In 1993, the NFL made some changes to the draft process with the biggest coming in the form of the number of rounds. Between 1976 and 1992, the NFL Draft was 12 rounds. Prior to that, it was 17 or more and, at one time, it was 32 rounds long. It had to be that long in those days due to various reason like the additional expansion teams that were being added as the league continued to grow.
But after a while, the NFL realized it did not need 12 rounds anymore, and after the 1993 draft, the also knew that eight rounds was pushing it, so they cut it down to seven rounds. And it has been that way ever since.
Since the original seven round NFL Draft in 1994, there have been some diamonds in the rough from the later rounds that have been discovered over the last 22 years that have become some of the best players in NFL history.
We went ahead and found the 20 best players that were drafted after the third round since 1994 in the NFL. Some of them you might remember, some of them still play on Sundays, and a few of them might be relatively unknown to you, until today.
20 Shane Lechler, P (2000) - 5th Round, 142nd Overall
We begin with a punter? Really?
Yes because if there was any punter in the NFL you would consider for this list, it would be Shane Lechler. Not only is he one of the best punters we have seen in recent memory, he just might be the greatest of all time because he is consistently great.
Since 2000, he has helped Oakland and Houston control field position with his incredible leg that averages 47.5 yards per punt for his career, an NFL record. He even stepped up and did some field goal kicking in 2000, making seven extra points. His career long is a measly 80 yards, which is almost the entire length of a football field.
Just because he is a punter does not mean he isn't valuable enough to waste a draft pick on him and when Oakland took him in 2000, they had no idea just how great of a steal they were getting.
19 Donnie Edwards, LB (1996) - 4th Round, 98th Overall
Even after drafting him, the Kansas City Chiefs weren't sure how to use the skilled linebacker from UCLA, Donnie Edwards. So they used him sporadically throughout his rookie season, backing up Derrick Thomas and Anthony Davis, their two starting outside linebackers.
It was during his second season in the league that things began to change. He became the teams starting right outside linebacker, they moved Derrick Thomas over to the left side, and he started all 16 games.
But it wasn't until he got to San Diego that Donnie Edwards really became one of the better OLB in the NFL. He became a coverage nightmare for opposing QB's because he could cover the entire field.
18 Dashon Goldson, S (2007) - 4th Round, 126th Overall
If an NFL Owner or General Manager could see into the future, they would most likely use it to find out if the players they are looking at are worth the selection. It seems like a waste of an incredible superpower but how cool would it be to draft seven guys every year that turn into elite NFL studs. After four or five seasons, your team would be incredible.
Dashon Goldson would be one of those players that any owner with the ability to see into the future would have selected in the top ten overall back in the 2007 draft because he turned himself into one of the better free safeties in the NFL in recent years. He wasn't used much, if at all, in his first two seasons playing in only 19 games, starting two of them. In 2009, his 3rd season, he exploded with 94 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles.
He has since continued to dominate and has 16 interceptions since 2009, even after moving around over the past few years.
17 Derrick Mason, WR(1997) - 4th Round, 98th Overall
There are elite athletes like Julio Jones, Adrian Peterson, and Cam Newton that are just simply too fast, strong, or big to take down. These types of players demand multiple defenders to slow them down. Derrick Mason was never one of those guys but he was just as valuable as each one of them to the Tennessee Titans from 1997 until 2004.
But he wouldn't emerge as a starter until the 2000 season, the year following the Titans lost to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. He showcased his abilities that year as both, a WR and a Return Specialist. As a WR, he put up solid numbers with 63 catches for 895 yards, and five touchdowns. He was simply the best in the league at returns would add another 662 punt return yards and 1,132 kick return yards for an all-purpose yards total of 2,690 for the year.
For a man that was never considered to be elite, Derrick Mason just kept showing up, working hard, and putting up good numbers. He finished his career with 12,061 receiving yards and 66 touchdowns. Not that bad for a fourth round draft pick, right?
16 Antoine Bethea, S (2006) - 6th Round, 207th Overall
The Indianapolis Colts were the perfect fit for Antoine Bethea as he started 14 games during his rookie season. He filled in for injured All-Pro safety Bob Sanders in 2006 and eventually replaced him as the starting free safety. Bob was moved to strong safety the following season.
