I hope you enjoyed the 21st Century Draft First-round steals article. This week’s installment of NFL Draft History will feature players that represented great value late in the draft. Some may or may not be stars, but all contributed to their teams in a meaningful way. I am sure people know the name Matt Flynn, a 7th-round pick. His ilk are what we’re looking for. So, we’re ilk hunters today!
Note: The format is year drafted, (round-overall draft selection number) drafting franchise: Player name, position, and college attended.
1990: (7-192) Denver Broncos: Shannon Sharpe, TE, Savannah State. What needs to be said about this guy? He’s a bona-fide NFL Hall of Famer with 10,060 receiving yards and 62 career TDs. The affable TE had 3 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and that’s an incredible feat for any TE playing in an era where the rules were more lax on defending the pass than today’s “Air-NFL.” Not only was he a steal in round 7, he’s one of the all-time greats at the position with John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Kellen Winslow (the Chargers guy, not the motorcycle-wrecking one), Ozzie Newsome, Tony Gonzalez, and Antonio Gates.
1991: (12-326) Washington Redskins: Keenan McCardell, WR, UNLV. He was chosen 9th from dead last in 1991, and Mr. Almost Irrelevant certainly had a relevant career. McCardell played for 5 teams in his astonishing 17-year career, amassing 883 rec, 11,373 yards and 63 TDs. Most fans remember him as a possession receiver with the Jaguars’ Jimmy Smith on the other side, but Keenan did plenty of damage himself. He was a 2-time Pro-Bowler and has two Super Bowl rings – ironically, neither with the team he’s probably most remembered playing for.
1992: (9-227) Minnesota Vikings: Brad Johnson, QB, FSU. Johnson was never a huge star, but as a 9th round selection, he was hardly a hot commodity. He made the most of it and played for 17 seasons, retiring only 4 years ago. He made the Pro Bowl in 1999 and in 2002 en route to throwing for almost 30,000 career yards.
1993: Two players in the last round jumped out and here they are: (8-222) San Diego Chargers: Trent Green, QB, Indiana. Remember, the draft only HAD 8 rounds by now and Green was chosen 3rd from last. His career was similar to that of Brad Johnson’s as he made the Pro Bowl twice, had one Super Bowl ring, and had similar career stats. It was his injury in 2000 with the Rams that launched teammate Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame run.
(8-207) New York Giants: Jessie Armstead, LB, Miami (Fla.). Armstead was a mainstay in New York’s tradition of outstanding Linebackers with 5 Pro Bowl appearances and 4 All-Pro selections. He played 12 seasons with his first 9 all with the Giants.
1994: This was the first year of the 7-round draft. (7-218) Denver Broncos: Tom Nalen, C, Boston College. Nalen played his entire career with the Broncos, starting 188 of the 194 games he played in. He was selected to 5 Pro Bowls, was named All-Pro 3 times and anchored both of John Elway’s Super Bowl winning games at the end of the HOF QB’s career. Nalen was named to the Broncos’ 50th Anniversary team.
1995: (6-196) Denver Broncos: Terrell Davis, RB, Georgia. VERY obscure guy, I know. After entering camp in Denver his rookie season as the 6th-string tailback, he worked his way into the starting lineup opening day with great special teams play and overall hustle. He erupted with 1,117 yards his rookie campaign, making him the lowest-drafted RB ever to run for over a thousand yards as a rookie. He was the force in the backfield behind John Elway in their consecutive Super Bowl seasons. Davis was named to 3 Pro Bowls, all of them as an All-Pro, and famously had 2,008 rushing yards and 21 TDs in his 4th season. He was that year’s (1998) NFL’s MVP. Sadly, bad knees along with lifelong problems with migrane headaches forced his retirement after only 7 seasons; otherwise his career was well on track for the Hall of Fame, and his name is tossed around today as a candidate with comparisons to Gayle Sayers’ short career.
1996: (5-166) Oakland Raiders: La’Roi Glover, DT, San Diego State. Playing only 2 games with the Raiders, he had a brief stint in NFL Europe; afterwards he split time with New Orleans, Dallas, and St. Louis. He had an amazing 83.5 sacks from the DT position, led the entire NFL in sacks in 2000 with 17, and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year as a result. He was named to 6 consecutive Pro Bowls and an All-Pro 3 of those times. He’s also a member of the NFL’s 2000’s All-Decade team.
1997: (6-169) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Al Harris, CB, Texas A&M – Kingsville. Harris is still active in the NFL, although in the twilight of his career after 14 seasons. He spent the first 5 seasons in Philadelphia but became more of an NFL-household name in his 7 seasons as a “shutdown” corner in Green Bay. He’s posted modest numbers – largely because most teams were afraid to challenge him – and was one of those rare corners that took away half of the field in his hayday. He has been to 2 Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro in 2007.
1998: (6-187) Green Bay Packers: Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Boston College. Is it me, or do a surprising number of late-round ‘steals’ find success with a team OTHER than the one drafting them? After completing 13 passes with the Packers playing behind some fellow named Brett Favre, Hasselbeck went to Seattle and became their starting QB for the next 10 seasons before being picked up by Tennessee for the 2011 campaign. He is the Seahawks’ all-time passing leader and went to 3 Pro Bowls (1 All-Pro season) during his tenure there.
1999: (7-213) Green Bay Packers: Donald Driver, WR, Alcorn State. Driver was one who played both football and track and field in college and likely could have made the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. He’s also one of very few players on these lists to play his entire career for the team that drafted him. He’s reached the 10,000 yard receiving plateau, is a 4-time Pro Bowl selection, and was named All-Pro in 2006. He is the Packers’ all-time leader in receptions and yardage and is still playing.
2000: Perhaps the most famous draft steal ever: (6-199) New England Patriots: Tom Brady, QB, Michigan. 3 rings. 2 Super Bowl MVPs. 3 All-Pros, 7-time Pro Bowl QB. 2-time NFL MVP. The awards go on and on, but I’d trade it all for Giselle.
The only position I didn’t really see anyone leap out at me was safety, but I just looked for names I recognized and then checked their stats and details. As I said before, this is NOT an all-inclusive list. That’s how football works. The ones the do most of the work (linemen) get the least glory. QBs, RBs, and sometimes elite corners or linebackers generally get the spotlight as far as name recognition.
It looks to me like this 90’s late-round draft “steal” group is pretty good!