One of the greatest feelings for an NFL general manager, besides winning it all, is seeing one of your late-round draft picks blossom into a legit superstar.
Every draft, we see at least one NFL prospect who falls to the later rounds, only to prove to every team who passed on him that they made a huge mistake. Of course, some of these “draft day steals” tend to excel more-so than others. So which year had the best NFL Draft Day steal?
Here’s how we’d rank every NFL Draft’s biggest steal, from 2000 to 2022… going from worst to first.
23. Brock Purdy (2022)
With Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo lost for the season, Kyle Shanahan had no choice but to start third-stringer Brock Purdy — the very last pick of the 2022 draft at No. 262 overall — for the final stretch of the year. Fortunately for the Niners, Purdy was more than up for the challenge.
Purdy went 5-and-0 as San Fran’s starter and led them all the way to the NFC Championship Game, where they fell to the Philadelphia Eagles. Of course, the result could have been way different if Purdy didn’t suffer a UCL injury early on.
Is it too early to call Purdy the greatest “Mr. Irrelevant” of all time?
22. Mike Wallace (2009)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a knack for finding stud receivers after round one. Mike Wallace is one of the better examples of that.
Wallace was drafted 84th overall by the defending Super Bowl champions. He went on to exceed 700 receiving yards in each of his four seasons with the Steelers — including 1,000-yard campaigns in 2010 and 2011. He played an instrumental role in helping the Steelers reach Super Bowl 45, where they fell to the Green Bay Packers.
For his career, Wallace hauled in 538 receptions for 8,072 yards and 57 touchdowns.
21. Corey Linsley (2014)
Corey Linsley went to the Packers in round five at No. 161 overall. Linsley emerged as Green Bay’s starting center in 2014 and never looked back, holding down the fort in Titletown for seven years.
Linsley earned First-Team All-Pro nods in his final season with the Pack in 2020. Then, he signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2021, earning Pro Bowl and second-team all-pro nods in his first year with the club.
20. Amon-Ra St. Brown (2021)
St. Brown could very well move up these rankings over time, but it’s too early to consider placing him higher. That’s not to take anything away from his excellent production through two seasons, though.
The Detroit Lions took the USC product in round four at 112 overall, and boy did he exceed expectations. As a rookie, St. Brown recorded 90 receptions for 912 yards and five touchdowns.
Proving it was no fluke, he took it to another level in year two by racking up 106 receptions for 1,161 yards and six touchdowns.
19. Terry McLaurin (2019)
Part of the impressive 2019 wide receiver draft class, McLaurin didn’t go until 76th overall to Washington.
After recording 919 receiving yards as a rookie, McLaurin followed it up with three straight years of 77-plus catches and over 1,000 yards receiving.
18. Jamaal Charles (2008)
The Kansas City Chiefs had a productive, albeit very troubled and unpopular, Larry Johnson as their lead back heading into the ‘08 draft. But they couldn’t pass on the talents of Texas running back Jamaal Charles, snagging him in round three in the 73rd slot.
Charles was among the NFL’s premier running backs from 2009 to 2014 before injuries tragically cut his career short. He hit over 1,000 yards rushing in five seasons over that six-year span.
Charles finished his career with 7,563 yards rushing and 44 touchdowns. Not bad for a third-round pick!
17. Brett Keisel (2002)
Hey look! Another steal for the Steelers!
The BYU product slipped to Pittsburgh all the way down to round seven at No. 242 overall. Keisel emerged as a game-wrecker on a defense that also had Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Casey Hampton and James Farrior.
Keisel had 30 sacks over his career and helped Pittsburgh to three Super Bowl appearances, winning it all in the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
16. Stefon Diggs (2015)
It’s stunning to think that this guy fell to the fifth round in a draft class that, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, was rather underwhelming.
But indeed, the Maryland product didn’t go until 146th overall to the Minnesota Vikings that year. He exceeded expectations by hauling in 52 receptions for 720 yards and four touchdowns, but Diggs was just getting started.
He had 1,000-yard seasons for the Minnesota Vikings in 2018 and 2019 before getting traded to the Buffalo Bills. And he has taken his game to a whole new level in Buffalo, exceeding the 100-catch and 1,200-yard receiving marks in each of his first three years there.
15. Fred Warner (2018)
Orlando Brown Jr. and Mark Andrews deserve honorable mentions, but Warner might be the best off-the-ball linebacker in the game.
Warner was taken 70th overall by San Francisco in 2018. He and Nick Bosa have been the engines of a stingy San Fran defense that powered the team to a Super Bowl 54 appearance as well as NFC Championship Game berths in 2021 and 2022.
14. Cooper Kupp (2017)
There wasn’t any real hype surrounding the Eastern Washington product, but the Los Angeles Rams took a chance on him in round three at No. 69 overall. How did that work out for LA?
Well, they recorded winning seasons in each of Kupp’s first five years — winning three NFC West division titles and earning a wild card berth. They won two NFC Championship banners and Super Bowl 56 – where Kupp by the way was named game MVP.
Kupp won 2021 Offensive Player of the Year honors after leading the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. And he had to watch 68 guys get picked before him? Wowza.
13. Steve Smith Sr. (2001)
Smith Sr. was overlooked by draft scouts and analysts because of his 5-foot-9 frame, which was especially small for receivers in those days. But he sure rewarded the Carolina Panthers handsomely for taking him with the No. 74 selection.
All Smith did was earn five Pro Bowl nods in his career while racking up 1,031 receptions for 14,731 yards and 81 touchdowns. He led Carolina to the playoffs on four occasions — including to the 2003 and ‘05 NFC Championship Games—and, of course, to a surprise appearance in Super Bowl 38.
