When draft day rolls around and teams are looking for an impact player to add to their roster, it’s usually within the first or second round that they find them.
Finding a Pro Bowl caliber player in the seventh round rarely ever happens, but when it does it’s like winning the lottery. Getting an undrafted player who goes on to bigger and better things even more rare.
Lucky drafting can be the difference between making the playoffs or not.
Or even winning the Super Bowl.
The draft, at once a monster that went 12 rounds, has lately been pared down to a more manageable seven. Through the combines and various pro days, scouting staff and team executives will make their lists and check them twice.
And yet, there will be those rare gems who fall out of the first couple of rounds, mostly due to shear numbers or the fact they went to a mid-major instead of a big time school like Michigan.
So here is the list of the top 15 draft steals that became stars.
15. Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs (3rd Round, 86th Overall, 2017)
The MAC wouldn’t be a conference that NFL bird dogs would flock to, however, it should be ignored at their peril. Given what 2017 NFL rushing yards leader Kareem Hunt did at Toledo for four years, it’s a wonder it took the Chiefs three rounds to pick him up. In his senior year, Hunt piled up 1,878 yards from scrimmage, including 1,475 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, the Pro Bowler had nearly that many yards from scrimmage in his first season in the NFL. He ran for 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games last year, adding 53 receptions for 445 receiving yards and another three touchdowns. In his lone playoff appearance, Hunt had 42 rush yards on 11 attempts and scored another TD. Let’s just say we’re impressed and that the Chiefs heisted him in the third round.
14. Dak Prescott – Dallas Cowboys (4th Round, 135th Overall, 2016)
Unlike Kareem Hunt, Rayne Dakota ‘Dak’ Prescott was a member of a big school, Mississippi State and did pretty wondrous things in his senior year with the Bulldogs. He completed 316 of 477 pass attempts that year, for 3,793 yards, 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. In one memorable game, he threw for 508 yards and five TDs in a 51-50 victory over Arkansas. In a draft where two QBs went 1-2 (Jared Goff and Carson Wentz), Prescott had to watch while five other quarterbacks were taken until his name was called by Dallas late in the fourth round. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they also drafted Prescott’s future backfield mate, Ezekiel Elliott at no. 4. In his first year, Prescott wowed everyone, posting a 13-3 record as a starter, with 3,667 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also ran for another 282 yards and six scores. He was named NFL Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year. He followed it up with a superb playoff game against Green Bay, only to lose 34-31. His 2017 wasn’t quite as successful, however, he’s a keeper and the reason the Cowboys could wave bye bye to Tony Romo.
13. Richard Sherman – Seattle Seahawks (5th Round, 154th Overall, 2011)
Fully 23 college cornerbacks in a defence heavy 2011 draft were selected ahead of future three-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion Richard Sherman. Only one of them, Patrick Peterson (5th overall to Arizona) we would call Sherman’s peer. And it’s not like the Compton, CA native was playing at a community college, but at Stanford no less. Sherman transitioned nicely from wide receiver with the Cardinal and put in two superior seasons at defensive back in 2009 and 2010 (the year Stanford set a school record going 12-1). The Seahawks did fairly well with late picks in 2011, also drafting future Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright. Sherman quickly established himself as a defensive star and quotable trash talker in Seattle. Now a member of the San Francisco 49ers after an injury-plagued 2017 season, Sherman played 105 games with the Seahawks, registering 377 tackles, 32 interceptions, 104 pass deflections and a sack.
12. Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers (6th Round, 195th Overall, 2010)
Before Kareem Hunt became a cause celebre coming late from MAC school Toledo in the 2017 draft, Antonio Brown was passed on even more in the 2010 draft after starring at Central Michigan. A quarterback at his high school in Miami, Brown couldn’t get into the school of his choice Florida State, and instead walked on at Central Michigan as a wide receiver. It was a wise choice and in three seasons with the Chippewas Brown tallied 3,199 receiving yards in 41 games, with 22 touchdowns. At the 2010 draft, he became the 22nd of 27 wideouts taken, way down at 195th overall by the Steelers, who also picked up Emmanuel Sanders in the third round. In a cheeky move, Brown took number 84 with Pittsburgh, saying “”Eight times four is 32. Thirty-two teams looked past me, even the Steelers.” That motivation has spurred Brown to being arguably the top wideout in the NFL. He is just 90 yards shy of the 10,000 yards club and has been receiving yards leader twice already, including the 1,533 yards he put up in 2017.
11. Bryan Cox – Miami Dolphins (5th Round, 113th Overall, 1991)
When linebacker Bryan Cox played at Western Illinois for the Leathernecks in the early 1990s, the school was way down in Division I-AA (it is now in the Missouri Valley Conference, which is DI). Hence why he was the 14th linebacker taken in the draft, by Miami at no. 113. Cox was a star at Western Illinois and made an immediate impression with the Dolphins in his second season, being named First Team All-Pro after recording 127 tackles and 14 sacks. In a career that spanned 12 seasons and five teams, Cox had 938 tackles, 22 forced fumbles and 51.5 total sacks. He made the Pro Bowl three times and won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in 2002. Cox was best known and instantly recognizable for wearing a “surfboard” style neck roll, which he always color matched to the five different jerseys he wore during his career.
