Hidden Treasures: The Top Late-Round NFL Draft Picks In The Last Ten Years
You get the idea.
You'll also see a bunch of lists. The most popular list to put together is the one listing the biggest draft "busts" of all time. Every sports site does it, whether it be biggest #1 overall bust, or biggest first round bust, but they're all basically the same.
This article will be a little different. This is going to be a list of the best NFL players selected in the third round or later over the past 10 drafts. The kind of value that can be found on the second day may surprise you.
Quarterback: New England Patriots: Tom Brady, QB, Michigan (2000 Round 6 Pick 33 - #199 Overall) - Everyone already knows the story. One Mo Lewis hit on Drew Bledsoe kick-started the Tom Brady era in New England. Since that moment, Bledsoe played for two more teams and retired, and Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings, four Pro-Bowl selections, the 2007 NFL Most Value Player, the single-season record for touchdown passes, an undefeated regular season record of 16-0, and a Brazilian lingerie model for a wife. The Patriots struck gold when they picked up Brady from Michigan in the 2000 NFL Draft, and nobody could have suspected so much success in such a short amount of time. The only question that remains is how he will perform after missing the 2008 campaign with a serious knee injury sustained in Week 1 vs. Kansas City.
Sleeper Note: Brady's backup after his injury was 7th Round pick Matt Cassel from USC, who was selected #230 overall in 2005. Cassel, who backed up college legends Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at Southern California, hadn't started a game since high school. Cassel led the Pats to an 11-5 record, throwing for over 3600 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also ran for 270 yards and 2 scores. Additionally, Cassel led the Patriots to a late-season blowout of the eventual NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals 47-7. In the off-season, Cassel was franchised for a one-year, $14 million tender by New England, and was then traded to Kansas City with LB Mike Vrabel for the Chiefs' 2nd round pick, #34 overall. Cassel is the projected starting QB for the Chiefs in 2009.
Wide Receiver: Pittsburgh Steelers: Hines Ward, QB/WR, Georgia (1998 - Round 3 Pick 30 - #92 Overall) - Ward came out of college as a quarterback, and was one of several "running" or "option" QBs to be converted to another position in the NFL around the same time. In the mold of players like Arnaz Battle (Notre Dame), Rasheed Marshall (West Virginia), Antwaan Randle-El (Indiana), and Michael Robinson (Penn State), Ward has easily been the best of these converted college QBs. At 6-0, 203, he was deemed too small to be an NFL quarterback. Instead, Hines Ward has become one of the best receivers in the NFL and one of the fiercest blockers at his position, going so far as breaking the jaw of Cincinnati LB Keith Rivers on a hellacious (but ruled clean) block in 2008. He is a four-time Pro-Bowler and MVP of Super Bowl XL, which saw him catch a TD pass from Randle-El in the fourth quarter. Ward collected his second championship ring at Super Bowl XLIII this past year, earning a sixth title for the Steelers franchise.
Wide Receiver: Cincinnati Bengals: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Oregon State (2001 Round 7 Pick 4 - #204 overall) - When I was doing research for this article, even I was stunned that Houshmandzadeh was drafted so low. A seventh round selection in 2001, Housh has had an excellent career in the NFL, even though he has spent all of it as a #2 option behind Chad Johnson in Cincinnati. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2007, which he predicted he would earn at the start of the season. His recent free agent signing with Seattle (5yr/$40 million, $15m guaranteed) will make him the go-to guy in their rebuilt offense, and he will have an opportunity to emerge from Ocho Cinco's shadow and continue his success.
Sleeper Note: Another consideration at wideout would be Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers. He was selected in round 3 of the 2001 draft, #74 overall.
Running Back: Philadelphia Eagles: Brian Westbrook, RB, Villanova (2002 Round 3 Pick 26 - #91 Overall) - Villanova is a basketball school first and foremost, and their football team is a FCS or I-AA program. They play teams like Appalachian State, Montana, and Hofstra. Brian Westbrook has surprised a lot of people since he was drafted in the 3rd round out of Villanova, racking up over 5700 rushing yards and another 3600 receiving. On a team that has had no real star at WR other than the brief Terrell Owens affair, Westbrook has arguably been the most important man on the offensive side of the ball for Philadelphia. He's averaging 4.6 yards per rush over his career, has over 400 catches and has found the end zone 64 times (36 rushing, 28 receiving) which makes him only one of seven players to have over 30 rushing and 25 receiving TD's in a career. He is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and may be, pound-for-pound, the most complete back in the NFL.
Running Back: San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore, RB, Miami (FL) (2005 Round 3 Pick 1 - #65 Overall) - Gore has been the one bright spot in a struggling but improving 49ers offense. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and led the NFC in rushing in 2006, and despite an injury that saw him miss a couple of starts late in 2008, he is the first player in team history to rush for over 1000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Not even the great Roger Craig accomplished that. At 5-9, 215, Gore is compact and runs with power. He missed his entire sophomore year at Miami with an ACL tear which may have dropped him down the draft board two years later. Even with those injury concerns, Gore has been fairly durable in his young career, starting all 16 games for San Francisco in 2006 and 53 of a possible 56 regular season games over the past three seasons. With new head coach Mike Singletary and his rushing, ball control philosophy, Gore will continue to be the centerpiece of the 49ers offense for years to come.
Sleeper Note: Bruising RBs Marion Barber (Dallas) and Brandon Jacobs (NY Giants) were chosen in round 4 of the 2005 draft #109 and #110 overall respectively.
Tight End: Dallas Cowboys: Jason Witten, TE, Tennessee (2003 Round 3 Pick 5 - #69 Overall) - Few people outside of Dallas probably knew much about Jason Witten until the brief media drama regarding him, QB Tony Romo and Terrell Owens took place last season, but since 2003, Witten has been an honest-to-god stud at the tight end position. At 6-5, 262 pounds, Witten has missed just two starts since his rookie season, is an excellent blocker, and has over 400 catches for almost 5000 yards in his career. He has made the Pro Bowl every season since 2004 and holds the Cowboys record for catches in a game with 15. He also caught 96 balls in 2007, a team record for tight ends. Often overshadowed by the larger than life characters on the Cowboys and their boisterous owner, the usually quiet Witten is the gold standard for which all others at his position should be held to. If he retired today, he would be a very strong Hall of Fame consideration.
Sleeper Note: Chris Cooley was a 3rd round pick by the Redskins and has had a nice career so far, but nobody chosen in the last 10 years has dominated the position like Witten.
Offensive Line: Minnesota Vikings: Matt Birk, C, Harvard (1998 - Round 5 Pick 19 - #173 Overall) - Birk may be one of the smartest men ever to crash headfirst into an opposing defensive line. An academic and football All-Ivy League and All-ECAC honoree, Birk also holds a degree in Economics from Harvard University. Choosing football as his profession, Birk is a six-time Pro Bowl selection between 2000 and 2007, missing only the 2002 game. At 6-4, 309 pounds, Birk has taken his brain and his football ability to the Baltimore Ravens, where he will replace longtime center Mike Flynn after signing a 3-year, $12 million contract for 2009. Prior to joining the Ravens, Birk played ten seasons with Minnesota, where he has been selected as their franchise's Man of the Year six years in a row.