12. Brandon Marshall (2006)
The Denver Broncos drafted the big-bodied Central Florida wideout in round four with the 119th pick. Marshall had a quiet rookie year with only 309 receiving yards, but he kicked it into another gear as a sophomore.
In 2007, Marshall racked up 102 receptions for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns. It was just the first of seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for Marshall, despite never having an above-average quarterback.
Marshall had six seasons of 100-plus receptions and eight 1,000-yard receiving campaigns. He finished with 970 career catches for 12,351 yards and 83 touchdowns.
11. Marshal Yanda (2007)
The ‘07 draft class is widely regarded as one of the absolute best ever—thanks in large part to a stacked first round…
But there was also no shortage of late-round gems who made big-time impacts for their franchises — most notably Baltimore Ravens’ offensive tackle Marshal Yanda.
The Ravens took Yanda 86th overall in that star-studded draft. He enjoyed a Hall of Fame career that saw him earn a whopping seven all-pro nods — with two first-team and five second-team selections. Yanda was also named to the 2010s All-Decade Team, and he played a huge role in helping the Ravens win Super Bowl 47.
10. Jalen Hurts (2020)
Second-round picks rarely count as draft steals, but we had to make an exception for Hurts. Plus, aside from Alex Highsmith — who went 102nd overall to Pittsburgh — there aren’t any other late-round selections from the 2020 class who have greatly exceeded expectations to this point.
Wentz’s play regressed dramatically in 2020, leading then-head coach Doug Pederson to bench him in favor of Hurts. The latter showed enough promise to earn the starting job in 2021, and he responded by helping Philly to a surprise playoff appearance.
Hurts then raised his game to an MVP level in 2022, throwing for 3,701 yards and 22 touchdowns while racking up 760 rushing yards and 13 rushing scores. Hurts led the Eagles to the NFC’s top seed and a Super Bowl 57 appearance, where they narrowly fell to Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs.
9. Frank Gore (2005)
Third all-time in rushing with 16,000 yards. Tied for 19th in rushing touchdowns with 81. Five Pro Bowl nods and 2010s all-decade team honors. Yep, Frank Gore did pretty well for a guy who was taken in round three at No. 65 overall in 2005.
A model of consistency, Gore reached 1,000 yards rushing in nine of his 16 NFL seasons.
8. Jared Allen (2004)
This class is remembered for being the year of the QB — with guys like Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers all getting taken. But it was also the year when the Chiefs found one of the all-time great pass-rushers in round four, with the 126th pick.
Kansas City took defensive end Jared Allen in that spot, and the rest is history. Allen twice led the NFL in sacks, including a career-best 22 for the Vikings in 2011. The five-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team all-pro sits 12th all-time in career sacks, with 136.
7. Dak Prescott (2016)
Romo suffered a vertebral compression fracture in a preseason game, forcing the Cowboys to roll with Dak. All he did was win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after leading Dallas to the NFC’s top record at 13-and-3.
Though his playoff performances have been disappointing, Prescott consistently puts up Pro Bowl stats and has Dallas in contention every year. They made the playoffs under his guidance in 2016, 2018, 2021 and 2022 – including three NFC East division crowns.
6. Jason Witten (2003)
As they did with Prescott, Dallas also got excellent value out of Witten.
The tight end out of Tennessee earned 11 Pro Bowl nods, recording at least 500 receiving yards in 15 of his 17 seasons — all of this after getting selected in the third round with the 69th overall pick.
His 1,228 receptions are fourth all-time behind only Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald and Tony Gonzalez.
5. Antonio Brown (2010)
Brown’s inexcusable behavior ended a potential Hall of Fame career rather quickly. It’s sad.
Brown was taken in the sixth round at 195th overall by the Steelers – oh look, another Pittsburgh pick! The Central Michigan wideout turned in seven Pro Bowl seasons and seven 1,000-yard seasons. He led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards twice and earned 2010s All-Decade Team honors.
4. Jason Kelce (2011)
Richard Sherman was considered here, but Kelce’s career, and his prime, lasted much longer — so he gets the nod here.
The Cincinnati center didn’t go until the sixth round, 191st overall, to Philadelphia. More than a decade later, how do six Pro Bowls and five first-team all-pro nods sound? And how about two NFC championship banners and a Super Bowl 52 ring?
3. Russell Wilson (2012)
It’s unfair that Seattle got Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson and Jeremy Lane all in the same draft. All four played a pivotal role in the team’s Super Bowl 48 championship season and in their trip to Super Bowl 49.
But Wilson, the 75th overall pick in round three, was the most impactful of them all. Seattle had only winning seasons in each of his first nine years there. Wilson led Seattle to two NFC Championships, a Super Bowl title, and to seven postseason appearances.
Oh, and he was a Pro Bowler in nine of his 10 seasons with the Seahawks.
2. Travis Kelce (2013)
Jason isn’t the only Kelce brother to emerge as an all-time draft steal!
With two Super Bowl rings and all-world stats, the only thing Travis is playing for now is the title as the greatest tight end of all-time. You can already argue that he’s above Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski at this point.
A gem of a find by Kansas City at No. 63 overall in an otherwise lackluster 2013 class, Travis is an absolute shoo-in to earn a place in the Hall beside his brother!
1. Tom Brady (2000)
Do we need to say much here? Brady is the football GOAT. And he was somehow the 199th selection of the 2000 Draft. How in the world did every team pass on this guy multiple times?
All this little-known Michigan product did was win a record seven Super Bowls, five Super Bowl MVPs, and three NFL MVP awards while also retiring as the NFL’s all-time leader in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns and QB wins.
Who do you think is the greatest draft steal in your favorite NFL team’s history?
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