Not all NFL superstars today were 1st or 2nd round draft picks. In fact, many were even picked in the 5th round or later, and some even went undrafted. NFL scouts do their best to predict how well an NFL prospect will fare in the big leagues, but sometimes superstars come out of nowhere. The most unheralded, least talked about players can often turn out to be the most impactful of them all.
Many players slip on draft day due to injuries in college, off-field issues, or character issues, and sometimes these concerns are valid. However, many players have overcome these labels and gone on to experience a great amount of success in the league.
The beauty of the NFL is that it will expose the true value of a player. The NFL truly tests the worth of an athlete. A player can excel in college and burn out in the NFL, and a player can just barely make an NFL roster and work hard enough to warrant appreciation and playing time.
These players weren’t superstar college standouts. These players weren’t Heisman Trophy winners. These players didn’t prove their worth in college. These players showed what they were made of in the big leagues, and they should be respected like the underdogs that they are.
20. Devonta Freeman: 19th Overall, 2014 – Miami Dolphins
It may be a little bit early to call Devonta Freeman a star, but he sure looked like one last season. The 2014 draft class had some studs like Blake Bortles, Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham, and Aaron Donald go in the first half of the first round, so Freeman fits right in at the 19th slot for Miami. The Fins could have really used a dual-threat running back like Devonta Freeman after finishing 27th in the league in rushing yards the year before.
Running backs like Bishop Sankey, Tre Mason, Terrance West, and Jerick McKinnon were all selected before Freeman in this rather forgettable RB draft class. Freeman could easily be the best back in this class, and he was actually selected in the 4th round by Atlanta.
19. Julian Edelman: 24th Overall, 2009 – Atlanta Falcons
Julian Edelman has been an important piece in the Pats’ passing attack for several years now. He has emerged as one of the better, more reliable slot receivers in the league. Many may not believe that he was actually selected in the 7th round of the 2009 draft by New England.
Edelman has been at the top of his class in terms of receivers, right up there with much earlier drafted receivers like Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, and Mike Wallace. The Falcons could have really used a secondary option at WR to complement their star, Roddy White at the time, and Edelman could’ve been the perfect pick at 24.
18. NaVorro Bowman: 16th Overall, 2010 – Tennessee Titans
The first round of the 2010 NFL Draft was filled with star defensive players like Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Eric Berry, Joe Haden, and Earl Thomas, but NaVorro Bowman should have been part of that list. Bowman was actually selected at the back end of the 3rd round by the 49ers. The 3 time First-Team All-Pro linebacker was selected after much less impressive linebackers like Sean Weatherspoon, Sergio Kindle, Daryl Washington, Jermaine Cunningham, and Pat Angerer.
Bowman ended up being the best linebacker of this class by a landslide, after racking up nearly 500 total tackles in just 5 seasons. Tennessee could’ve used some extra juice on the defensive side at this time, and Bowman would’ve been a fantastic fit at the 16th pick.
17. Chris Ivory: 33rd Overall, 2010 – St. Louis Rams
One of 2015’s most efficient running backs, Chris Ivory really made his mark as the lead back for the Jets. Rushing for over 1,000 yards while averaging 4.3 YPC, Ivory was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2015. The craziest thing about Ivory’s success in the league is that he went undrafted in 2010.
The Rams would’ve been wise to use their 2nd round pick on Ivory. After an underwhelming season on the ground in St. Louis in which the team collectively accumulated just 4 rushing touchdowns, they could have used a goal line bruiser like Ivory in their running back arsenal.
16. Josh Norman: 7th Overall, 2012 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers needed help in their secondary coming into the 2012 Draft, so they went out and got defensive back, Mark Barron with their 7th overall pick. Unfortunately, Barron has turned out to be nothing more than an average starting safety who has now moved on to play with the Los Angeles Rams.
It may not have seemed like it on draft day, but there was a defensive back drafted 136 picks later that would end up significantly surpassing Barron in value. Cornerback Josh Norman has gone on to be a consistent starter for the Carolina Panthers and even put together an outstanding All-Pro First-Team campaign in 2015. Norman is now one of the league’s brightest stars at the cornerback position, and plans on preserving his reputation with the Washington Redskins this season.
15. Michael Bennett: 4th Overall, 2009 – Seattle Seahawks
The 2nd undrafted player on this list, Michael Bennett came out of Texas A&M completely unnoticed. Here, he ends up back with his current team, which was one of the worst defensive teams in the league at the time. Seattle drafted linebacker Aaron Curry with their 4th overall pick in 2009, and he turned out to be a complete bust. After 4 unimpressive years in the league, Curry retired.
Meanwhile, Bennett has had a phenomenal career as a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion. Bennett would’ve given this Seattle team a boost on the defensive line when they needed it.
