Historic NFL Draft Stories of the Modern Era

Historic NFL Draft Stories of the Modern Era

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For our third installment of our series featuring the “Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Historic Artifacts,” we will be examining some of the most significant individual NFL Draft stories of the modern era. Over the years during live NFL Draft coverage, Chris Berman, Trey Wingo or Rich Eisen have often exclaimed, “the card is in!” Each NFL team has a representative at the Draft who fills out a card to select a player after they receive a phone call from the “War Room.” The card is then turned into an NFL executive for the official draft selection.

Fortunately, since 1997, due to the generosity of the NFL, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has collected the NFL Draft cards. For Draft Week we have decided to feature the most significant and impactful NFL Draft stories of players who have an NFL Draft Card and an artifact in our collection.

We are glad you have enjoyed such artifacts from Walter Payton, Pat Tillman, David Tyree and Tom Dempsey in our previous stories highlighting unique artifacts in our collection.

The concept of this story originates from an exhibit we were hoping to debut at the NFL Draft this year in Vegas. Unfortunately, with the cancellation of this year’s fan events we were not able to debut the exhibit. However, we thought we could share the concept with you virtually. Enjoy!


NFL Draft Day 1 Features:

2003 NFL 1st round: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers helmet worn by Polamalu 


Troy Polamalu’s tremendous abilities coming out of USC caught the eye of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In order to select Polamalu in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Steelers traded up in the first round for the first-time in franchise history. They traded their 27th pick, 92nd pick and 200th pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for their 16th pick. The selection proved wise as Polamalu went on to have a hall of fame career. 

In 2010, Troy Polalamu was named NFL defensive player of the year.  Other honors during his career included being selected to eight Pro Bowls, being named First Team All-Pro four times, Second-Team All-Pro twice, and also being named AFC Defensive Player of the Week seven times . Polamalu is also a member of the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s, the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team and lastly he has received the ultimate honor by being elected as part of the 2020 Class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Pictured is a helmet from his storied career.


2018 NFL Draft 1st round: Lamar Jackson’s game used jersey


A big topic of debate going into the 2018 NFL Draft was whether University of Louisville standout Lamar Jackson’s tremendous running and scrambling abilities would translate in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens were convinced the Heisman Trophy winner’s skills would and traded two 2nd round picks to the Philadelphia Eagles and swapped fourth round picks to move back into the first round of the NFL Draft to select Jackson 32nd overall.

The Ravens were proven right when Jackson rallied the team to make the playoffs after being inserted as starting quarterback in Week 11 of his rookie season. This past season he led the Ravens to an NFL best 14-2 record and was named league MVP. Pictured is the jersey Jackson wore on Nov. 10, 2019 against the Cincinnati Bengals when he became only the second quarterback in NFL history to achieve two perfect passer rating games in the same season. In the same game Jackson also executed his famous “spin move” on a 47-yard touchdown run.

2005 NFL Draft 1st round: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers hand warmer worn by Rodgers when he reached 30,000 career passing yards in the fewest attempts in NFL history


Going into the 2005 NFL Draft, quarterback Aaron Rodgers believed he would be a top 10 pick and perhaps number one overall to the San Francisco 49ers. Inexplicably, he fell to 24th overall to the Green Bay Packers who already had a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre. Packers GM Ted Thompson had Rodgers as his top player in the NFL Draft and waited patiently as he fell into the team’s lap at 24. Some 15 years later, Rodgers has received numerous accolades and has set countless records.

Aaron Rodgers used this hand warmer on October 18, 2015 against the San Diego Chargers when he reached 30,000 passing yards in the fewest attempts in NFL history. Rodgers reached the mark on a completion to Eddie Lacy for 12 yards in the fourth quarter of the  Packers 27-20 victory over the Chargers. Rodgers reached 30,000 yards passing on his 3,652nd attempt. Prior to Rodgers, Johnny Unitas had been the fastest to reach the mark at 3,695 attempts.

