NFL Draft History: Late-round Draft Steals 1980-1989


Since I had so much fun doing the 1990-1999 steals, I decided to continue into the 80’s with this installment.

Note: The format is year drafted, (round-overall draft selection number): Player name, position, and college attended.

1980: (4-104) Atlanta Falcons: I.M. Hipp, RB, Nebraska – no, he wasn’t a great NFL player. I just like saying “I.M. Hipp.” (I’m gettin’ ideas for yet another draft angle here, better hide…)

1981: (12-314) Washington Redskins: Clint Didier, TE, Portland State. Clint didn’t have a long or very distinguished career in general, but for a few seasons he was a key role-player in the Redskin offense and played in 2 Super Bowls, scoring the final TD in their famous 35-point 2nd quarter against the Broncos and was the ‘skins leading receiver in their 38-9 loss to the Raiders. Not bad for having 313 players chosen ahead of you.

1982: (10-270) New York Giants: Rich Baldinger, T, Wake Forest: He played 157 games over 12 seasons, mostly with the Chiefs, his final one with New England. Strangely enough, he started 41 games – all in his final 3 seasons – at the formerly unsexy position.
Seattle Seahawks: (11-284) Sam Clancy, DE, : He played 10 seasons, 9 of those splitting time between the Browns and later the Colts. Never a big star, he had some productive seasons and was a good reserve for a long time. You don’t hang around the NFL for 10 years if you’re no good.

1983: We’ll skip the famous Year of the Quarterback part and look at the late rounds, OKAY? Forget John Elway and remember his teammate: (12-310) Denver Broncos: Karl Meklenberg, LB/DE, Minnesota: One of the dominant LBs of his era, Karl played for 12 seasons, appearing in all 16 games each season except 3. He was the heart of Denver’s defensive unit for much of Elway’s career, ranking 2nd all-time in sacks (79) in the mile-high city and was a 3-time All-Pro selection. NOW we’re talking!

1984: (10-280) Cleveland Browns: Earnest Byner, RB, East Carolina: This guy was a workhorse at RB, playing an incredible 14 seasons at the punishing position. Splitting time in Cleveland with Kevin Mack likely helped his longevity. He had 3 1,000-yard seasons, 2 with the Redskins, and just missed a 4th by 2 yards. He has over 8,000 career rushing yards, 56 career TDs, and 512 receptions with 15 receiving TDs as well as over 4,600 receiving yards. That’s 13,000 yards from scrimmage, folks, and borderline Hall of Fame stats. He was a complete back. BTW, that year 7 RBs went in round 3 and not a single one is worth mentioning.

1985: (11-285) L.A. Rams: Doug Flutie, QB, Boston College: We all know the name. Those of us old enough to remember know that he’s most famous for his “miracle Hail Mary” pass to roommate Gerard Phelan to beat the Bernie Kosar-led Miami Hurricanes in one of the most thrilling college football games of all time. What you may not know is probably more astounding. He was drafted by the Rams, never played for them, languished in Chicago and New England for 4 years before bolting to the CFL in 1990. He returned to the NFL in 1998 after excelling in the CFL. He played in his last game in 2005 at age 43 with the Patriots. His diminutive stature (5′ 9-3/4″ 180 pounds) made NFL teams largely shy away from him but his mobility and smarts helped extend plays. Drew Brees can thank this guy for him getting his own fair chance to play.

*** Bernie Kosar went in round 1 in the Supplemental Draft due to NFL rules regarding underclassmen. Kosar had 2 years of NCAA eligibility remaining but was not a graduate at the time of the regular NFL draft. He graduated over the summer with a double-major in finance and economics. Bright kid!

1986: (10-254) St. Louis Cardinals: Vai Sikahema, RB/KR, BYU. I clearly remember this guy, and not just because he has a way cool name. He had all of 217 career rushing yards, but if you punted the ball to him, he’d kill you. For nearly a decade, he was one of the NFL’s most dangerous punt returners and a highlight-reel mainstay. He was a 2-time Pro Bowler.