But the rookie took advantage of his opportunity and made sure to prove himself to the organization as one of the best safeties in the league. After missing three games at the end of the 2007 season due to injury, he would start in 120 consecutive games, including the playoffs, for Indianapolis and San Francisco.
He is currently on injured reserve after tearing his pectoral muscle during the 49ers Week 7 game against the Seattle Seahawks.
15 Matt Birk, C (1998) - 6th Round, 173rd Overall
Throughout his entire career, Matt Birk was known as the most underrated Center in the NFL. After spending his first two years as a backup, he finally got his chance in 2000 to be the starting center in Minnesota and he went on to start the next 76 straight regular season games before going down at the end of the 2004 season with a sports hernia.
After missing those four games in 2004, the first time he missed a game from injury, he missed the entire 2005 season after having hip surgery that sidelined him for several months.
He returned in 2006 and started the next 112 consecutive games until he retired in 2012. Besides being one of the most reliable Centers in the NFL, Matt Birk was also one of the best for many years, consistently being rated along side Nick Mangold as one of the top two centers in football.
14 Asante Samuel, CB (2003) - 4th Round, 120th Overall
Remember when Asante Samuel was in New England and was one of the scariest defensive backs in the NFL? It wasn't too long ago when he was defending the league's best wide receivers and shutting them down along the way. He was so valuable that he left the Patriots and signed with Philadelphia for six years, $57 million back in 2008.
He had one good season, in 2009, but then things started to get progressively worse each season until the Eagles decided to trade their CB to Atlanta for a seventh round draft pick in 2012. That's what happened to a man that has 51 career interceptions and six defensive touchdowns. He could put on a show on defense once but has slowly fallen off the map and is unofficially retired since 2013. He hasn't played in the NFL since then but has yet to formally announce his retirement for some reason.
13 Trent Cole, DE (2005) - 5th Round, 146th Overall
This season, Trent Cole was sent to the IR, injured reserve, following a back injury suffered after the first two weeks of the season. This the first time in his career he has missed more then a couple games. Coming into 2016, he was actually one of the most reliable defensive lineman in the NFL. He is eligible to return this week but there is no word yet on whether or not he is actually ready.
Maybe it was the decision to sign with the Indianapolis Colts in 2015 that have caused him to go down with an injury that has cost him the season. Because when he was in Philadelphia for his first ten seasons, he was always running around the field knocking down the QB's. He averaged about 8.5 sacks per season with his best few years coming between 2007 and 2011 where he had 55 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and absolutely anchored that Eagles defensive front.
A lot of players drafted in the later rounds use that as a chip on their shoulder throughout their careers. They spend their entire NFL career proving each team wrong for passing on them and it creates monsters out of already beastly men.
12 Dorsey Levens, RB (1994) - 5th Round, 149th Overall
The NFL just doesn't make running backs like Dorsey Levens anymore. Since the focus has shifted towards the passing game over the past few years, the NFL has gotten faster, quicker, and harder to defend.
But during the Green Bay Packers impressive '90s run, led by their Hall of Fame QB Brett Favre, the one thing that people forget about is the man that was a powerful, pounding force that wore defenses down minute by minute, game by game. Dorsey Levens would go into the half with 28 yards rushing and would finish the game with 21 carries for 121 yards. He just kept coming. Just when the defense thought they had beaten him, he got the ball. Again and again, clawing and fighting his way for every single yard, making defenders earn the tackle instead of giving it to them.
But it was his pass-catching ability that turned him into one of the best in the league, when healthy. His running style cost him to miss a lot of games in his career because if you run with power every time you get the ball, you are going to spend a lot of time in the medical tent.
11 Marques Colston, WR (2006) - 7th Round, 252nd Overall
By the time the New Orleans Saints drafted Marques Colston during the 2006 NFL Draft, almost everyone had gone home and the janitors were about to enter the building to start cleaning up because he was taken four selections away from the final pick of the draft. There were 251 players taken ahead of him during that draft before the Saints decided to take a shot in the dark with the Hofstra wide receiver.