14. Marshal Yanda: 5th Overall, 2007 – Arizona Cardinals
The Cards needed some serious help in their offensive line back in ’07. The team ranked 30th in rushing yards and dead last in YPC the year before. Their solution to this problem was drafting Levi Brown, a star offensive tackle from Penn State. Brown turned out to be a decent (Albeit, not spectacular) lineman for Arizona for 6 and a half seasons.
The Cardinals seem foolish today to have passed up on one of the best offensive lineman in football. Marshal Yanda has turned out to be a 5 time Pro Bowler for the Ravens, and they got him at the end of the 3rd round. The Cardinals would be grateful to have Yanda on their team today. Yanda is still going strong as a First-Team All-Pro lineman at age 31.
13. Geno Atkins: 10th Overall, 2010 – Jacksonville Jaguars
Eleven defensive tackles were drafted before Geno Atkins in 2010. Eleven. The Jaguars’ 10th overall pick, Tyson Alualu was one of them. With two First-Team All-Pro seasons in which he had at least 11 sacks, Atkins was one of the best selections made in the 2010 draft.
The 4 time Pro Bowler was drafted at the end of the 4th round, but it would’ve been much more fitting for him to be the third defensive tackle to hear his name called, after Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy. The Jags could’ve benefited greatly from Atkins’ talents, as they had a pretty inefficient defense at the time.
12. Justin Houston: 10th Overall, 2011 – Jacksonville Jaguars
Had the Jaguars drafted Geno Atkins in 2010 and Justin Houston in 2011, their defense would have automatically been one of the best in the league. Both Atkins and Houston were overlooked in their respective drafts, and turned out to be game changing defensive All-Pro’s.
Houston has dealt with his fair share of injuries in the past, but the guy has put together 3 double-digit sack seasons, including a league-leading 22 in 2014. The Jaguars run defense was abysmal at the time, and Houston would’ve helped to turn that around. Houston was actually drafted by the Chiefs in the 3rd round, but would have been a far superior pick to Blaine Gabbert at number 10 for Jacksonville.
11. Kam Chancellor: 30th Overall, 2010 – Detroit Lions
It only took Kam Chancellor two seasons to become a Pro Bowl safety. That’s saying a lot for a 5th round pick. Chancellor has developed into one of the leagues best safeties at age 28.
The Lions were in serious need of help in their secondary in 2010 after ending the previous season allowing the most passing yards and passing touchdowns in the league. Instead of addressing their pass defense, they chose to go with an intriguing, 4.35 40-yard dash speed running back in Jahvid Best. Best was looking like a promising pick 6 games into his sophomore season, but he ended up having his career cut short due to head injuries. While it is impossible to predict injuries of that sort, the Lions would’ve been much better off selecting the 6’3″ safety out of Virginia Tech.
10. Chris Harris Jr: 23rd Overall, 2011 – Philadelphia Eagles
It may be hard to believe that one of the league’s best cornerbacks today went undrafted. Well, believe it. The 2 time Pro Bowler has been a valuable asset to the Broncos ever since they signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He was instrumental in the Broncos’ Super Bowl run this past year and was part of the league’s undisputed best defense.
The Eagles were having some issues defending the pass in 2010, as they let up 31 passing touchdowns. The Eagles decided to bulk up their offensive line instead by drafting offensive guard Danny Watkins. Unfortunately, Watkins barely lasted 3 seasons in the league and was a complete bust. The Eagles sure wish they could have a do-over and draft Chris Harris Jr.
9. Reshad Jones: 16th Overall, 2010 – Tennessee Titans
Reshad Jones has developed into one of the league’s best defensive backs for the Dolphins. Last season, Jones made an impact in multiple ways, getting over 100 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 10 passes defended. The Dolphins were lucky enough to strike gold with Jones in the 5th round of the Draft in 2010.
The Titans were struggling with pass defense after finishing the 2009 season allowing the 2nd most passing yards and the 3rd most passing touchdowns. Jones would’ve bolstered this Titans secondary at a time when they really needed a boost. Fortunately for the Dolphins, Jones slipped all the way to pick 163 and became their free safety of the future.
8. Brandon Marshall: 3rd Overall, 2006 – Tennessee Titans
The Titans’ passing offense needed a jolt in 2006, and their solution to that predicament was drafting Texas standout, Vince Young. Unfortunately, Young’s success in the NFL was very short lived, as he never amounted to much of anything after a fairly convincing rookie season.
No pass catcher on the Titans reached 800 yards or 5 touchdowns in 2005. Brandon Marshall would have served as a solution to that problem. While Brandon Marshall has had his on-field and off-field issues, he has put together a spectacular career. Marshall has failed to reach the 1,000 yard mark just twice in his 10 year career, and has reached the Pro Bowl 6 times. Marshall slipped all the way to the 4th round on Draft day to the Denver Broncos, and they were quite pleased with the outcome.
