The NFL Draft, one of the most highly anticipated events of the sports year for team executives, football fanatics, and people who just can't get enough Mel Kiper. It's all-important; ideally, a chance to land an once-in-a-lifetime talent that can elevate the team to another level or, at the very least, replenish their stock of talented players to cope with annual roster turnover. Thrifty GMs will use the Draft to obtain players on team friendly contracts and try to develop them into All-Pro level talents before those deals expire, in an attempt to improve their Super Bowl odds without inflating their salary cap to comical proportions (Hi, New Orleans Saints!).
Obviously, many of the most talented players are taken in the first round: the Andrew Lucks, Julio Joneses, and Ezekiel Elliots. However, many great players are lurking in the later rounds of the Draft, waiting to be taken so they can unleash their unforeseen potential. So, without further ado, this list will honor the biggest Draft steals in the NFL right now, those Pro Bowl/All-Pro caliber talents that the league ignored until Day 3 of the Draft.
15 Dak Prescott - Round 4, Pick 135
Dak Prescott is having one hell of a rookie season. Drafted in the fourth round, 135th overall, of the most recent NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott was thrust into the starting role when incumbent starter Tony Romo went down with a back injury in the preseason. After losing in his first start, against the Giants, Prescott, alongside fellow rookie phenom and MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliot, has led the Cowboys to ten straight wins, a franchise record, giving them the best record in the NFL (As of Week 11). While he's surrounded by incredible talent, including Elliot, Dez Bryant, and the best offensive line in football, Prescott's success is no fluke. For example, as of Week 11, he's thrown 18 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions, and he's added in 5 rushing touchdowns on top of that. He has 2,835 passing yards and a passer of 108.6. He's done so well that team owner Jerry Jones, who was adamant that Romo would be the starter upon his return, and Tony Romo himself have conceded the starting job to Prescott. Not too shabby for a guy who wasn't supposed to be anywhere near this job yet.
14 Michael Bennett - Undrafted
Thanks to the Seattle Seahawks' legendary secondary, The Legion of Boom, the Seahawk's defensive line often doesn't get the credit it deserves when discussing Seattle's historically dominant defense. While linebacker Bobby Wagner gets most of the attention in the front seven, defensive end Michael Bennett is a big part of their success, as well. Bennett was picked up by the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2009, but got waived by the team before playing in a single game. He played three seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before re-signing with the Seahawks in 2013. Since then, he's been a pass rushing force in Seattle, with 121 combined tackles, 25.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles in three seasons. Bennett has evolved into an essential part of the quarterback wrecking machine the Seahawks pride themselves on being.
13 Josh Norman - Round 5, Pick 143
Josh Norman is one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. Some people think he's one of the best cornerbacks in the league and others think he's an arrogant, overrated diva. What can't be debated is that the man is talented and he was a major draft steal. Drafted 143rd overall, in the fifth round, of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers, Norman was selected as a project, a player the Panthers knew they'd have to put serious work into before they'd see results. He started blossoming in 2014, but reached his full potential last season, as a key member of the Panthers team that went 15-1 and made it to Super Bowl 50. He had 56 combined tackles, 19 passes defended, 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 touchdowns. He was hands down one of the best corners in the league. Last summer, he signed with the Washington Redskins for a monster contract and despite some highly publicized blunders, he's still proving to be an incredibly effective player.
12 Glover Quin - Round 4, Pick 112
As a member of the Detroit Lions, Glover Quin has been one of the most dependable, consistently good players on a defense that constantly seems to be plagued with injuries. Drafted 112th overall, in the fourth round, of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans, Quin spent most his time in Houston as a cornerback. Asides from a 3 interception game against the Tennessee Titans in 2010, Quin was never known for forcing turnovers and only had 5 interceptions in four seasons with the Texans. However, since signing with the Lions in 2013 and switching to free safety full time, Quin has evolved into one of the best cover safeties in the NFL. In four seasons in the Motor City, Quin has racked up 15 interceptions, including a league leading 7 in 2014. He's also an impressive tackler, with 562 combined tackles in eight seasons as a professional. Quin's talent and experience has turned the Lions' mostly young secondary into a dangerous force.
11 Devonta Freeman - Round 4, Pick 103
The mindset in today's NFL is that running backs are less valuable in the draft and therefore, shouldn't be prioritized over other skill positions. While some backs are still taken in the first round, like Ezekiel Elliot and Todd Gurley, many others are taken later and they still see plenty of success. Devonta Freeman is one of those backs. Drafted 103rd overall, in the fourth round, of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, Freeman spent the entirety of 2014 at the bottom of the depth chart. However, last year, he became the Falcons' primary running back and he erupted as a scoring machine. He had 1,634 all-purpose yards last year, 1,056 on the ground and 578 through the air, and 14 touchdowns, 11 on the ground and 3 through the air. He also only fumbled the ball 3 times, losing 2 of them. This year, alongside fellow running back Tevin Coleman, Freeman is still a force to be reckoned with, giving the Falcons' already high powered offense another deadly dimension.
