Everyone loves an underdog (besides Steve the Intern, who’s a Yankees/Warriors/Patriots/Real Madrid fan). It’s fun to see greatness come out of nowhere, dark horse victories, diamonds in the rough, and so forth. One of the best places to find this sort of thing is the NFL Draft, an event where many great athletes have been underestimated many, many times. Below are some of the most egregious examples. They were all drafted in the 4th Round or later.
The veteran punter with the balls of steel and the golden right foot was taken in the fifth round in 2000, and he begins our list with the first honorable mention. On a team like the Texans, where punting and playing offense are virtually synonymous, Lechler has come the closest any punter has to becoming a household name.
Finding good quarterbacks in the Draft is hard, so perhaps we shouldn’t fault GMs when they completely miss the mark and pick the likes of Ryan Leaf over Matt Hasselbeck. Leaf went second overall in 1998. Hasselbeck? 187th (sixth round). On second thought, maybe we should fault them.
The Saints’ all-time franchise leader in receiving yards and a bunch of other stats was picked in the seventh round in 2006. Colston had seven receptions in his Super XLIV victory, which should be good enough to get a street in the French Quarter named after him.
Michael Turner was drafted by the Chargers and played mostly special teams in his rookie year, but, much like Leonardo DiCaprio, his stock went up in 2006, and in 2008 he was playing for the Falcons for large amounts of American dollars. He’d become a two-time Pro Bowler and the Falcons’ franchise leader in rushing yards.
15. Darren Sproles – 4th Round, 2005
Darren Sproles was traded in 2014 from the Saints to the Eagles for a fifth-round pick despite the protestations of Drew Brees. He’d go on to make three Pro Bowl appearances and would become the first player in NFL history to accrue 2,200 all-purpose yards in four different seasons. When you hear stuff like that, it starts to make sense why the Saints haven’t contended since the first Obama Administration.
14. Rich Gannon – 4th Round, 1998
A lot of people might say that defying the world’s expectations by being drafted in the fourth round and then going to four Pro Bowls, only to set a Super Bowl record for thrown interceptions (five, three of which were returned for touchdowns) would be colossally disappointing. We’re still not sure if we’re among those people or not.
13. Zach Thomas – 5th Round, 1996
Despite being an All-American at Texas Tech, Zach Thomas was drafted in the fifth round in 1996 because he had a bad vertical leap at the combine—a statistic which has apparently no correlation with reading offenses and knocking the bejeesus out of guys carrying footballs. Thomas would become a seven-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL’s All-2000s team.
12. Jared Allen – 4th Round, 2004
Jared Allen’s national treasure of a sack celebration was almost lost to the world thanks to poor drafting by NFL GMs. Allen started recording serious amounts of sacks about five minutes after being drafted, notching nine his rookie season and eleven the next year. He led the league in that statistic twice (2007 and 2011) and ended up with 136 career sacks.
11. Brandon Marshall – 4th Round, 2006
Brandon Marshall played both ways his senior year at UCF, putting in some time at safety, so it’s not much of a surprise that he’s been described as a “defensive lineman playing wide receiver.” What’s a surprise is that he lasted until the fourth round. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler who still has something left in the tank, and on top of that, a good talker with a burgeoning career as an analyst.
10. Donald Driver – 7th Round, 1999
If Brett Favre were to admit which receiver he loved best, it would be Donald Driver. They had a connection in the 2000s that put Brangelina to shame. Driver ended up playing his entire career in Green Bay, finishing with more than 60 touchdowns and 10,000 yards, including three consecutive years in the mid-aughts with more than 1,200 yards receiving.
9. Joe Theismann – 4th Round, 1971
The guy whose name almost rhymes with “Heisman” received neither the Heisman nor an optimistic selection in the NFL Draft, but the overlooked Notre Dame star would win Super Bowl XVII with the Redskins and become a hero to the football-mad fans of the franchise. However, he’s most know for having his lower leg snapped clean in half by Lawrence Taylor in a play so memorable that he was greeted by pranksters snapping pencils in Monday Night Football production meetings for decades to come.
8. Steve Largent – 4th Round, 1976
Largent went from being an overlooked prospect to seven Pro Bowl appearances and an NFL Man of the Year Award. He also became a successful politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1994 to 2002. He was even considered the best receiver of ALL TIME at one point, at least before Jerry Rice came around.
7. Robert Mathis – 5th Round, 2003
Along with Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis is one of the biggest reasons (on the defensive side of the ball) that the Colts won Super Bowl XLI…but Freeney was drafted in the first round. Speed is the name of the game in the NFL these days, and no one represented the transition from big physical defensive ends to speed rushers better than Mathis.
6. Antonio Brown – 6th Round, 2010
By the time you are done reading this he will have moved up another spot on this list, and by the time he is done playing he will almost certainly be #2 overall on this list. Simply put, Brown is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to Jerry Rice 2.0 and he puts up more numbers than your Sudoku-loving grandmother during a three-hour airport delay.
5. Rodney Harrison – 5th Round, 1994
Despite widely being considered a dirty player, Harrison is one of the most underrated players in NFL history. He was a locker room leader and tone-setter who is only one of two players (Ray Lewis) to have more than 30 INTs and 30 sacks in his career. He was also probably the best defensive player on two Patriots Super Bowl teams in the early aughts.
4. Terrell Davis – 6th Round, 1996
It’s hard to think of something bigger in football than becoming the Super Bowl MVP, which is what Terrell Davis did (as a running back). He did this by rushing for three touchdowns (a Super Bowl record) despite having a vicious migraine. Davis’s career was cut short by knee injuries, but despite having less than five healthy seasons in the NFL, he was still named to the Hall of Fame early this year. That is how nasty he was.
3. Richard Sherman – 5th Round, 2011
The chip on Richard Sherman’s shoulder may have come from his being drafted in the fifth round, behind many players he considered his inferior, but that was before the Legion of Boom was even a twinkle in Twitter’s eye. Sherman is a four time Pro-Bowler, a Super Bowl champion, and still active…
2. Shannon Sharpe – 7th Round, 1990
The current Skip Bayless foil grew up in a one-room shack in deep southern rural poverty, under the yoke of racism, and barely got drafted from a small school before going on to become the most dominant TE of his era – maybe ever – as well as the loudest. If you only know him in his current form as a loudmouth windbag (albeit an intelligent one), you missed one hell of a football player. He set the groundwork for Gronk and other big, athletic tight ends who are terrifying weapons in the passing game.
1. Tom Brady
You were expecting someone else?