9 Greatest Steals in NFL Draft History
Let’s not get bogged down with the negative and all the draft busts this time of year. (Though they are WAY more fun to talk about). We’ve addressed those. Now let’s talk about the flip side of that coin. The steals. The players that defied expectations and, from their lowly stations, managed to capture greatness for themselves and their teams. (Cue soaring eagle video montage set to R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly)
Oh. It appears that this website doesn’t have a soaring eagle video, nor the rights to R. Kelly’s catalog.
This is anticlimactic.
Here are the 9 greatest draft steals in NFL history. (Sigh.)
9. Dwight Clark – 10th Round 1979
Admittedly, it’s hard to consider Clark that much more than a solid player over the course of his career. He booked over 500 catches in nine seasons with the Niners, but that was hardly his reason for making this list. This lowly 10th round pick afforded the 49er’s one of the most dramatic and memorable victories ever over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship game. In short, this 10th round pick bought them “The Catch.” That’s a steal.
8. Shannon Sharpe – 7th Round 1990
Shannon Sharpe had the skill set to play in the NFL; the scouts knew that. What they didn’t know was WHERE he was going to play. He was a “tweener,” too small for tight end and too slow for wide receiver. According to the scouts, of course. Sharpe proved he didn’t need to have a clear role to be great for the Broncos, serving as a TE, wingback and moveable piece in their offense that helped them to Super Bowl championships and helped him to the Hall of Fame.
7. Dan Marino – 1st Round 1983
I know it seems a little goofy declaring Marino a “steal” in the first round. It’s not like there was another, higher round he could have been picked in. And he didn’t win a Super Bowl, which is also a strike against him on this list. But there were 5 QB’s taken in front of him in the first round, so for the QB rated sixth best to accomplish what he did (420 TD’s, HOF, 86.4 career rating, 61k passing yards), that qualifies as a steal in and of itself.
6. Teddy Bruschi – 3rd Round 1996
Chosen with the 86th pick, Bruschi proved to be the lynchpin of a Patriots defense that led them to three Super Bowl titles. In 2005, he wouldn’t let a silly little thing like a stroke keep him off the field for any longer than necessary, playing in the latter half of the season and getting awarded Comeback Player of the Year, no less. He tied for fourth among all-time touchdowns scored by linebackers. You can do a lot worse with a 3rd round pick. It’s hard to do much better.
5. Zach Thomas – 5th Round 1996
With the 154th pick, the Dolphins picked Zach Thomas out of Texas Tech. What they didn’t realize was that the 154th pick would get them one of the most consistent and powerful inside linebackers in NFL history for the next 12 years. He only tallied less than 128 tackles in a season once, and that’s when he was sidelined for five games with an injury. While his numbers were less gaudy than they were consistently good/great, he ended his career with seven Pro Bowl selections, and a selection to the All-Decade team, despite accumulating a measly 20.5 sacks during his career. His leadership meant that much.
4. Terrell Davis – 6th Round 1995
If a team is reluctant enough to draft you in the 6th round, you best believe that you’re probably not going to be guaranteed the starting spot. Undaunted, TD went on to post 60 touchdowns and 7,600 rushing yards in his brief seven-year career. He also snagged two Super Bowls and the MVP award in 1998. Not bad for a guy that wasn’t even supposed to make the team.
3. Roger Staubach – 10th Round 1964
Two Super Bowl victories, led the league in passing four times, and found his way to the Pro Bowl six times. What could he have done better? Well he could have eradicated world hunger, but let’s just enjoy what the man managed to do as a 10th round pick. I wasn’t even aware the draft went ten rounds back in ’64. I guess the fact that he’s one of the most iconic QB’s in NFL history would also make him one of the greatest success stories in NFL History.
2. Joe Montana – 3rd Round 1979
While he had the Notre Dame pedigree, that will only get you so far with an NFL team. Montana rode the bench behind Steve DeBerg for a year and a half before getting the green light. I hope Steve DeBerg enjoyed his time at the top while it lasted, because when Montana was done, he had set the gold standard for NFL QB’s, having one four Super Bowls with the 49ers. Tragically, he was only awarded MVP for three of them. So sad…
1. Tom Brady – 6th Round 2000
Four Super Bowls and three trophies in ten years makes him a steal even if he was drafted with the first pick. 50 touchdown passes in a season was just the icing on the cake. Everyone is familiar with his accomplishments, slightly fewer are aware that he was drafted with so late coming out of Michigan. And unlike most every other entrant on this list, Brady’s not done yet.