NFL Draft Picks: Top Late-Round NFL Draft Picks in the Last Ten Years

Hidden Treasures: The Top Late-Round NFL Draft Picks In The Last Ten Years

4/7/09 in NFL   |   snbslugger   |   0 respect

Each off-season, it seems the talk of the upcoming NFL Draft starts the second the credits roll at the end of the Super Bowl.  Dozens of sports sites are dedicated to mock drafts, which are updated continuously after underclassmen choose to stay in school or turn pro, and then updated again based on the Senior Bowl, and then updated AGAIN after the combine, and then updated AGAIN after the higher-ranked prospects have their Pro Day....

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.

Defensive Line: Kansas City Chiefs: Jared Allen, DE, Idaho State (2004 Round 4 Pick 30 - #126 Overall) - Allen, a 6-6 270 pound defensive end with non-stop motor, had a career year in 2007.  His 15 1/2 sacks earned him a spot on his first Pro Bowl team, and he proceeded to follow it up with ANOTHER Pro Bowl campaign for the NFC in 2008.   He was franchised for $8.8 million by the Chiefs and traded to the Minnesota Vikings on April 22, 2008, just days before the draft.  In five professional seasons, Allen has 57.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, and one interception.

Sleeper Note:
Also considered was Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila of Green Bay, who was a 5th round pick in 2000, #149 Overall.  I chose Allen mostly for his contract windfall with Minnesota, plus he went to a much smaller school (I-AA Idaho State vs. I-A San Diego State for KGB)

Linebacker: Pittsburgh Steelers: Joey Porter, DE/LB, Colorado State (1999 - Round 3 Pick 12 - #73 Overall) - The outspoken Porter, who has made headlines as much for his pre- and post-game yapping as it has for his on-field performance, is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion.  After seven seasons with the Steelers, Porter was released as a salary cap move in March of 2007.  He signed with the Miami Dolphins just seven days later.  Many people thought Porter's best days were behind him, but he set a career high of 17.5 sacks in 2008 with Miami.  His previous career high was 10.5 sacks, which he reached in 2000 and 2005.

Sleeper note: Chicago LB Lance Briggs was a 3rd round choice in 2003, #68 overall.  He too has been to Hawaii four times, but his numbers aren't even close to Porter's.  At least, not yet.

Safety: Arizona Cardinals: Adrian Wilson, S, North Carolina State (2001 Round 3 Pick 2 - #64 Overall) - Adrian Wilson may be one of the best safeties in the NFL that nobody knew about until this past season.  He is known by some for a popular viral video circulating Youtube where he hurdles a bar in the locker room 66 inches off the ground.  He also happens to be one of the hardest hitting and best tackling safeties in the NFL.  Wilson is a 2-time Pro Bowler and defensive captain of the Cardinals.  He has been described as a "poor man's Brian Dawkins".  His leadership and intensity were integral in the Card's defensive resurgence over the past few years and played a role in bringing Arizona their first NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance.  Wilson signed a 5-year extension with the Cardinals in 2005, when he surely could have gone to another team that had more success then the once-hapless Cardinals, but he chose to stay and now Arizona is a serious contender in the NFC.

Cornerback: New England Patriots: Asante Samuel, CB, Central Florida (2003 Round 4 Pick 23 - #120 Overall) - Asante Samuel is arguably the best young cornerback in the NFL.  In his six pro seasons, Samuel has already collected 26 interceptions, two Pro Bowl honors and two Super Bowl Championships with the New England Patriots.  After five successful years with New England, Samuel cashed in during free agency, inking a six-year, $56 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. In his first season in Philly, he was selected to his second Pro Bowl, making him an All-Pro in both the AFC and NFC in a very short amount of time.  He is also tied for fifth on the all-time post-season interceptions list with former Patriots teammate Rodney Harrison.

Special Teams: New York Jets: Leon Washington, RB/KR, Florida State (2006 Round 4 Pick 20 - #117 Overall) - The speedy Washington has been a spot-duty running back for the Jets, but primarily returns kicks.  In two seasons, he has amassed over 4800 all-purpose yards.  He has already taken four kickoffs to the house which gives him the Jets all-time mark.  At 5-8, 202 pounds, Washington is used as a speed back in tandem with starter Thomas Jones.  His small size, quick cuts, catching ability and 4.42 speed puts him in a class of back similar to Warrick Dunn or Darren Sproles.

So you can see there is definitely value on the second day of the draft, and on occasion you can get yourself one more maybe even more than one Pro Bowl player.
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4/12/09   |   HouTxFan   |   5193 respect

(Edited by HouTxFan)

WVU's Steve Slaton was a pretty good 3rd round pickup of the Houston Texans.