It turned out to be a perfect selection because he fit in with Drew Brees right away and by the end of his rookie year, he had 70 receptions for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns. The Ivy league star ended up becoming one of Drew's favorite target for the next 8 years which also includes the year they won the Super Bowl.
10 Brandon Marshall, WR (2006) - 4th Round, 119th Overall
Brandon Marshall entered the league as a big, quick, wide receiver that had great hands but was very raw and needed the proper training to become an elite WR in the NFL. That's why he wasn't taken until the fourth round in 2006. If they knew he would turn into such an elite WR back then, he might have been taken in the top three that year behind Mario Williams and Haloti Ngata.
Character issues aside, Brandon Marshall's problems are nothing compared to his offensive production. Look at who he plays for now, the New York Jets, who had one of the NFL's worst offenses by the time he got there.
Go back even further and look at his production levels in Miami and Chicago and see that no matter who is throwing him the ball, he is going to put up 100 or more catches, 1,000 yards receiving, at least, and eight to 10 touchdowns. He is just that good.
9 Elvis Dumervil, DE (2006) - 4th Round, 126th Overall
After being drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2006, Elvis Dumervil spent six seasons in Denver completely owning offensive lineman. In his 91 games as a Bronco, Elvis sacked the QB 63.5 times while also having a knack for getting his hands in front of the ball, knocking it down. He was also great at dropping back into coverage, something that is difficult for a Defensive End. He averaged 11 sacks a season, close to one a game, and then left for Baltimore in 2013.
If he stayed in Denver, he would easily have become the franchise's best DE of all time. But by leaving after six seasons, he wasn't able to do so.
He has been dealing with a lot of injuries this season and hasn't started a single game. But in his previous three years in Baltimore, he has 32.5 sacks giving him 96 career sacks before turning 33.
8 Robert Mathis, DE (2003) - 5th Round, 138th Overall
For the people that don't understand the point of having so many workouts and training combines leading up to the NFL draft each season, it's because of players like Robert Mathis.
He is a man that has had all the talent in the world but was too "small" to become a star in the NFL. In fact, when he was being recruited by Alabama A&M, his alma mater, they were actually not looking at him, they wanted his teammate. But then they saw his game tapes and were blown away and he was signed not long after.
His experience entering the NFL was about the same. They said he was too small and, honestly, no one really knew who he was, until his Pro Day. That was when this DE/LB defensive gem showcased his talents to NFL scouts. He went from undrafted to a projected 4th or 5th round pick overnight. It was a good move by the Colts as he currently has 121 career sacks, 52 forced fumbles, and three defensive touchdowns.
7 Rodney Harrison, S (1994) - 5th Round, 145th Overall
People forget that Rodney Harrison was a San Diego Charger from 1994 until 2002 when he left for New England and won two Super Bowls becoming one of the best safeties in the NFL along the way.
He covered the entire field, blitzed the QB, picked off passes, and made the biggest tackles each week better than anyone that has ever played the position. No other Safety, in NFL history, has come close to 34 interceptions, 30.5 sacks, and over 900 tackles. Ronde Barber was a cornerback and he came close to matching those stats but feel short with only 28 sacks.
Rodney Harrison is another example of why time machines need to be a thing. There are 32 NFL owners that would buy one just to find out who to invest in. The term bust would no longer exist. But that is just straight crazy talk, right?
6 Jared Allen, DE (2004) - 4th Round, 126th Overall
For the better part of the New Millennium, Jared Allen dominated offensive lines with his powerful shoves, strong arm pushes, and ability to chase down any QB in the league.
He ranks 11th all-time in sacks by defensive ends with more than 400 tackles. It sounds like a complicated statistic but for a DE, it is one of the most relevant and useful ones to use. It shows just how balanced they are on the defensive line.
Jared Allen sacked the QB 136 times in his career which was 187 games long, the second lowest among DE's above him on the all-time sacks list. For someone coming out of the fourth round, Jared Allen has proven to be a complete late round draft steal with a more than impressive career.
