NFL Draft Steals
Top 10 NFL Draft Steals
While many NFL draft picks end up being busts, there are also players who slide down the draft boards for various reasons. Maybe they played for a small school or maybe they were injured for much of their college career. Whatever the case, these players will sometimes exceed all expectations and become what’s known as a “steal.” While there have been many of these during the colorful history of the league, the players listed below represent the 10 biggest steals in the NFL Draft.
Joe Montana – 1979 NFL Draft
Despite starting for the high-profile Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, Joe Montana wasn’t taken until the third round (82nd overall) of the 1979 NFL Draft. Much of this was due to the average grades he received during the combines leading up to the draft.
For the next season and a half, Montana sat on the bench for the San Francicso 49ers and backed up quarterback Steve DeBerg. He finally got to start halfway through the 1980 season, and he would end the year with 1,795 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
From there, Montana’s career (and the success of the Niners) would skyrocket. He played quarterback for the 49ers for 14 seasons, and the team won four Super Bowl titles in the process. Montana would finish out his career by playing two years with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Known for being calm under fire, Montana was known as “Joe Cool” by players and fans alike. Voted the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1989 and 1990, he would be selected to eight Pro Bowls. He was also voted Super Bowl MVP in 1981, 1984 and 1989.
Montana was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. He threw 273 touchdowns in his career to just 139 interceptions. Teaming with the likes of Jerry Rice and John Taylor, he also passed for 40,551 yards and engineered 31 career fourth quarter come-from-behind wins.
Terrell Davis – 1995 NFL Draft
Coming out of the University of Georgia, Davis had a reputation for being injury-prone. In addition, Coach Ray Goff wouldn’t let NFL scouts have game film of the running back. For these reasons, Davis fell to the Denver Broncos in the sixth round (196 overall) of the 1995 NFL Draft.
He was sixth on the running back depth chart going into training camp, but he worked hard and was promoted to the starting runner for the team’s opening game of the season. He ran for 1,117 that year, becoming the lowest drafted player to ever rush for over 1,000 yards in their debut season.
Davis continued to improve his play, and he was vital to the team’s Super Bowl win in 1997. Playing against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, Davis caught 2 passes, rushed for 157 yards and became the first player to score three rushing touchdowns in the league championship. And he did all this while suffering through a migraine headache.
The following year, Davis rushed for over 2,000 yards and picked up another Super Bowl ring. The next season, he would begin suffering through a rash of injuries, and knee problems would eventually lead to his retirement in 2002.
These days, Davis works for the NFL Network as an analyst. He has been inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, as well as the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame.
Dan Fouts – 1973 NFL Draft
Considered one of the greatest passers in the history of the NFL, Fouts wasn’t drafted by the Chargers until the third round (84th overall) of the 1973 NFL Draft. While the early part of his pro career was nothing special, that all changed with the arrival of Coach Don “Air” Coryell in 1978.
Behind an excellent offensive line, Fouts had plenty of time to choose from targets such as Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow,
John Jefferson and Wes Chandler. While the team never made it to the Super Bowl with Fouts at quarterback, they did reach the playoffs from 1979 through 1982 and played in two AFC Championship Games.
Fouts made the Pro Bowl six times and was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s. He threw for over 4,000 yards in three straight seasons, and he also led the league in passing yards for four straight seasons. He had 254 career touchdowns against 242 interceptions, and he passed for 43,040 yards with a career quarterback rating of 80.2.
Joe Horn – 1996 NFL Draft
Following two years of football at Itawamba Community College, Horn left college and went to work at a fast food restaurant. With only six dollars in his pocket, he bought a Jerry Rice workout video at a local Blockbuster for $3.99. He made a highlight film set to music and sent it to a number of teams, eventually drawing the interest of the Memphis Mad Dogs of the Canadian Football League.
After leading the team in receptions and receiving yards, Horn was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round (135th overall) of the 1996 NFL Draft. He played four seasons with the team and started to show flashes of brilliance in his last year with the Chiefs.
The New Orleans Saints signed Horn as a free agent in 2000, and he responded by becoming one of the league’s top receivers. He made the Pro Bowl four of his six years with the team, and he holds the franchise record for most 100-yard receiving games (27), plus most receiving yards and most receiving touchdowns in a season.
