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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Top 10 NFL Draft Steals of All Time

For my very first top ten Tuesday, I will like to explore the 10 players who were drafted far below their actual NFL value. These players were most likely not even given television time on draft day. They were probably at home watching the draft like the rest of us. But, they did get a call to play for a team and they used their opportunity to become legitimate super stars in the league. You see, its not WHEN you are drafted into the league. Its WHAT you do once you're there.


10) Rodney Harrison, San Diego Chargers (5th round, pick 145, 1995)
They say defense wins championships. Rodney Harrison is a guy you want on your defense. Frequently voted the "dirtiest" player in the league by fans, players, and coaches alike, Harrison is known for his ruthless pursuit of the ball. With 34 career interceptions and 30.5 sacks (the most of any defensive back in history) he is the guy that quarterbacks and offensive coordinators must account for on game day.
Just 2 years after being drafted by the Chargers, Harrison became the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns on an interception return, fumble return, and kick off return in the same season. He later went on to play for the New England Patriots where he won 2 Super Bowl Championships.

9) Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers (3rd round, pick 74, 2001)
Steve Smith is the kind of player that I like to label "a baller". Keep that term in your vocabularies, it will be referred to often. Anyhow, Steve Smith is "a baller", a guy who will go across the middle to catch the ball; knowing that he will get annihilated in the process. He's the kind of guy that will lay his body out for the reception, even when its not a touchdown. He's the kind of player that will always get the first down. Just make sure you give him the ball.
Steve Smith was drafted in 2001 and made his first pro bowl in .... 2001. His rookie year, Smith became an accomplished kick off and punt return specialist. By the 2002 season, he was the starting wide receiver. In 2005, Smith accomplished the triple crown of NFL receiving: leading the league in receiving yards, catches (tie), and touchdowns (tie) in one season. He was only the 3rd player in the league to do so. The first player was Jerry Rice, of course. The second player was....

8) Shannon Sharpe, Denver Broncos (7th round, pick 192, 1990)
Denver drafted Shannon Sharpe as wide receiver. But, it was his conversion to Tight End that made him a bonafide NFL star. Sharpe will most likely be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame as one of the best Tight Ends in the game. Known for his loud trash talking (the guy has never seen a microphone he didn't like) Sharpe was always a threat when he had the pads on.
He's played in 8 Pro Bowls, amassed 1,000 yards receiving three times, and has won 3 Super Bowl rings. My favorite Shannon Sharpe play came in the 2000 AFC title game when he was a Baltimore Raven playing against the Oakland Raiders. He caught a short pass on 3rd and 18 from his own 4 yard line and ran it 96 yards for a touchdown. That play solidified the Ravens win and they went on to win their 1st Super Bowl.

7) Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers (3rd round, pick 92, 1998)
No matter what happens on the field, Hines Ward is always smiling. Actually, when he wins Super Bowls he does shed a tear or two. But whether its a huge hit from a defensive back, trash talking from other teams, or even an on-field "bounty" placed on his head, Ward always keeps his signature smile and sense of humor.
Smiling aside, Hines Ward is one of the most reliable, accomplished, hard to cover wideouts in the NFL. He's been to 4 Pro Bowls, he's amassed just under 10,000 yards receiving and he's won 2 Super Bowl rings; even a Super Bowl MVP trophy. All by the age of 33. I'd say the Steelers got Hines Ward at a steal. Yes, I actually typed that.

6) Zack Thomas, Miami Dolphins (5th round, pick 154, 1996)
With 7 Pro Bowls and over 1700 tackles, Zack Thomas is a bit scary. This is not the guy quarterbacks want to see on the other side of the ball. With 20.5 sacks and 17 interceptions in his career, Thomas is known for his relentless pursuit of the quarterback.
His story is one of ambition, hard work, and a "never say die" attitude that took him from a base salary player in his rookie year to becoming the highest paid player in Miami Dolphin history (even higher than Marino) in 3 short years. Now a linebacker for the Kansas City Cheifs, Zach Thomas has recorded more tackles than any linebacker in the NFL Hall of Fame. Which is exactly where he's headed.

5) Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos (6th round, pick 196, 1995)
Coach Mike Shanahan drafted T.D. and gave him the 6th running back spot on his roster. One thing you have to say for Mike Shanahan; he knows a good running back when he sees one. By opening day, Davis was the starter. He went on to be the lowest drafted running back to get 1,000 yards in his rookie season.
In his first Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, T.D. rushed for 150 yards and scored 3 rushing touchdowns (the first player to ever do so in a Super Bowl). He went on to be Super Bowl MVP. He finished his career with 3 Pro Bowls and 2 Championships before his retirement in 2002. I think that deserves his signature "Mile-High salute".

4) Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins (1st round, pick 27, 1983)
I know he was still drafted in the first round. But, 5 quarterbacks were drafted before Marino was. Given what we know today, the Dolphins used their late first round pick to draft, what most feel, was the best quarterback to ever play in the league.
Dan Marino went on to set so many NFL records that I refuse to list them all in this (or any) post. However, in honor of the 27th pick in the 1983 draft, I will list those that are still standing today: Most passing yards in a single season (5,084), most games with 400 + yards (career and single season), most games with 300 + yards (career), most games with 4 + touchdowns (career and single season), most seasons with 40+ touchdowns, and the first quarterback to throw for 100 TDs, 200 TDs, and 300 TDs in the fewest number of games. (whew!) Enough said.

3) Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys (10th round, pick 129 1964)
Staubach was not your typical draft pick. He was drafted in 1964, but continued his military obligations until 1969 when he finally began his rookie year with the Cowboys. He was 27 years old. He finally got real playing time in 1971 where he shared quarterbacking duties until week 8 when he was announced the full time starter.
He went on that year to win 10 games in a row including Dallas' first Super Bowl where he was named the MVP. With over 22,000 passing yards, 153 passing touchdowns and 21 rushing touchdowns to his illustrious career, Roger Staubach was inducted to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1985. A not so typical career for the not so typical 10th round pick. Legendary is the best fitting word.

2) Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers (3rd round, pick 82, 1979)
This one is hard for me. I really want to put Joe Montana as the best steal in draft history. There is definitely an argument for him to have that label. After being drafted from Notre Dame and providing back up duties for 2 seasons, Joe Montana became the starting quarterback for the 49ers in the 1981 season. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The 49ers became the NFL's most glorified dynasty. His first season as starter, Joe and the 49ers finished with a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl Championship. And Joe, did it all with dramatic flair. In the NFC title game against Dallas, Joe led the 49ers down field 89 yards and finished the drive with a last second touchdown to Dwight Clark to win the NFC Championship. The play was immortalized as "The Catch" and today is remembered as one of the best plays in league history. Joe went on to orchestrate a last minute drive in the Super Bowl to beat Cincinnati for the 49ers first Championship ring.
Joe Montana was just getting started. He went on to win 3 more Super Bowls in 1984, 1989, 1990 (back to back). He was Super Bowl MVP in 3 out of the 4 Championships that he won and league MVP twice. Many believe that Joe Montana was the best quarterback in the Super Bowl era. As a 49er fan, my opinion is biased, but no other quarterback has the Super Bowl record of Joe Montana. If greatness in the league is judged by Super Bowl performance, than no one was ever better than Joe.

1) Tom Brady, New England Patriots (6th round, pick 199, 2000)
So why is Tom Brady the biggest steal in the NFL draft? I will say for two main reasons. The first is his combine performance. The vision of Brady running that 40 yard dash and the photos of him shirtless next to that drab of a sign with his stats listed, are just priceless. He looked goofy and out of his element. Honestly, its a wonder he got drafted at all. The Patriots used a compensatory pick to draft Brady and they were less than impressed with him, to say the least. He did make the team however, as the 4th string QB.
My other main reason for listing Tom Brady as the biggest steal in NFL draft history, is the prolific career he has produced in such a short time. After taking over for the injured Drew Bledsoe in the 2001 season, Brady went on to win his first Super Bowl. During that Championship game, he orchestrated one of the most calm and cool game winning drives ever seen in the league.
His numbers compare with the best of them; 3 Super Bowl Championships, 2 Super Bowl MVPs, 4 Pro Bowls and a career QB rating of 92.9. He's not even 30 years old. At this rate, Brady will be the best QB of all-time, with the most Super Bowl wins and MVPs of any player by the time he's inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.
He may have run one of the worst looking 40 yard dashes I have ever seen, but Tom Brady is a future Hall of Fame quarterback and probably on his way to being the best of all time. For that reason, he's the biggest steal ever in the draft.

Well, that's today's Top Ten. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. Next Tuesday, look for My Top 10 Draft Busts of all time.

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