At one point in its history the NFL Draft had 32 rounds before they eventually cut it down to the current size of seven rounds. From the beginning of the draft through to the modern ones, the vast majority of players selected in all of those later rounds never amounted to anything more than low level starters at best or most commonly, never made an NFL team in the first place. There have been some late round gems through the years, however. These are some of the best stories in the NFL as they show that even if a player is not one of the top prospects, if they are unknown, or if the league thinks they do not have the size, the speed, or the talent to make it, with enough hard work and perseverance in developing their talents, a player can still make it in the NFL. With that we give you the All-Time Late Round Draft Pick team. This team is made up of the best player at each position, on both offense and defense, who were drafted in a late round. This means the earliest they could be taken is the third round. In cases of comparable players, we will give the nod to the player who fell further in the draft. In reviewing this list, one cannot help to think that this team could give an All-First Round team a run for their money or maybe beat them down outright.
22 Center: Mike Webster
The place to start on our list of best late round picks is the place where every play starts, with the Center. One of the best Centers of all time was drafted in the fifth round of the 1974 NFL Draft with the 125th overall pick when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Mike Webster out of the University of Wisconsin. Webster was a key part of the Steelers four Super Bowl teams. He was named NFL All-Pro seven times and he is even on the NFL All-Decade team for the 1970s AND the 1980s. He is originally from northern Wisconsin and he was considered the best Center in the Big 10 during his career with the Badgers. Webster was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
21 Linebacker: Chris Hanburger
The quarterback of the defense is usually a linebacker so we will start the defensive selections with that one as well. One of the best QBs of the defense ever, was Chris Hanburger of the Washington Redskins. Hanburger played college football at the University of North Carolina where he played on offense at Center and on defense as the Middle Linebacker for the Tar Heels. The Redskins drafted Hanburger in the 18th round of the 1965 NFL Draft with the 245th overall pick. He was named first or second-team All-Pro six times and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1972 while leading the Redskins to Super Bowl VII which they lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.
20 Offensive Guard: Nate Newton
After going all twelve rounds without being selected in the 1983 NFL Draft, Nate Newton signed as an undrafted free agent, but was then cut, by the Washington Redskins. Despite suffering a serious car crash the night he was released, Newton eventually made his way to the USFL for a few seasons. In 1986 he signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a backup lineman and struggled to stick with the team for a few seasons until Jimmy Johnson became coach in 1999 and forced him to get into better shape. Before long he was a crucial piece of the great offensive line of the early 90s Cowboys, protecting Troy Aikman and opening holes for Emmitt Smith. Newton played 14 seasons in the NFL, 13 with the Cowboys. He made the Pro-Bowl six times, was a two time All-Pro and won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys as well.
19 Defensive Lineman: John Randle
Another Hall of Famer who went undrafted and makes his way onto this team is Defensive Tackle John Randle. Randle played college football at Trinity Valley Community College and then Texas A & M – Kingsville. After nobody selected him through all twelve rounds, the Minnesota Vikings signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1990. Within a year he was making his mark with 9.5 sacks in his second season and double-digit sacks for nine of his next 10 seasons. Randle played 14 seasons, his last three with the Seattle Seahawks. He finished his career fifth all-time in sacks with 137.5, including the most all-time sacks of Brett Favre. Randle was a six-time All-Pro and lead the league in sacks in 1997. He was voted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
18 Offensive Tackle: Roosevelt Brown
After playing his college football at Morgan State and being named by the Pittsburgh Courier to their All-American team, Roosevelt Brown was finally selected in the 27th round of the 1953 NFL Draft with the 321st overall pick by the New York Giants. In his third season he helped the Giants to victory in the 1956 NFL Championship Game. Brown was the crucial element to the Giants dominating running game that season, paving the way for league MVP Frank Gifford with his overpowering blocking. Over his thirteen year career he helped the Giants to six division titles while earning first-team All-Pro six times and played in nine Pro-Bowls. He was also named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and he was inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
17 Defensive Lineman: Richard Dent
A member of what may have been the best defense of all time in the 1985 Chicago Bears, Richard Dent (Pictured Right) played his college football at Tennessee State University. Dent was selected in the eighth round with the 203rd overall pick by the Chicago Bears in the 1983 NFL Draft. Dent played his first 10 years in the NFL with the Bears before bouncing to the 49ers, back to the Bears, and then to the Colts and the Eagles for the final two years of his career. Dent was the MVP of Super Bowl XX for the Bears and also played for the 49ers when they won Super Bowl XXIX. Dent was a four time All-Pro and finished his career with 137.5 sacks, making the Hall of Fame in 2011.