Tom Brady – 2000 NFL Draft
Following two years as a starter for the Michigan Wolverines, Brady was drafted in the 6th round (199th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. At the time, the team wasn’t sure whether to draft Brady or Tim Rattay, as both had been given positive reviews by quarterback coach Dick Rehbein. The team eventually decided to draft Tom Brady on the strength of his height; he was 4 inches taller than Tim Rattay. I think we can all agree that they made the right choice.
Locked in at fourth on the depth chart, Brady battled ahead of Michael Bishop and John Friesz to become the back-up to Drew Bledsoe by season’s end. In 2001, Bledsoe was knocked out of a game, and Brady was called into action. He won 11 of the 14 games he started that year, and the Patriots would go on to defeat the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.
As of this writing, Brady has played in four Super Bowls and won three of them. He’s been voted as the NFL MVP (once) and the Super Bowl MVP (twice). During the 2007 season, he passed for 50 touchdowns and broke the NFL record set a few seasons earlier by Peyton Manning.
By most accounts, Tom Brady is the all-time biggest steal of the NFL Draft.
Ken Houston – 1967 NFL Draft
Following an All-American stint at linebacker for Prairie State College, Houston was selected in the ninth round (214th overall) of the 1967 draft by the Houston Oilers. By the third game of his rookie career, he was starting at safety for the AFL Oilers. In the 1971 season, he returned five touchdowns in a season, a record which would stand until 2006.
After six seasons with the Oilers, Houston was traded to the Washington Redskins. He went to seven straight Pro Bowls with the team, and he finished his career with 49 interceptions and nine touchdowns.
He played in a total of 12 Pro Bowls, and Houston was voted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1986. A member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, he was also selected to the 70’s All-Decade Team.
Steve Largest – 1976 NFL Draft
While he was an All-American receiver at the University of Tulsa, Steve Largent wasn’t selected by the Houston Oilers until the fourth round (117th overall) of the 1976 NFL Draft. With preseason winding down, the Oilers were going to cut Largent, but the Seattle Seahawks ended up trading a 1977 eighth-round pick in exchange for his services.
Largent went on to spend 13 seasons with the Seahawks, being voted to the Pro Bowl seven times. Upon his retirement, he held every major receiving record in the NFL, including most receptions (819), most touchdown receptions (100) and most receiving yards (13,089). In 1995, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Marc Bulger – 2000 NFL Draft
After setting 25 passing records at West Virginia University, Bulger was drafted in the sixth round (168th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. After attending their training camp, Bulger ended up on the practice squads of both the St. Louis Rams and Atlanta Falcons.
The Rams saw some potential and signed him in 2001. He rode the bench his first year with the team, but injuries to Kurt Warner and backup Jamie Martin got him into the game in 2002.
In his first seven starts, he recorded a passer rating of 100. Bulger gave a strong performance the rest of the season, and the following year he led the Rams to the playoffs. Afterwards, the Rams cut Warner and named Bulger their quarterback of the future.
As of this writing, Bulger has thrown 106 touchdowns to 74 interceptions. He’s passed for 18,625 yards for a career quarterback rating of 88.1. While he’s recently struggled with injuries, Bulger remains a vital piece of one of the league’s most dangerous offenses.
Shannon Sharpe – 1990 NFL Draft
Coming out of Savannah State as a wide receiver, Shannon Sharpe was taken by the Broncos in the seventh round (192nd overall) of the 1990 NFL Draft. He didn’t do much in his rookie season, and the coaching staff eventually convinced him to move to tight end. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sharpe would be voted to eight Pro Bowls and play an important role in three Super Bowl wins (two with the Broncos and one with the Baltimore Ravens). He caught 815 passes during his 14-year career, finishing with 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns. He remains the all-time yardage leader among NFL tight ends.
Andre Reed – 1985 NFL Draft
Reed played wide receiver for Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and he was later selected by the Buffalo Bills in the fourth round (86th overall) of the 1985 NFL Draft. Playing for a small college was the main factor which led to Reed falling so far in the draft.
From 1985 to 2000, Reed played in 234 NFL games. This is especially impressive considering how often the receiver went across the middle to make tough catches. Reed would play in a total of four Super Bowls and finish his career with seven Pro Bowl selections, 951 receptions, 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns.
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