prescott put together a solid career at Mississippi State, but concerns about his footwork and timing resulted in the "project" label. He wound up with the Dallas Cowboys as a fourth-round pick in 2016 and the expected backup to Tony Romo.

    However, a preseason injury sidelined Romo, and the Cowboys quickly realized they had a potential star.

    Prescott guided Dallas to a 13-3 record as the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. Two years later, Dallas won the NFC East again. In his first four seasons, Prescott tallied 15,778 yards and 97 touchdowns to 36 interceptions while running for 1,221 yards and 21 scores.

    Despite his gruesome ankle injury in 2020, Prescott signed a four-year, $160 million deal with a record-setting $126 million in guaranteed money in the offseason.   

David Bakhtiari, LT

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    Tyler Kaufman/Associated Press

    For the last eight seasons, David Bakhtiari has protected the blind side of arguably the most talented quarterback in NFL history.

    Aaron Rodgers could hardly have asked for a more reliable left tackle.

    Green Bay selected the Colorado product in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, and he immediately earned a place in the starting lineup. He's missed only 10 regular-season games as a pro, securing a pair of first-team All-Pro honors and three Pro Bowl nods.

    Bakhtiari signed a four-year, $92 million extension late in the 2020 campaign before a torn ACL ended his season.    

Jason Kelce, C

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    Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

    Similar to Bakhtiarithough two years earlierJason Kelce made a rapid impression as a rookie in 2011.

    The sixth-round pick climbed the Philadelphia Eagles depth chart and started all 16 games at center. He managed only two appearances in 2012 because of a torn right ACL but otherwise hasn't missed only four contests in his 10-year career.

    Kelce, who garnered first-team All-Pro recognition in 2017, 2018 and 2019, has consistently been one of the NFL's top centers since 2013. With him leading the offensive line, Philly won Super Bowl LII.    

Richard Sherman, CB (and Seattle's 2011 Draft)

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Seattle absolutely crushed its Day 3 evaluations in 2011.

    After taking linebacker K.J. Wrightnow a 10-year starter for the Seahawksduring the fourth round, they picked up Richard Sherman in the fifth, cornerback Byron Maxwell in the sixth and linebacker Malcolm Smith in the seventh. All four players held a starting or key backup role in the Super Bowl XLVIII win.

    Sherman, though, is the unquestioned prize of the haul. The converted wide receiver became one of the NFL's most feared cornerbacks and earned first-team All-Pro status from 2012 to '14. He intercepted 20 passes and defended 48 during that stretch.

    As he locked down one side of the field in Seattle's Cover 3 defense, the Seahawks made two Super Bowl appearances. He also started for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.