5 Terrell Davis, RB (1995) - 6th Round, 196th Overall
In only seven seasons, Terrell Davis did enough damage around the NFL to become one of the best running backs ever. If his knees held out, he could have played a few more seasons and secured himself a no-doubt spot in the Hall of Fame. But voters seem to think that his seven seasons isn't long enough to earn that honor and he continues to get snubbed, year after year, vote after vote. All because his knees didn't last beyond seven seasons.
Let's make this easy for the Hall of Fame voters and share this one incredible statistic. Terrell Davis, Jim Brown, and Barry Sanders are the only three running backs in NFL history averaged more than 97.5 rushing yards per game while also scoring more than 60 rushing touchdowns. Don't forget about Terrell's incredible playoff dominance and two Super Bowl rings.
4 Richard Sherman, CB (2011) - 5th Round, 154th Overall
Last season, Richard Sherman only had two interceptions, his lowest total for a season in his career. However, he was still the toughest cornerback to throw against in the NFL last year. He is such a great cover corner that a QB has to know where he is at all times so they can avoid him at all costs.
This season, he continues to scare the opposition causing a passer rating of 59.1 against him when targeted. That means that if a QB tries to throw his way, chances are it isn't going to be a completion very often.
He also leads the NFL in number of snaps in coverage between receptions allowed by him with 16.2. So for every completion a QB makes on his defended WR, it will be another 16.2 plays before it will happen again.
3 Zach Thomas, LB (1996) - 5th Round, 154th Overall
NFL scouts like big guys. They like tall, well-built, lengthy, fast, athletes. They are very critical, especially with defenders, on size. Zach Thomas was one of those tiny guys that NFL scouts blasted out of college and until the Dolphins drafted him in the fifth round, it was looking like he wasn't going to be drafted either.
But what they don't measure his heart, leadership, work ethic, intelligence, and love of the game of football that turned him into a legend in Miami. He helped transform the Dolphins into one of the best defenses in the NFL for many years during his career.
His numbers don't stand out like some of the others, he only had 20.5 sacks and 17 interceptions which isn't the best compared to the other guys on this list, but he was a Middle Linebacker and when you take a look at the history of that position, you will see that only nine other guys accomplished this feat in the history of the game.
2 Antonio Brown, WR (2010) - 6th Round, 195th Overall
Antonio Brown isn't big compared to some of the other elite wide receivers in the NFL like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, or Demaryius Thomas, who all stand 6'3" or taller. Yet that hasn't stopped Antonio Brown from leading the NFL in receptions since he entered the league in 2010 with 603 and is currently in second place in yards with 8,000, behind the retired former Detroit Lion, Calvin Johnson.
What makes this guy such a threat on the field?
He does everything else better than anyone else currently playing in the NFL. His route running abilities are the best we have seen since Jerry Rice. He makes short choppy steps that can cause a defender to get confused and misread the angles leaving Brown the ability to get open. Once he catches the ball, he has the speed to breakaway from the defenders. He rarely drops a ball and can see the field like a game of chess, knowing where to move and cut.
It is shocking to see just how many teams passed on him before the Steelers decided to take him in the sixth round in 2010.
1 Tom Brady, QB (2000) - 6th Round, 199th Overall
Did you honestly not see this one coming? Tom Brady just might be the greatest QB in NFL history after winning his fourth Super Bowl in 2015 while also claiming his third Super Bowl MVP award. He joined Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only two starting QB's in NFL history to win four Super Bowls. Besides that record, he owns Super Bowl records with the most Super Bowl MVP awards (3), Games Played (6), Starts (6), Attempts (247), Attempts Without an Interception, Game (48), Completions (164), Completions, Game (37), Consecutive Completions, Game (16), Passing Yards (1,605), and Touchdowns (13).
That is just the Super Bowl records he now owns, we haven't even touched on the regular season, playoff, and career records he now owns.
He has a great chance to find himself back in the Super Bowl this season as he currently has his team easily leading the AFC East by two games while also being tied for 1st overall in the AFC, which would give them home-field advantage for the whole playoffs, another huge advantage for Tom Brady.
All of this and he was passed over by 31 NFL teams, including the one who drafted him, New England, 198 times before someone finally decided to give the Michigan QB a shot.
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