NFL Draft Hidden Gems

NFL Draft Hidden Gems

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Based on credentials it’s a common misperception that Hall of Famers were all drafted in the early rounds. General Managers have hit the jackpot by selecting HOFers in the late round of drafts. Here’s a look at the Top 10 all time steals of the NFL Draft. 


Honorable Mention: Roosevelt Brown, Raymond Berry, Chris Hanburger, Willie Davis and Jackie Smith


10. Joe Schmidt

Because he had had a long history of injuries when he was playing college football at the University of Pittsburgh, the Detroit Lions didn’t select Schmidt until the seventh round of the college draft in 1953. When Schmidt started playing pro football, the Lions were traditionally a strong defensive team. Yet within a very short time after his first pro game, Joe was the defensive leader of the Lions. Later in his career, he was the team's field captain for nine straight seasons. He was voted to the NFL all-league team ten times. He was elected to the Pro Bowl ten straight years from 1955 through 1964 and his teammates voted him their Most Valuable Player four times.


9. Terrell Davis

Davis was selected in the sixth round, 196th player overall, of the 1995 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. The little-known back made a big splash when earned a starting role at tailback as a rookie. Davis shined in the Broncos biggest games as evidenced by him stringing together a NFL playoff record seven straight 100-yard performances spanning the 1997 and ’98 postseasons capped by Denver winning back-to-back Super Bowls.


8. Leroy Kelly

Kelly, in a 10-year tenure with the Cleveland Browns from 1964 through 1973, established himself as one of the most feared ball carriers in the history of the National Football League.

He was an eighth-round pick of the Browns in the 1964 draft after a fine four-year career at Morgan State. For his first two years, he was an understudy to Jim Brown, the most prolific ground-gainer in history up to that time. When Brown retired just before the 1966 campaign, Kelly filled the void in a manner seldom seen in pro football circles. He rushed for 7,274 yards and ranked among the top 20 all-time rushers until midway through 1993 season. He added 2,281 yards on 190 pass receptions and excelled as a punt and kickoff return specialist, particularly in his early years in the NFL. His combined net yards total of 12,330 on rushes, receptions and returns ranks him among the best ever. He won four individual statistical championships, including NFL rushing titles in 1967 and 1968.


7. Shannon Sharpe

The Denver Broncos selected Shannon Sharpe out of Savannah State in the seventh round of the 1990 NFL Draft. He retired 14 seasons later as the all-time leader in catches, yards and touchdowns by a tight end. He helped lead the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowls. Sharpe led the Broncos in receiving six times. He was named first-team All-Pro and All-AFC in 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998 and was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s.


6. Mike Webster

Webster was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fifth-round selection and the 125th player taken in the 1974 NFL Draft. For two years, he split time at center with veteran Ray Mansfield while seeing some service at guard and the special teams. However, with a start in the final game of the 1975 season, Webster began a string of 150 consecutive starts that lasted until 1986. At the time of his retirement, he played more seasons (15) and more games (220) than any other player in Pittsburgh history. Webster, who was the team’s offensive captain for nine seasons, was considered to be the strongest Steeler and won the Ironman competition in 1980 to give credence to that belief.


5. David “Deacon” Jones

Jones, who had had an obscure college career preceding his 14th-round selection by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1961 draft, quickly blossomed into a superb defensive end. Originally, the Rams weren't certain which platoon would be best for Jones but Deacon quickly earned his niche as a defensive end and, for most of a decade, he teamed with tackle Merlin Olsen to give Los Angeles a perennial All-Pro left side of the defensive line.


4. Roger Staubach

Staubach joined the Dallas Cowboys as a 27-year-old rookie in 1969 (he was a future draft pick) and didn't win the regular quarterbacking job from until his third season in 1971. But for the nine seasons he was in command of the potent Cowboys attack, the Dallas played in six NFC championship games, winning four of them, and also scored victories in Super Bowls VI and XII. During his finest years with the Cowboys, Roger had the reputation for making the big play. He was the MVP of Super Bowl VI and provided the offensive spark in a defense dominated Super Bowl XII victory. He wound up his career after the 1979 season with an 83.4 passing rating, the best mark by an NFL passer up to that time. His career chart shows 1,685 completions in 2,958 passing attempts, which were good for 22,700 yards and 153 touchdowns.


3. Richard Dent

An eighth-round draft pick out of Tennessee State, rookie defensive end Dent immediately exceeded the Chicago Bears' expectations. He played in every game as a rookie in 1983 and even started in three. The following year, he became a permanent starter at right end. That year he recorded a team record 17.5 sacks which was also the most of any defender in the NFC. For Dent, the 1984 season was the beginning of a remarkable 10-year period during which he recorded 10 or more sacks in eight of the next ten seasons including five consecutive (1984-88). Chicago’s defenses of the mid-to-late 1980s ranks as one of the best of all time. Dent, a pass-rushing force, was a dominant player on a dominant defense.


2. Johnny Unitas

Unitas was a ninth-round draft choice of the1955 Pittsburgh Steelers, but was cut before he even threw one pass in a game. I’m including him on this list because even though the Colts didn’t draft him, he still was still a steal from the draft (even if it was a Steelers mistake to cut him). Unitas’ first pass was intercepted for a touchdown but from that moment on, he never looked back. For the next 18 seasons, "Johnny U'' ran up a ledger of game winning exploits seldom matched in NFL history. Without a doubt, it was his last-second heroics in the 1958 NFL title game, often called "the greatest game ever played," that turned Unitas into a household name.


1. Bart Starr

The former quarterback was a 17th round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers in 1956. Early in his career, Starr’s playing time was limited and his future with the team was in doubt, but then Vince Lombardi took over and saved his career and helped start the Packers dynasty. Starr led Green Bay to the Western Division championship, the first in a long string of successes for Starr and the Packers. From 1960 through 1967, Bart's "won-lost record" was a sizzling 62-24-4 and the Packers won six divisional, five NFL, and the first two Super Bowl championships.


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