7. Russell Wilson: 2nd Overall, 2012 – Washington Redskins
The first two draft picks in 2012 were quarterbacks. Out of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, and Russell Wilson, which two would you most want on your team? If you went based on how cool the names are, you would probably go with Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler, but any casual NFL fan should know that Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck are the best quarterbacks from that bunch.
It is a bit of a toss-up to choose between Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, but Luck may be the more skilled quarterback despite Wilson’s shiny Super Bowl ring. Regardless, the Redskins would be much happier today if they had drafted Russell Wilson instead of RG3. The 3 time Pro Bowler has made a name for himself as being one of the best decision-makers in football.
6. Arian Foster: 12th Overall, 2009 – Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos drafted the first running back in 2009 with the 12th pick. They selected a 5’10” 215 lb back out of Georgia by the name of Knowshon Moreno. Moreno was never able to handle a bell-cow role in his 6 seasons as a pro, as he never eclipsed 250 carries. Arian Foster has surpassed that mark 4 times in his 7 year career and is one of the best undrafted players of all time today.
Foster gained over 2,200 yards from scrimmage and 18 total touchdowns in just his second season in the league. Since that remarkable season, he has gotten at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage 3 more times. Foster should have been the first running back drafted in this draft, with his only serious competition for that spot being LeSean McCoy, who was drafted in the 2nd round.
5. Tyrann Mathieu: 3rd Overall, 2013 – Miami Dolphins
Tyrann Mathieu slipped on Draft day due to off-field substance abuse issues. If it weren’t for these issues, Mathieu would’ve been a first round pick. The “Honey Badger” was an absolute stud at LSU, but was seen as one of the riskiest picks in the draft. Lucky, for the Cardinals, that risk panned out.
Mathieu turned his reputation around and is now a First-Team All-Pro safety for the Cards. The Dolphins would have loved to add such a valuable piece to their pass defense after letting up the 6th most passing yards in the league the year before. Instead, the Fins drafted Dion Jordan, who has ironically dealt with substance abuse issues of his own that suspended him for the entire 2015-16 season.
4. Jamaal Charles: 1st Overall, 2008 – Miami Dolphins
Five running backs were drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Jamaal Charles was not one of them. Not only does Charles deserve to be thought of as the best running back in that draft class, but he also deserves the title of best player in that draft class.
No running back on the Dolphins got more than 602 yards or 4 touchdowns the previous year and Charles would’ve given that entire offense a massive boost on the ground and catching the ball out of the backfield. While the Dolphins didn’t draft a bust in Jake Long, Charles would’ve been the better choice at number 1 overall. Jamaal Charles slipped all the way to the 3rd round in reality, and the Chiefs got a massive return on investment with the Texas running back.
3. Richard Sherman: 7th Overall, 2011 – San Francisco 49ers
While none of the first 7 picks in the 2011 NFL Draft (In order: Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith) were at all busts, Richard Sherman deserves to be a part of that group. He would’ve fit right in with a struggling pass defense in San Fran and made an instant impact.
Sherman is a 3 time First-Team All-Pro cornerback for the Seahawks. While one might expect such accolades to be produced by a first round pick, the Seahawks were lucky enough to snatch Sherman up in the 5th round. It is tough to say whether Patrick Peterson or Richard Sherman is the better defensive back out of this draft class, but they certainly should’ve been drafted in the same range.
2. Antonio Brown: 1st Overall, 2010 – St. Louis Rams
A game changing WR like Antonio Brown deserves to be taken with the first overall pick in a draft. Brown has averaged 1,677 receiving yards and over 10 touchdowns per season in his last 3 years in the league and has solidified his position as the best receiver in the league. The 4 time Pro Bowler has also caught 375 passes in the past 3 seasons.
The Rams would’ve loved to brighten up their receiving core with Brown after enduring a season in which no pass catcher had 600 yards or 6 touchdowns. St. Louis ended up drafting Sam Bradford, who has been an average starting quarterback for his entire career. The Steelers were lucky enough to grab AB at the end of the 6th round instead.
1. Tom Brady: 1st Overall, 2000 – Cleveland Browns
Every team (Besides the Patriots of course!) regrets passing up on one of the greatest players of all time in the 2000 NFL Draft. It’s not worth arguing that Brady isn’t the best player to come out of this draft class, because it’s just untrue. While the Browns did draft Tim Couch with their first overall pick the year before, looking back, Brady would’ve still been a great investment. The Browns were hoping that Couch was their quarterback of the future, but he remains one of the biggest draft busts of all time.
On the other hand, Brady has been named to 11 Pro Bowls and 2 First-Team All-Pro teams, selected as the league MVP twice, won the Super Bowl 4 times, never thrown over 14 picks, thrown for over 30 touchdowns 6 times, and thrown for 50 touchdowns in a marvelous 2007 season. Brady could be one of the greatest players the NFL has ever seen, and the Patriots stole him at the end of the 6th round in 2000.
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