When Rodgers set the record the Pro Football Hall of Fame was looking for something unique to collect from him. Due to his generosity and the dizzying pace at which he was setting records and milestones, the Hall had every piece of equipment imaginable from him. Amazingly, we had never collected a game used hand warmer.

1998 NFL Draft 1st round: Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings cleats worn by Moss


One of the biggest topics of discussion going into the 1998 NFL Draft was where and when Randy Moss would land.  Moss rewarded the Minnesota Vikings for selecting him at 21st overall by having a spectacular rookie season which  included breaking the rookie record for most touchdown receptions (17) as well as  being named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. Moss finished his career in 2012 with 982 receptions for 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns. Pictured is a pair of shoes that Moss wore during his time with the Vikings.


2004 NFL Draft 1st round: Eli Manning, New York Giants Manning jersey


As the 2004 NFL Draft approached quarterback Eli Manning caused waves by stating he would not play for the San Diego Chargers if selected. His reasoning is still a topic of debate. In an interview in 2013 Manning stated he “forgot” why he didn’t want to play for the team. Undeterred and holding the number one overall pick the Chargers chose Manning.

After a tense hour for both parties the Chargers traded Manning to the New York Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers who had been previously selected by the Giants at 4th overall. The Giants also traded their 2005 3rd and 5th round picks to acquire Manning. In the end both parties benefitted. Philip Rivers went on to throw for 59,271 yards for the Chargers. Manning won two Super Bowls with the Giants (XLII and XLVI). Both players have jerseys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s collection (see picture of Manning’s).



NFL Draft Day 2 Features:

2016 NFL Draft 2nd round: Michael Thomas, gloves used when Thomas caught his NFL record 144th reception


The New Orleans Saints showed the value of the second round by drafting Michael Thomas of Ohio State University at 47th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. In four short seasons Thomas has been selected to three Pro Bowls and has received two All-Pro Honors. This past season Thomas broke the NFL record for most receptions in an NFL season held previously by Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison (143). Amazingly, in 2016 five wide receivers were drafted ahead of the NFL record holder. Pictured are the gloves used by Thomas when he caught his record breaking 144th reception of the season on Dec. 22, 2019.

2012 NFL Draft 3rd round: Russell Wilson, Russell Wilson game worn Seattle Seahawks jersey from when Wilson became the first player in NFL history to record three rushing touchdowns and throw a touchdown pass in the first half of a game against the Buffalo Bills on December 16, 2012. 


Going into the 2012 NFL Draft, Russell Wilson had all the attributes that NFL teams look for in quarterbacks except for one, height. Wilson was measured at 5’11” at the NFL combine. Typically, NFL teams look for quarterbacks over six feet. Wilson had first round talent, but slipped to 75th overall to the Seattle Seahawks. The team’s selection proved to be a steal.

As a rookie Wilson he beat out veteran Matt Flynn to win the starting job. He then proceeded to start every game his rookie year, leading the Seahawks to the NFL Playoffs with an 11-5 record. Pictured is the jersey he wore during that first season against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 16, 2012 when he became the first player in NFL history to record three rushing touchdowns and throw a touchdown pass in the first half of a game. Wilson has not missed a regular season game in his eight years with the Seahawks. He has proven that the ball and receivers do not care about the height of a quarterback.


2013 NFL Draft 3rd round: Travis Kelce, 2016 Pro Bowl jersey worn by Kelce


One would suspect a five-time Pro Bowl and Super Bowl champion tight end would have been a first-round selection. Cleveland Heights native Travis Kelce was selected 63rd overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2016 NFL Draft. Although Kelce flashed talent at the University of Cincinnati he was only graded as a low 3rd to 4th round pick.

Going into the 2013 season the Chiefs needed a tight end because their starter the previous season, Tony Moeaki, had suffered a torn ACL. Head coach Andy Reid was familiar with Kelce after coaching his brother Jason. The selection of Travis Kelce has paid huge dividends for the Chiefs as he has racked up 507 receptions for 6,465 yards and 37 touchdowns during his career. He has also been selected to five Pro Bowls and has received All-Pro honors twice. Pictured is the jersey Kelce wore in his first Pro Bowl (2016).