10 Chris Harris Jr. - Undrafted
In case you've been stuck in the Phantom Zone for the past few years, the Denver Broncos defense is really, really, crazy good. They have one of the best defensive lines in NFL history and their secondary, The No Fly Zone, is an absolute nightmare for quarterbacks. Chris Harris Jr. is a big part of that nightmare. Harris was signed by the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and it turned out to be a very good move by Peyton Manning's future squad. Harris has never really had a bad season, charging out the gate with 72 combined tackles, 6 passes defended, and an interception. He only got better with time, racking up 238 combined tackles, 39 passes defended, 11 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 3 touchdowns over the next four seasons, establishing himself as one of the hardest to score on corners in the league. In a lethal secondary featuring guys like Aqib Talib and TJ Ward, Chris Harris Jr. may be the most dangerous man on the field.
9 Kam Chancellor - Round 5, Pick 133
We're back on the Seattle Seahawks and this time, it's for The Legion of Boom. Considering how dominant the Seattle secondary has been over the past few years, it's remarkable that two of their mainstays were late round draft picks, Richard Sherman (We'll get to him!) and Kam Chancellor. "Bam Bam" Kam has developed a reputation as one of the strongest, hardest hitting players in the NFL today. Drafted 133rd overall, in the fifth round, of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Seahawks, Kam was slow to begin his career, not starting any games as a rookie and only registering 23 combined tackles. However, in his sophomore season, he blow up, racking up 97 combined tackles, 13 passes defended, 4 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Since then, he's been one of the most ferocious players in the league, forming one of the most lethal safety tandems ever with Earl Thomas. There's no player too big or too good to face the wrath of Kam Chancellor (Ask Adrian Peterson or Megatron).
8 Cameron Wake - Undrafted
Not only has Cameron Wake had a stellar NFL career, despite playing on the perennially underachieving Miami Dolphins, but he also has one of the best stories in the NFL. Wake was signed by the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2005, but got cut from the team by April. After that, he didn't play football again for two years, until he signed with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. After two incredibly successful CFL seasons, he was signed by the Dolphins in 2009 and has shown time and time again what a huge mistake the league made not investing in him in 2005. Since 2009, he's had 279 combined tackles, 78.5 sacks, and 19 forced fumbles. He's been one of the most consistent talents on the Dolphins over the past seven seasons, constantly hunting down quarterbacks with ruthless aggression. After a disappointing, injury plagued 2015 season, he seems to be back on track, already racking up 20 combined tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles this season. Wake may have had a difficult journey to NFL stardom, but he's more than proved why he never should have been passed up in the first place.
7 Geno Atkins - Round 4, Pick 120
Over the past few years, the Cincinnati Bengals have had a stalwart, if not amazing, defense and one of the biggest reasons for that has been human panzer tank and quarterback seeking missile, Geno Atkins. Considering how great Atkins has been throughout his career, it's surprisingly how long it for him to get off the board. Drafted 120th overall, in the fourth round, by the Bengals in the 2010 NFL Draft, Atkins had a slow rookie season, but hit full gear in his sophomore season when he became a full time starter at defensive tackle. He's all-around great; he can make life miserable for opposing running backs and quarterbacks alike. Since 2011, he's recorded 215 combined tackles, 44.5 sacks (For comparison, Ndamukong Suh has had 37 in the same time frame), and 8 forced fumbles. The Bengals may be something of a laughingstock among football fans, but no one's excited when they come to town and have to face down a force like Geno Atkins.
6 Tony Romo - Undrafted
The now former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, and the most valuable trade chip in the NFL, Tony Romo has received a lot of hate and ridicule over the course of his career, mostly for his propensity to throw heartbreaking, late game interceptions. However, he's actually been one of the league's better quarterbacks for many years and it's fair to blame many, not all, of his struggles on the Cowboys' often incompetent front office. Romo was signed by the Cowboys has an undrafted free agent in 2003, but wasn't thrust into the starting role until 2006. Since then, his career has been a roller coaster. He's had some bad seasons, including two 19 interception seasons, and he's suffered some truly unfortunate injuries, but he's also been more solid than a lot of people care to admit. Since 2006, he's racked up 247 touchdowns to 117 interceptions, 34,000+ passing yards, a career completion percentage of 65.3, and a career passer rating of 97.1. He even has a win-lose record of 78-49. Tony Romo has had some ugly blunders and little-to-no playoff success, but he's been a good quarterback and plenty of teams would love to have him.