1987: (7-183) L.A. Raiders: Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn. EVERYONE knows the name. IMO, he’s the greatest pure athlete the world has ever seen. I could write a series of articles just on this man’s achievements. MVP of the MLB – that’s Major League BASEBALL – All-star game. He’s the only person to ever be an all-star in TWO major pro sports. His first love was baseball and played for the Raiders “as a hobby.” Think about it: what this means is he was never really in “football” shape, averaged 5.4 yards per carry over his all too-short career due to a freak injury, and is still the only player in NFL history to have two runs from scrimmage of over 90 yards. He also had an 88 yard run in which he actually ran 141 yards on a patented Bo scramble where he reversed field on a play designed to go left. He also jumped over the QB and stumbled for 6 yards and a gassed Jackson was finally tripped at the 1. That play is the only time he was ever caught from behind. At 6-1 and 230 pounds, Bo was the poster boy for the “complete” back. He was not only stronger than everybody else, but also FASTER than everybody else. The proof? He routinely ran over All-Pro safeties without breaking stride and famously ran over Seattle Seahawk LB Brian Bosworth in his 221-yard Monday Night Football performance where he scored a longer touchdown and ran out of the endzone and down the tunnel. He ran a jaw-dropping 4.12 40-yard dash at the 1986 NFL combine (faster than Deion Sanders and 35 pounds heavier) and retains the mark as the fastest-ever in the 40 at the NFL Combine today. Even Deion Sanders and Chris Johnson were slower by over a full tenth of a second. He remains a pop-culture icon, and if I had to pick one guy I’d want on my team at running back, I’d take a healthy Bo over anyone, bar none. I can’t help but wonder what he would have done in EITHER sport had he concentrated on one or the other. If it had been football, he’d have raised the bar for running backs so high he’d be in a class by himself. Think Earl Campbell power with speed besting CJ2K. In MLB, there was never such a thing as a “routine” ground ball with him running and his first home run is routinely referred to as a “Moonshot,” traveling 475 feet. At the time, it was the longest HR in the stadium’s history. He wasn’t a once-in-a-generation athlete like fellow Auburn alum Cam Newton is; he was a bona-fide once-in-a-century athlete. There hasn’t been anyone like him before or since, nor will there likely ever be one again. People pick on Al Davis (R.I.P. Al) for his draft oddities, but he rolled the dice in the 7th round and the rest, as they say, is history. Bo was taken in the previous season’s NFL draft by perennial bottom-feeder Tampa Bay with the top overall pick but decided not to play for them and just played baseball until the ’87 draft when Davis nabbed him. He made the Pro Bowl in 1990 after his famous 1989 MLB All-star game in which he hit a 448-ft homer in his first All-Star at-bat and joined Willie Mays as the only players ever to hit a home run and steal a base in the same All-Star game. Ironically, he’s also the only individual that also falls into the draft BUST category – the Bucs wasted a top overall pick and got zero value from him. Bo knows baseball AND football! BTW if you haven’t already, go and look up his stuff on YouTube, including some of his baseball plays. He did things in both sports nobody’s done before or since.

(10-276) Cleveland Browns: Frank Winters, C, Western Illinois. Winters played most of his 14 seasons with the Packers and is in the Green Bay Packers team HOF. He appeared in 231 games, starting 141 of them – all those starts coming in Green Bay. He was the Packers’ starting center from 1993–2000 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1999. He had 2 fear-inducing nicknames: “Frankie Baggadonuts” or “Old Bag of Donuts.”

1988: (9-289) Miami Dolphins: Jeff Cross, DE, Missouri. Cross played 9 years and garnered 59.5 sacks in that time. In his heyday, he was a pass-rush force in South Florida, making the Pro Bowl in 1990, when he had 11.5 sacks following a 10-sack 1989 campaign. He didn’t have a sack in either of his bookend years, so he got those 60 sacks in 7 seasons. Not too bad an average over time especially when you consider the 9th round no longer exists.

1989: (10-263) Washington Redskins: Mark Schlereth, G, Idaho. The ESPN mainstay split his 12-year career with Washington in his first 6 and Denver in his final 6. He has 3 Super Bowl rings (1 with Washington, 2 with Denver) and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1991 and 1998. As good a career as he had, he had 15 surgeries on his left knee alone, prompting coach Mike Shanahan to explain to the press that Mark had a very high pain threshhold and that doctors said his knee was the worst they’d ever seen. Schlereth played in 157 games with 127 career starts.

After looking at the group as a whole, one could have the makings of a VERY tough ream with these guys dotting the starting lineup. Doug Flutie was a bit of a wild card in his NFL days as teams didn’t quite know how to deploy nor defend him. Plus, they had to FIND him first! What if he hands off to Bo Jackson or Earnest Byner with Mark Schlereth, Rich Baldinger and Frank Winters blocking for him? I.M. Hipp could lead-block…or at least get in a defender’s way. No WRs made the list, although Didier was a nice target in his prime. But what if Karl Meklenberg, Jeff Cross, and Sam Clancy force you to punt…to Vai Sikahema?

This is one tough group of guys too, just not quite as strong as the 1990-2000 one with the glaring exception of Bo. Since we’re looking at late steals here, all the reasoning is backwards from usual. Does this mean scouting and drafting got worse or was the game already evolving beyond where front offices could see? That’s another discussion, I suppose.

Just for fun, let’s look at the team so far. I live in South Carolina so “Carolina” is already taken. How about the Raleigh Rejects? It’s got a great ring to it and the first name listed is “my” starter and go in descending order for the backups. No, I did not spend hours and hours calculating; it’s knee-jerk:

QB Tom Brady, Matt Hasselbeck, Doug Flutie, Trent Green, Brad Johnson
RB Bo Jackson, Terrell Davis, Earnest Byner, I.M. Hipp (giggle)
TE Shannon Sharpe, Clint Didier
WR Donald Driver
WR Keenan McCardell
OT Rich Baldinger
G Mark Schlereth
C Tom Nalen, Frank “Baggodonuts” Winters
DE Jeff Cross
DT La’Roi Glover
LB Karl Mecklenberg
LB Jessie Armstead
CB Al Harris
KR/PR Vai Sikahema

If you add in the previous 1990-1999 list as I did above, you would field a potent team on all three fronts including Special Teams even if you just add in “average” players at the other spots, and you might just wind up with a Super Bowl champion…and all for what undoubtedly would be the 32nd-ranked salary expenditure! Can you imagine New England’s offense with a Bo Jackson in the backfield? What’s not to like?

As always, feel free to add your choice to the comment section below.