2001 NFL Draft 3rd round: Steve Smith, jersey worn by Smith when he reached 1,000 career receptions


Few NFL teams had Steve Smith from the University of Utah high on their draft boards. It may have been partly due to his size at 5’9” and 195 pounds. However, the Panthers scouting and personnel department were bullish on him. They almost drafted him in the second round, but they guessed correctly that the rest of the NFL had him undervalued. The Panthers used their 2nd round pick to draft Kris Jenkins who became a four-time Pro Bowl selection and two- time All-Pro defensive tackle and then selected Smith in the 3rd round.

Smith would become the face of the Panthers franchise becoming their career leader in receptions (835) yards (12,197) and touchdown receptions (67). Smith signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 and wore the jersey pictured here when he reached 1,000 career reception on Nov. 20, 2016 at 37 years old!


2015 NFL Draft 3rd round: Danielle Hunter, game used gloves, youngest to 50 sacks


Danielle Hunter has become the king of setting youth records. Many Draft experts felt Hunter should have stayed at LSU for an additional year when he came out for the 2015 NFL Draft. The Vikings understood his potential and drafted him 88th overall in the 3rd round. Danielle went into the 2015 NFL season as the youngest player in the league.

The selection quickly paid dividends as he earned NFL All-Rookie team honors. In 2016 he became the youngest player in franchise history to lead the team in sacks (12.5). Danielle broke another youth record in 2019 when wearing these gloves, he became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks.



NFL Draft Day 3 Features:

2011 NFL Draft 5th round: Richard Sherman, Madden Xbox game with Sherman on the cover


24 cornerbacks were taken before All-Pro Richard Sherman was selected in the 5th round and 154th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2011 NFL Draft.  Sherman was initially recruited to play wide receiver at Stanford University. In his fourth year at Stanford he was switched to cornerback.

NFL Scouts considered him “rough around the edges” but he was invited to the 2011 Senior Bowl after another cornerback suffered an injury. There the NFL scouts took notice of his terrific play, but Sherman was still only considered as a late round prospect.

Sherman had developed a reputation of being truculent going back to his Stanford days. Seahawks General Manager John Schneider was recently quoted as saying, “We are constantly looking for guys with a chip on their shoulder and have something to prove. We know how important football was to Richard.” Sherman has proven all those teams who didn’t select him wrong.

Sherman has been selected to five Pro Bowls and has earned All-Pro honors three times. In 2015, he earned one of the highest popular culture honors an NFL player can receive by being selected to appear on the cover of the Madden NFL video game.  This Xbox copy of Madden NFL 15 is preserved at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


2000 NFL Draft 6th round: Tom Brady, jersey worn by Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI


Tom Brady is the biggest NFL Draft “steal” of modern NFL history. Brady was selected in the 6th round, 199th overall of the 2001 NFL Draft. To say Brady was underestimated coming out of the University of Michigan is an understatement. His senior year at Michigan he continually battled a younger quarterback for the starting position. Six quarterbacks were drafted ahead of Brady before he was selected by New England in the 6th round with the 199th overall pick.

Patriots quarterback coach at the time Dick Rehbein liked what he saw of Brady coming out of college. He told head coach Bill Belichick that Brady was the best “fit” for the Patriots system. Belichick and other coaches on staff agreed and the Patriots would have taken him earlier than the 6th round except they already had a starting quarterback in Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe.

Brady, however, didn’t underestimate himself nor did he allow the opinions of others to  deter his goals. In 2001 when Bledsoe went down with an injury, he led the Patriots all the way to victory in Super Bowl XXXVI. Brady has won an unprecedented six Super Bowls earning the acronym the “GOAT” or “Greatest of All Time.”    

1999 NFL Draft 4th round: Dexter Jackson, Super Bowl XXXVII newspaper headline


This season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hope Tom Brady joins Dexter Jackson as another Buccaneers Super Bowl MVP who was under valued in the NFL Draft. Brady was drafted 199th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft and Jackson was drafted 113th overall in the 1999 NFL Draft. Another similarity between the two is that both were recruited as quarterbacks coming out of high school, but Jackson was switched to safety once he arrived at Florida State.