5 Richard Sherman - Round 5, Pick 154
Cue the shrieks of "OVERRATED!" Alongside Cam Newton, Odell Beckham Jr., and Josh Norman, Richard Sherman is one of the most controversial figures in the world of professional football. Does he deserve it? Probably not. But a large portion of football fans despise whenever a player speaks their mind or shows even a shred of arrogance, so here we are? Drafted 154th overall, in the fifth round, of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, Sherman proved right out of the gate that he should have been drafted higher, registering 55 combined tackles, 17 passes defended, 4 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble. He became the poster boy for the Seahawks' fearsome Legion of Boom and continued to get better. Since 2012, he's racked up 265 combined tackles, 1 sack, 71 passes defended, 26 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and 4 touchdowns. He's become such a threat as a ball hawk that some quarterbacks avoid throwing towards him, effectively shutting down half the field. Richard Sherman may be boisterous, outspoken, and arrogant, but he's very clearly a damn good cornerback and cries of overrated are empty noise.
4 Brandon Marshall - Round 4, Pick 119
Brandon Marshall is one of the more interesting people in the NFL. He's witnessed a murder, he's been stabbed, and he's one of the few professional athletes to break through the pseudo-macho nonsense of athletics and openly discuss his struggles with mental illness. However, on top of all that, he's a very great football player. Drafted 119th overall, in the fourth round, of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, Marshall has played for quite a few teams for a player of his caliber. He spent four years in Denver, two in Miami, three in Chicago, and he now plays for the New York Jets. Fortunately, he's played well in each of his destinations, racking up 11,941 receiving yards and 82 touchdowns against 17 fumbles, 9 lost, in his ten year NFL career. In addition to his receiving prowess, he's known for his ability to break and elude tackles, and is notoriously difficult to take down. Brandon Marshall may never stop being great and no amount of dysfunction will deter him.
3 Antonio Brown - Round 6, Pick 195
There may be no player in sports right now as sincerely lovable as Antonio Brown. While he may draw the ire of the NFL with his colorful touchdown celebrations, fans are drawn to his charisma and sheer dominance on the field (Also, his Pepsi commercial is objectively wonderful). It helps that when he was drafted, no one saw him coming. Drafted 195th, in the sixth round, of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown was primarily used as a return man early in his career (To his credit, he's an excellent return man, with 5 return touchdowns on his career), before the team realized how talented he was as a wide receiver. However, after a slow rookie season, he had a breakout sophomore season, recording 1,108 receiving yards, but only two touchdowns. After a somewhat disappointing 2012, he's been nothing short of outstanding. Since 2013, he has 6,020 receiving yards, 41 touchdowns, and only 4 fumbles lost. His quickness and elusiveness have put him on the short list of best receivers in the league, if he's not already at the top. Antonio Brown is a once-in-a-generation talent, one of the most feared, difficult to stop offensive weapons in the NFL, and he's having a ton of fun doing it.
2 Antonio Gates - Undrafted
With hands down one of the best resumes of any tight end to ever play in the NFL, Antonio Gates is especially impressive when you remember that he never even played college football. Originally a basketball star at Kent State, because then Michigan State head coach Nike Saban didn't want him to be a two sport athlete, Gates scored a workout with the NFL after being told he didn't have a future in basketball. The San Diego Chargers took a gamble on Gates' potential and it's fair to say they never regretted it. Signed as an drafted free agent in 2003, Gates didn't get too much playing time his rookie season, but he went wild his sophomore year, becoming a favorite target for then quarterback Drew Brees, racking up 964 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Through twelve more seasons and a quarterback switch from Brees to Philip Rivers, Gates has continued to excel. Since 2005, he's recorded 9,581 receiving yards, including three 1,000+ yards seasons, 94 touchdowns, and only 5 lost fumbles. At 36 years old, Antonio Gates is probably winding down his NFL career, but he can retire knowing that he's one of the best tight ends to ever play.
1 Tom Brady - Round 6, Pick 199
Did you think it was going to be anyone else? Tom Brady is a lot of things, one of the most hated men to ever play an American professional sport, one of the biggest winners in NFL history, one of the greatest players in NFL history, possibly the best quarterback in NFL history, and easily the greatest draft steal in NFL history. Drafted 199th overall, in the sixth round, of the 2000 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, Brady didn't win the starting job until his sophomore season, but since then, he's been the gold standard for an NFL quarterback. Since 2001, Tom Brady has posted nothing but insane stats, racking up 59,937 passing yards, 444 passing touchdowns to just 151 interceptions, 17 rushing touchdowns, which is truly amazing when you remember that some sloths are faster than Tom Brady, and posting a career passer rating of 97.1. Under his control, the Patriots have won 4 Super Bowls, 6 AFC Championships, and a stunning 13 AFC East Championships. You may hate Tom Brady, statistically, everyone outside of Massachusetts does, but you can't deny his greatness and his standing as a superb draft steal.
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