16 Offensive Guard: Will Shields
As a consensus All-American and winner of the Outland Trophy in 1992, Will Shields is the highest drafted player on our All-Time Late Round Draft Picks team, having been selected in the third round with the 74th overall pick on the 1993 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Although he played but did not start his very first NFL game, he did start his second game and then proceeded to start 231 consecutive games including the playoffs, or basically every single other game in his 14 year career. Shields went to the Pro-Bowl 12 straight years, and was named first or second-team All-Pro seven times. He blocked for five 1000-yard rushing seasons and five 4000 yard passing seasons. Shields was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
15 Linebacker: James Harrison
Not only was he undrafted, but James Harrison was also not given a scholarship to play college football. Despite his talent and production in high school, his off the field issues prevented him from getting any offers from the big time schools that had been interested in him. As a result, Harrison became a walk-on at Kent State University. After three excellent years there he was rebuffed again, this time by the NFL, and lasted all seven rounds without being selected in the 2002 NFL Draft. Eventually the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him as a free agent but for the next two years he was cut and resigned a number of times by the Steelers as well as by the Ravens. In 2004 he made the Steelers for good but it was not until 2007 until he had his breakout season. Over the next few years he would achieve first or second-team All-Pro four times, win two Super Bowls, and be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He went to the Bengals for a year in 2013, then returned to Pittsburgh and retired until the Steelers realized they still needed him and he rejoined the team and remains with them through this year.
14 Offensive Tackle: Rayfield Wright
It took playing five different positions in two different sports before Rayfield Wright found his true calling as a Right Tackle. After a year in college starring in basketball, the football coach at Fort Valley State put him on the team and tried him as a Safety, a Defensive End, a Tight End, and even a Punter. When he was drafted with the 182nd pick in the seventh round of the 1967 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys they looked at him as a possible Tight End, DE, and eventually Offensive Tackle. In his third year he finally got his big chance on the offensive line and his first start was against the best Defensive End in football, (possibly ever) Deacon Jones. His strong performance solidified him as the Cowboys permanent tackle for the next decade. During his career with in Dallas, Wright was named first or second-team All-Pro six times, played in five Super Bowls, winning two. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
13 Free Safety: Ken Houston
During his college career at Prairie View A&M, the only school to offer him a scholarship, Ken Houston played Center for a short stint as well as Linebacker and was eventually named All-American. In the 1967 NFL Draft it took until the ninth round and the 214th overall pick until the Houston Oilers selected him. He made the Pro-Bowl every season except for his very first and very last. He spent six years with the Houston Oilers and eight with the Washington Redskins during his 14 year career. He had 49 career interceptions as well as 21 fumble recoveries, not to mention 12 touchdowns. Five of those came in 1971 when he set the record for most return touchdowns in season which was not broken until Devin Hester recorded six in 2006. Houston became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
12 Running Back: Curtis Martin
After an underwhelming career at the University of Pittsburgh where injuries kept him from fulfilling the high expectations he came in with, Curtis Martin decided to leave school early and declare for the 1995 NFL Draft. He was selected by the New England Patriots with the 74th overall pick in the third round. Martin’s career started with a bang, as he rushed for over 100 yards in his very first game and eight other times over the season on his way to over 1400 yards and the 1995 NFL Rookie of the Year Award. He spent two more years with the Patriots, cracking 1100 yards each year and playing in Super Bowl XXXI. In 1997 Martin signed as a free agent with the New York Jets where he remained for the remainder of his career. Martin ran for over 1000 yards every season except his last including over 1500 yards in 2001 and almost 1700 yards in 2004. Martin made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012 after finishing with over 14,000 yards rushing and 90 touchdowns in his career.
