Apr 28, 2011; New York, NY, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks before the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

NFL Draft History: 21st Century Late-Round Steals

If you had a look at last week’s initial installment of NFL Draft History you no doubt saw some great players come off the board in the late part of the First round. This week it’s time to look at the REAL steals.

2001: (7-204) Cincinnati Bengals: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, Oregon State. “Hoosh” was never the biggest guy (6’1″ 210 lbs.), nor was he the fastest guy (4.61 40-yard dash), but at his peak he was one of the toughest possession receivers in the league. From 2004-2009, he’s had consecutive 900-yard reveiving seasons with 2 in the middle (2006, 2007) eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark. He’s still active and enters his 12th NFL season with 627 receptions, 7,237 yards, and 44 TDs. Not too shabby for someone chosen 196 picks after David Terrell, the 1st WR chosen in that season’s draft.

2002: (5-156) Green Bay Packers: Aaron Kampman, DT/DE, Iowa. Kampman spent the ’00’s (always have wanted to type that) with the Packers and the ’10’s so far with the Jaguars. The versatile player increased his sack total every year from a mere half a sack as a rookie in ’02 to 15.5 in ’06. He has 58 sacks in his 10 NFL seasons but injuries in each of the last 3 seasons has limited his action.

2003: (5-138) Indianapolis Colts: Robert Mathis, DE, Alabama A and M. The slightly less-famous of the Colts’ dynamic pass-rushing duo with Dwight Freeney has actually survived the Great Colt Housekeeping of 2012, signing a 4-yr $36 million contract in early March. With opposing teams having Freeney to deal with on the opposite side, Mathis has been able to consistently pressure the QB with 83.5 career sacks in his 9 seasons. Coming from tiny Alabama A&M, he had only 3.5 sacks as a rookie. However, except for a 7-sack 2007 season, he’s had 9.5-11.5 sacks in each of the other 7 seasons. Consistency is his hallmark.

2004: (6-179) Green Bay Packers: Corey Williams, DT, Arkansas State. Here we have another small-school DL. Defensive tackles rarely see much of the limelight and Williams is no exception. While he had the only 3-sack game by a Defensive Tackle in Packers’ history in 2006 against Buffalo, he has “only” had 25.5 sacks in his 8 year career. However, he’s a player who is in that category who does everything well, nothing “great.” Today, he’s the “good cop” DT in Detroit to Ndamukong Suh’s stomping bad cop.

(5-154) San Diego Chargers: Michael Turner, RB, Northern Illinois. Turner has now split his career evenly between San Diego and Atlanta, spending 4 seasons with each squad. His first 4 seasons were overshadowed by LaDanian Tomlinson and he went to become the Falcons’ feature back in 2008. He’s made the most of it in those 4 seasons, topping 1,300 yards in 3 of the 4 and has scored double-digit touchdowns in each year as a Falcon.

2005: (7-250) St. Louis Rams: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Harvard. Okay, he’s the first REAL borderline “steal” so far, but let’s face it – the guy went to Harvard and played football well enough to be drafted. That’s an accomplishment in itself, as “Hah-vahd” never has exactly been a launching pad for NFL careers….unless you become an owner of one. He’s been with horrible teams his entire career (2 in St. Louis, 2 in Cincy, and the last 3 in Buffalo) and has persevered as the starter in upstate New York since his arrival there despite apparent challengers each preseason. Or, look at things this way: would you rather spend a #1 overall for Alex Smith or a #250 overall for Fitzpatrick? Anytime you get a solid starter out of a 7th round pick it means he’s exceeding expectations.

2006: (7-252) New Orleans Saints: Marques Colston, WR, Hofstra. ANOTHER small-school guy, but then again one would think that’s where these guys generally get drafted as NFL teams are always a little skittish about a player who did not face top competition in college like players from, say, the SEC do. The Steelers got a good WR this year in OSU’s Santonio Holmes, but spent a #25 overall to get him. The Saints picked up Colston with the 4th to last pick in the entire draft, and all Marques has done with Drew Brees at the helm is set up a Hall of Fame pace with his statistics: 6 seasons, 449 rec 6,248 yds with 48 TDs.

2007: (5-162) Philadelphia Eagles: Brent Celek, TE, Cincinnati. Celek had a bit of a slow start to his career with just under 500 yards receiving in his first two seasons but has made up for it in his next 3. He had a breakout 2009 campaign wtih 76 rec 971 yds and 8 TDs.

(7-250) New York Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Marshall Marshall MARSHALL! Bradshaw has been in a backfield-by-committee role his entire career, but he has also proven to be the most versatile RB in the Giants’ system. With that in mind, he still has 700 carries for 3,217 yards and 26 TDs in his 5 years. Add in 109 rec 842 yds and 3 TDs receiving, and he’s got over 4,000 yards from scrimmage in 5 years splitting time and averages a very healthy 4.6 yds/attempt and he has played in at least 12 games in each of his seasons. Not shabby at all!

2008: (7-227) Denver Broncos: Peyton Hillis, RB, Arkansas. Peyton (the Hillis one, not the one everyone’s been following around the country lately) spent his first two seasons as a reserve in Denver, then broke out his first season in Cleveland with 1,177 yards and 11 TDs rushing and added 61 rec for 477 yds and 2 additional TDs. Alas, the Madden Cover Curse hit, and he spent much of last season injured and/or sitting out games with Strep Throat and skipping children’s charity events. However, this is not a Rorshach Test, and a 7th-round pick performing at the level Hillis has demonstrated an ability to do qualifies as great value. It was also the same season Matt Flynn was picked in round 7 and will likely get a nice fat contract someplace, but he hasn’t done enough on the field YET to qualify as a steal.

2009: Getting a bit late to see any bona-fide steals here, but there are several names taken in rounds 5, 6, and/or 7 that have shown flashes of ability. Names like Johnny Knox, Austin Collie, and Louis Murphy at WR and there’s T.J. Lang, an OT who started all 16 games in Green Bay last season. It’s QUITE rare for a late-rounder to come in and set the world on fire as they usually need a few years to hit their stride.

Also remember that Arian Foster was an Undrafted Free Agent, which makes him about the biggest steal of the last 5 years at least…but that’s why he didn’t make the list. He wasn’t drafted.

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Tags: Aaron Kampman Brent Celek Corey Williams Marques Colston Matt Flynn Michael Turner Peyton Hillis Robert Mathis Ryan Fitzpatrick T.J. Houshmandzadeh

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