10. Richard Dent – Chicago Bears (8th Round, 203rd Overall, 1983)
Not many eighth round selections in the history of the NFL have ever been elected to the Hall of Fame. Count Tennessee State graduate Richard Dent among a tiny group of just three. The Colonel was a superb edge rusher right out of the gate for the Bears, going to the Pro Bowl in his second season after registering 17.5 sacks and 39 tackles in 16 games (10 of them starts). In 1985, the year the Bears won the Super Bowl, Dent was again a Pro Bowler and a First-Team All-Pro, logging a league leading 17 sacks and intercepting two passes, one for a pick-six. In Chicago’s 46-10 victory over New England in Super Bowl XX, Dent had 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass deflection. He was named MVP for his efforts, too. He finished his illustrious career by winning another Super Bowl with San Francisco and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011.
9. John Lynch – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3rd round, 82 Overall, 1993)
Four safeties were chosen before John Lynch in the 1993 draft, and not one of them came close to what John accomplished in his career. Making nine trips to the Pro Bowl and averaging 70.5 tackles per season, he punished offenses with his devastating tackles. John also won the Super Bowl in 2003 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, solidifying his career and making him one of the best safeties in history.
8. Jared Allen – Kansas City Chiefs (4th round, 126th Overall, 2004)
With a career like Jared’s, and the consistency he has played with over the years, the Hall of Fame will be looking at his name very closely. The recently retired defensive end had 136 sacks in his career, ninth most in league history. The five-time Pro Bowler had a stellar career with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Minnesota Vikings, before finishing his career with Chicago and Carolina. Although his numbers tailed off a bit in his final years, Allen provided excellent veteran leadership for the Panthers, who made it to Super Bowl 50 (although they lost to the Denver Broncos). Allen was also incredibly durable, missing only five regular season games in 12 seasons as a pro. “Draft steal” is a modest way of putting it, actually.
7. Andre Reed – Buffalo Bills (4th round, 86th Overall, 1985)
Every Buffalo Bills fan was waiting for Andre to get inducted into the Hall of Fame, and it finally happened in 2014, eight years after his eligibility began. Reed stood out with the Bills, and even though he never won a Super Bowl with the team, having over 13,000 receiving yard was a big factor of why they made it to the championship game four times. Andre has a foundation where he helps underprivileged children reach their full potential, and with a career like his, he is the right man for the job.
6. Cris Carter – Philadelphia Eagles (4th round of the Supplemental Draft, 1987)
Cris is one of those receivers who won’t be forgotten. With his circus catches and his “diva” attitude, he always seemed to be in the spotlight. With 130 touchdowns and eight consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl, he is one of the best of all time. Only three other receivers have more touchdowns in their career than Carter and making it in to the Hall of Fame is what secured him on this list. Even though early in his career Cris admitted to having drug problems, he cleaned himself up and went back to what he does best, scoring touchdowns.
5. Kurt Warner (Undrafted, 1994)
We know this is cheating a little bit, but being an undrafted player means every team in the NFL passed on Kurt during the 1994 draft, and every team made a huge mistake by doing that. His story is one of the best: from working at a grocery store making $5.50 an hour, to becoming a Super Bowl champion and earning millions of dollars, while remaining humble through it all. Primarily playing with the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals, Warner had four trips to the Pro Bowl, two NFL MVP awards, three NFC championships, and a Super Bowl MVP award. His story is an inspiration to many young men around the world, hoping to follow in his footsteps.
4. Shannon Sharpe – Denver Broncos (7th round, 192nd Overall, 1990)
One of the best tight ends to ever play the game, Shannon made the game look easy every time he was on the field. After eight Pro Bowls, three Super Bowl rings, and over 10,000 receiving yards, he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011. After lasting fourteen years in the NFL, and having his face on the Wheaties cereal box, Shannon retired as a seventh round super star.
3. Terrell Davis – Denver Broncos (6th round, 196th Overall, 1995)
When you are fully healthy for only four out of the seven years you play, and have stats like Terrell Davis, it shows this draft steal was the real deal. With injuries ending his career early, Terrell still ran for over 7,600 yards and won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos. Don’t forget his 1,280 receiving yards, 65 career touchdowns, Super Bowl MVP, with three trips to the Pro Bowl. All this proves he was truly amazing, especially for a 6th round pick.
2. Joe Montana – San Francisco 49ers (3rd round, 82nd Overall, 1979)
Other than Tom Brady, no quarterback in history has won more Super Bowls than Joe Montana. Terry Bradshaw is tied with Montana, having won four titles each. The difference is that Terry was selected first overall in the 1970 draft, and Montana was overlooked until the 82nd overall pick, deep in the third round. Joe was named Super Bowl MVP three times, which no other quarterback in history has accomplished. He has also never thrown an interception in a Super Bowl, one of the reasons he is nicknamed “Joe Cool.”
1. Tom Brady – New England Patriots (6th round, 199th Overall, 2000)
Tom was easily the most underrated player coming out of college. He started his freshman year in college playing for the Michigan Wolverines, where he was the backup for his first two seasons. Competing against Drew Henson in his junior year, Brady won the starting spot. He proved it a smart choice by winning the Citrus Bowl that year, and then winning the Orange Bowl his senior season. Drafted by New England, his career took off to heights no one could have imagined. With five Super Bowl victories, four Super Bowl MVPs, 12 trips to the Pro Bowl, seven AFC Championships, two regular season MVP awards, and two NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards, what else can you ask for from the 199th overall pick?