11 Defensive End: Jared Allen
Despite his claims during the starting lineup introductions of Sunday Night Football, Jared Allen did not in fact play his college football at “The Culinary Academy.” He actually attended Idaho State University where he recorded 38.5 sacks and won the Buck Buchanan Award over his four year career with the Bengals. In the 2004 Draft, Allen fell to the fourth round where he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 126th overall pick. Over his 12 year career with the Chiefs, Vikings, Bears, and Panthers Allen was a first-team All-Pro four times, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, lead the league in sacks in 2007 and 2011, and finished his career with 136 sacks, 31 forced fumbles, and four safeties.
10 Wide Receiver: Steve Largent
After an All-American career at the University of Tulsa the Houston Oilers selected Steve Largent in the fourth round of the 1976 NFL Draft with the 117th overall pick. At the end of the pre-season however, the Oilers were planning to cut him but ended up trading him to the Seattle Seahawks instead. Largent made the team and spent 14 years with the Seahawks, surpassing 1000 yards eight times, starting with his third season. Largent became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995 after being named first or second-team All-Pro seven times and leading the NFL in receiving yards in 1979 and 1985. Although they have since been broken, at the time of his retirement, Largent held all the major all-time records for receiving including receptions with 819, yards with 13,089, and 100 touchdowns.
9 Cornerback: Lester Hayes
Originally an All-American Safety when he played at Texas A&M, Lester Hayes was one of the best cornerbacks to ever play in the NFL. Hayes regularly eliminated an entire side of the field as an option for the quarterback and was the very first “shutdown corner” considering that he was the guy who coined the term. Hayes was drafted in the fifth round of the 1977 NFL Draft with the 126th overall pick by the Oakland Raiders. He was a second-team All-Pro five times and a first-team All-Pro once, he won two Super Bowls, and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1980 when he had 13 interceptions. Over his ten year career Hayes had 39 interceptions, plus eight more in the playoffs, and he also scored four touchdowns.
8 Tight End: Shannon Sharpe
After a Division II All-American career at Savannah State where he played three sports and was named Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 1987, Shannon Sharpe entered the 1990 NFL Draft. Sharpe fell all the way to the seventh round where he was finally selected with the 192nd pick by the Denver Broncos. His 14 year career started slowly with only seven catches for less than 100 yards his rookie season, but by his third season, Sharpe was making his mark, being selected for his first Pro-Bowl. Sharpe played for the Broncos for 12 years with a two year break in 2000 when he played for the Baltimore Ravens. Over his Hall of Fame career, Sharpe was named first or second-team All-Pro five times, compiled just over 10,000 receiving yards, and had 62 touchdowns. He has won three Super Bowls, two with Denver, and one with the Ravens.
7 Linebacker: Kevin Greene
Known for his high intensity, Kevin Greene started out as a walk-on at Auburn University and ended his college career as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 1984. Greene was chosen by the Los Angeles Rams with the 113th pick in the fifth round of the 1985 NFL Draft and spent eight years with the team. Greene was named first-team All-Pro three times with three different teams, the Rams, Steelers, and Panthers. He lead the league in sacks twice and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1996. Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016 as the third all time leader in sacks with 160. He also has 23 forced fumbles and five interceptions.
6 Wide Receiver: Andre Reed
Ranking in the top ten all time in total receiving yards and receptions, and ranking number 11 all time in touchdown catches, Andre Reed was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. Despite being a star in high school, Reed played his college football at the decidedly non-elite Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. His abilities were obvious enough however that the Buffalo Bills drafted Reed in the1985 NFL Draft with the 86th overall pick in the fourth round. Over 15 seasons with the Bills, Reed was one of Jim Kelly’s favorite targets and they played together in four Super Bowls. Reed also played in seven Pro-Bowls, surpassed 1000 yards receiving four times and scored 87 touchdowns while compiling over 13,000 career receiving yards.