Jackson picked off two passes in the Buccaneers 48-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. The Buccaneers defense intercepted Raiders quarterback and NFL MVP Rich Gannon five times in the game and Jackson was named Super Bowl MVP. Jackson played 10 years (1999-2002, 2004-05 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2003 Arizona Cardinals, 2006-08 Cincinnati Bengals) in the NFL and will go down in NFL history as one of the great draft sleepers.


2009 NFL Draft 7th round: Julian Edelman, Super Bowl LIII game ball


Julian Edelman was a college quarterback at Kent State University and as he  entered the 2009 NFL Draft most NFL teams recognized his talent but didn’t know what position would be best suited for his abilities. During his senior year at Kent State, Edelman set a school record for total offense when he threw for 1,820 yards, rushed for 1,370 yards and even caught one pass for 11 yards.

Some teams thought he could be a running back, others a wide receiver or defensive back and still others felt maybe he could be used in the “Wildcat” formation. Edelman himself didn’t believe he would be drafted by the Patriots. Although they had worked him out, the Patriots never invited him to visit. Edelman recounts when head coach Bill Belichick called to inform him that they had drafted him 232nd overall, he said, “I don't know what we're going to do with you, but you're a hell of a football player.”

The Patriots slowly developed him at wide receiver and his big break came four years later in 2013 when starting All-Pro wide receiver Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos and injuries within the Patriots wide receiving corps that season forced Edelman into the starting lineup. All his hard work paid off as he caught 105 receptions for 1,056 yards as a starter that season.

The next big moment of Edelman’s career came in the Patriots historic 28-3 comeback over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI when he made a key spectacular bobbling 23-yard catch late in the fourth quarter. The catch gave the Patriots a key first down on what would become the game tying drive. The Patriots would score a touchdown on the first drive of overtime completing the historic comeback 34-28. Pictured is a game ball from Super Bowl LI. Two years later  Edelman proved the value of the 7th round of the NFL Draft again. He was named Super Bowl LIII MVP after catching 10 receptions for 141 yards in New England’s 13-3 smothering win over the Los Angeles Rams.


2006 NFL Draft 7th round: Marques Colston, shoulder pads issued to Colston


NFL general managers live to make sleeper picks like Marques Colston. The New Orleans Saints selected Marques Colston with only three picks left (252nd) in the 2006 NFL Draft. Before the Saints selection, Colston was starting to believe he might have to make the NFL as an undrafted free agent.

Although he had great numbers at Division I-AA Hofstra, many NFL teams wondered how Colston would matchup against stiffer competition. There were also concerns about his durability after he had to sit out the entire Hofstra Flying Dutchmen 2004 season due to an injury. Many NFL Draft experts listed him as a “project.”

Colston proved his doubters wrong by racking up 70 receptions for 1,038 yards as a rookie in 2006. He became Drew Brees’ favorite target during their time together (2006-2015).  Colston would finish his career in 2015 with 711 receptions for 9,759 yards and 72 touchdowns which are still Saints franchise career records. Pictured are Colston’s shoulder pads in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s collection.

Best of the Rest:

2007 NFL Draft 1st round: Joe Thomas, game used Pro Bowl shoes worn by Thomas in his eighth consecutive Pro Bowl


2008 NFL Draft 7th round: Peyton Hillis, jar of salsa endorsed by Hillis


2010 NFL Draft 6th round: Antonio Brown, game used jersey worn by Brown


2014 NFL Draft 4th round: Jarvis Landry, game used gloves worn by Landry


2017 NFL Draft 5th round: George Kittle, game used jersey when Kittle sent the NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end


2019 NFL Draft 1st round: Kyler Murray, game used jersey worn by Murray


1997 NFL Draft 3rd round: Ronde Barber, game used jersey from when Barber became the first player to record at least 25 sacks and 40 interceptions


2002 NFL Draft 1st round: Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers jersey from when he recorded his 150th sacks


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