4/12/09   |   HouTxFan   |   5193 respect

want to know who was the luckiest team of all time to get a quarterback who would later break all records and he wasnt selected until the 8th round????? Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula couldnt believ it when Dan Marino still wasnt picked by the 8th round....he snatched him up and as they say......the rest is history.

I'm not sure if I understand your 8th round comment...Marino was the 6th quarterback taken in 1983, but only if you're looking strictly at the first round.  He could also be described as the 27th pick overall that year, which isn't late-round by a long shot!

4/8/09   |   phillydeac4life   |   20 respect

Terrell Davis 6th Round
Shannon Sharpe 7th Round
Kennan McCardell 12th Round
Richard Dent 8th Round
Zack Thomas  5th Round
Dante Hall 5th Round
Joe Horn 4th Round
Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila 5th Round
Marc Bulger 6th Round
Stephen Davis 4th Round
Jammal Anderson 6th Round
Leon Lett 5th Round
Jay Novacek 6th Round
Herschel Walker 4th Round

4/7/09   |   kelski1974

I drafted Witten in my FFL last year guy was awesome for me. Great article

4/7/09   |   snbslugger

WhoDat12 wrote:
Excellent write up, but you didn't mention Marques Colston. He was 3 picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant, but he holds the NFL record for most receptions in the first 2 seasons (163)

I completely missed Colston, you're absolutely right.  When I was doing research for this article I made a note to include him and forgot to.  Colston is an excellent find.  It will be interesting to see if he can keep his performance going over the long term.

4/7/09   |   snbslugger

kantwistaye wrote:
For defensive end (although he is now being moved to OLB) I'd argue Aaron Kampman was just as good a pick as Jared Allen.  He was picked in the 5th round and is a complete DE, being able to stop the run and rush the QB.  Over the past 3 seasons, he has 37 sacks and that's despite being the only legitimate threat on the Packer's defensive line this past year.  Also, unlike Allen, he's not a total douche.

I debated on Kampman for a long time.  He could definitely be on this list, no question.

4/7/09   |   Brendanc8504

gobigblue1960 wrote:
Oh, to be Tom Brady for a week or so...he is still with Gisele, right.

yeah, they just got married

4/7/09   |   gobigblue1960   |   4803 respect

Oh, to be Tom Brady for a week or so...he is still with Gisele, right.

4/7/09   |   TheGreat8

Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee Titans. 7th round. Now one of the leagues top corners and Pro Bowler.

4/7/09   |   primo   |   1 respect

what's funny is how these players were all low in the draft. mel kifer is the devil! don't listen to him on his picks

4/7/09   |   kantwistaye   |   4215 respect

For defensive end (although he is now being moved to OLB) I'd argue Aaron Kampman was just as good a pick as Jared Allen.  He was picked in the 5th round and is a complete DE, being able to stop the run and rush the QB.  Over the past 3 seasons, he has 37 sacks and that's despite being the only legitimate threat on the Packer's defensive line this past year.  Also, unlike Allen, he's not a total douche.

4/7/09   |   Raider_Dave   |   47 respect

WhoDat12 wrote:
Excellent write up, but you didn't mention Marques Colston. He was 3 picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant, but he holds the NFL record for most receptions in the first 2 seasons (163)

Yeah, Colston was definitely a steal.  Him and Wayne Chrebet (undrafted) are giving Hofstra a good name from time to time, and some good publicity for a mid-major program.

4/7/09   |   WhoDat12   |   2252 respect

Excellent write up, but you didn't mention Marques Colston. He was 3 picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant, but he holds the NFL record for most receptions in the first 2 seasons (163)

4/7/09   |   Brendanc8504

The story of Tom Brady really is unbelievable. who would have thought. How much hope does it give to fans of all teams that in the upcoming draft, your team could get a guy that will end up with a story just as amazing

4/7/09   |   DigitalSquire   |   1 respect

Great write up ... And yes Jason Witten is probably the best player on the offensive side of the ball for Dallas. He is Jay Novachek catching but can block like a tackle.  Also he played with a broken arm this year for like 2-3 games.

4/7/09   |   Raider_Dave   |   47 respect

Very nice write up Scott!  And quality teams are made up of quality parts from Day 2 of the draft.  The Day 1 players get the notoriety, which is why we are so quick to label them as "busts."  I would say the Steelers and Patriots are the best at finding quality guys late that fit into their respective systems, which is definitely a correlation to each teams' recent successes and a testament to their strong managements.