5 Strong Safety: John Lynch
The hardest hitting safety to ever pitch in the Florida Marlins organization was probably John Lynch. After a career of baseball and football at Stanford University, Lynch gave baseball a try but when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1993 NFL Draft with the 82nd overall pick in the third round, he found his true calling. Lynch was a key part of turning around the bottom-dwelling Buccaneers who suffered 10 losses in three of his first four seasons. By his fifth year, the Bucs defense was becoming one of the best in the NFL. Eventually Lynch and the defense lead the Buccaneers to a win in Super Bowl XXXVII. After 11 seasons in Tampa Bay, Lynch signed as a free agent with the Broncos in 2004 and retired after four seasons in Denver having been to nine Pro-Bowls.
4 Running Back: Terrell Davis
Terrell Davis initially played a year of college football at Long Beach State before they eliminated their football program in 1991. He found his way to the University of Georgia where he sat behind future pro Garrison Hearst and then had one solid year and one year slowed down by injuries before declaring for the NFL Draft. Because of his injury history Davis fell to the sixth round of the 1995 NFL Draft where he was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 196th overall pick. Despite it being a long shot that he would even make the team, his performance in the pre-season impressed enough to win him the starting running back slot to open the season. It paid off for the Broncos as he rushed for over 1100 yards in his rookie season and improved every year until 1998 when he rushed for over 2000 yards. Injuries derailed the last three years of his career but not before he was named Offensive Player of the Year twice, won the 1998 NFL MVP Award, was selected as first-team All-Pro three times, and lead the Broncos to back to back Super Bowls.
3 Cornerback: Richard Sherman
One of the more recent late round gems is currently one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL right now. Richard Sherman originally played wide receiver at Stanford even earning Freshman All-America honors in 2006. After a knee injury he switched to cornerback for his final two years finishing with six interceptions and helping the team to a 12-1 record and a win in the Orange Bowl. Sherman was drafted in the fifth round with the 154th overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2011 NFL Draft. In only six seasons Sherman already has 30 interceptions, five forced fumbles and two touchdowns. He is also a three time All-Pro, was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 and helped the Seahawks to two Super Bowls, including a win in Super Bowl XLVIII.
2 Quarterback: Joe Montana
The overwhelmingly obvious and frankly pretty boring choice for this is of course Tom Brady. But since he is one of the greatest QBs ever anyway, we are going to skip him and give him an honorary backup QB role on this team. That allows us to look at a lot more interesting possibilities. There is a recent fifth rounder or a couple of undrafted options in Russell Wilson and Tony Romo and Warren Moon. There are some iconic Hall of Famers like Bart Starr (17th round) and Johnny Unitas (9th round). But the top candidate is the greatest QB ever, at least before Manning, Favre, and Brady came on the scene. The fourth quarterback taken in the 1979 NFL Draft with the 82nd overall pick in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers was of course Joe Montana. After 15 seasons in the NFL, leading the league in completion percentage five times, being named NFL MVP twice, passing for over 40,000 yards, being named to eight Pro-Bowls, leading his teams to the playoffs 11 times, and of course winning four Super Bowls along with three Super Bowl MVPs, the best choice for late round draft pick at quarterback has to be Joe Montana.
1 Defensive End: Deacon Jones
After a year playing at South Carolina State, Deacon Jones had to transfer to Mississippi Vocational College when his scholarship was revoked for being a part of a Civil Rights protest. Jones was then selected by the Los Angeles Rams with the 186th overall pick in the 14th round of the 1961 NFL Draft. Before long he was a crucial part of the “Fearsome Foursome” which was one of the best defensive lines in NFL history with Lamar Lundy, Rosy Grier, and Merlin Olsen. Jones is also the inventor of the term “Sack”. Although sacks were not officially counted until 1982, he is unofficially thought to have 173.5 sacks over his career including 22 in 1964 and 1968. Jones was named first or second team All-Pro eight times and was a two time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was inducted into the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in 1980.