When it comes to the NFL, one of the most exciting parts of any season is the NFL Draft. No matter how your team did last year, the draft is a chance for you to get excited about new players and to spew that opinion out to everyone with ears.
As the draft gets closer, no matter how exciting it is, fans may start to find themselves getting tired of how much coverage is going into the projected top selections. It only makes sense, why cover Wilson when he’s not going in the first round? However, Luck and RG3 are the clear 1-2 choices. Yet, as that situation proves, what gets people excited on draft day does not always translate to the professionals.
The players that should get you excited, may be the ones whose name you don’t even recognize, but their play may speak for itself. In this past year, studs like David Johnson and Thomas Rawls both came out of nowhere to help the Cardinals and Seahawks respectively when they needed it. If you look over the history of the NFL, you’ll quickly find that some of the greatest players of all time were overlooked (or not drafted at all!). There are going to be some names on here that you may have known, but I guarantee you, there are some on here that are going to shock you as well.
You can make the argument that undrafted players shouldn't make this list because they weren't "drafted" but the fact that this only makes their story all the more amazing, makes them well worth their place. In order, here are 15 players that exceeded their draft expectations. I assure you, there are players from several decades of football that will surprise you.
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15 Ahmad Bradshaw
Is Bradshaw going to the Hall of Fame like some of the other names on this list? Absolutely not. But the guy is a workhorse and one of my favorite players, and he was picked 250th overall. Only 5 other players were drafted after Bradshaw, but his play made sure he outlasted many names who went before him. Bradshaw is a 2x Super Bowl Champion, and both of those came against Brady so that counts as like double right? With a career that started in 2007, and with an uncertain future, there is still no doubting that Bradshaw outplayed his draft stock.
14 Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez
The reason these guys are going to make my list is because they’re the same position, and they came out in the same year and went to the Patriots. Gronkowski is clearly one of the best tight-ends of all time, but fell to the 2nd round due to requiring back surgery (though I don’t think he’ll get sympathy from Brady). Hernandez was also tremendously talented but fell in the draft due to problems around marijuana and other character concerns. Gronkowski is still ripping things up the league while Hernandez is no longer active and considered one of the biggest jerks ever but at least they were both steals initially.
13 Ryan Succop
Wait what, there’s a kicker on this list? Yes! Because Ryan Succop is the most successful Mr.Irrelvent of all time. This (HORRIBLE) nickname is given to whichever player is the last one selected in the draft. While this is often a player that flames out, sometimes they make a name for themselves and for that they earn a tip of the cap. He’s not outstanding, but he held down a job with the Chiefs for a few years before getting signed by the Titans. A kicker won’t have too many highlights to talk about, but if you are still in the league after being drafted last in 2009, be pleased.
12 Bart Starr
Now you need to understand that back in 1956, the amount of research that teams were able to put into their draft is not nearly the same it is now. The draft also went on for a lot more rounds, and it led to someone like Bart Starr falling to Round 17 and the 199th overall pick. Starr is a legend to Packer fans, and was the Quaterback behind their victories in the first two Super Bowls. The game may have changed that make some of Starr’s stats less eye-popping, but he is a former league MVP.
11 Chris Harris
In 2014 when PFF did their rankings of the best players in the game, Chris Harris came in the 4th spot. A safety for the now, Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos, Harris can expect that he is going to start getting some serious attention. This makes the fact that he went undrafted all the more shocking in hindsight. Harris has also recovered from a torn ACL, to help prove that he is not only one of the most mentally tough athletes, but one of the most physically resilient in the game.
10 Shannon Sharpe
Sharpe is one of the greatest Tight Ends to ever play football. It would have been fantastic to see the kind of production he would have put up in today’s version of the game, where you are seeing the tight-end getting utilized more and more. By the time Sharpe retired, he had won 3 Super Bowls and had 62 TD’s for over 10,000 yards. Those were accomplishments that were good enough to land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Not bad for a player that was picked 192nd overall, in the 7th round of the 1990 draft.
9 Steve Smith
Steve Smith played his entire career with a gigantic chip on his shoulder. When you see that he was dradted in the 3rd round, and after 10 receivers, it is easier to tell why. Similar to Tyler Lockett, who was drafted this year by Seattle in the 3rd, Smith was told that his main talents extended to kick off and punt returns. Given that he played from 2001 until this past year, and put up close to 14,000 yards and 76 touchdowns, it is safe to say he surpassed expectations.
8 Antonio Brown
The fact that Antonio Brown is the best wide receiver in football right now is amazing for a few reasons. One, he’s not the prototypical size of your wide receiver, especially in comparison to some of the other greats who are all 6’2+. Maybe it was that lack of height that put Brown in a Steelers uniform when they picked him in the 5th round. The fact that Brown is such a phenomenal route runner, and one of the most dangerous players with a ball in his hand, make it all the more shocking.
7 Tony Romo
When the draft first ended, I would have loved to gotten some insight on what Tony Romo was thinking. There’s no doubting now that he is talented, but Romo went undrafted and this comes as an incredible shock to some fans who have seen his reasonably successful career. Romo had some experience backing up Drew Bledsoe, and that surely helped his career. Yet, any time you get some playing time out of an undrafted free agent, you’re going to be pretty pleased with the results. When they become your franchise quarterback for over a decade, you also get a spot on my list.
6 Donald Driver
The Green Bay Packers are no strangers to draft steals. As you now know, Bart Starr was a late selection and while not a traditional "steal" you can believe they were thrilled to get Rodgers with the 24th pick. You may be curious to know that Donald Driver, who for Packer fans, was one of their most trusted wide receivers from 1999-2011, was selected in the 7th round with the 213th pick. Driver isn’t going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he is the Packers all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. He was influential in helping both Farve, and eventually Rodgers, develop into the Quarterbacks that they became and for that, he deserves even more respect.
5 Richard Sherman
The Seattle Seahawks have done an outstanding job at finding talent later in the draft and turning them into All-Pro superstars. Richard Sherman is one of the best cornerbacks in football, but he was not selected until the 5th round. Critics did not buy into the corner's physical size, which made him taller and longer than usual. Ironically, it was that size that made him stand out to the Seahawks who put him in the right defensive system and allowed him to excel. Sherman also gets a notice because it allows for an easy segway to mention that Kam Chancellor, who some fans feel is better than Sherman, was also selected in the 5th round.
4 Steve Young
In 1984 there was a Supplemental Draft of players who were in the USFL and the CFL. The draft led to 84 players (out of 224). While there are still Supplemental Drafts, it is rare to see any player of extreme significance make an impact. That was not the case in 1984, when 3 future Hall of Fame players were drafted in the first 4 picks. Two of them, were Steve Young and Gary Zimmerman. It’s fantastic for Zimmerman, who was a tremendous guard in the league but c’mon, we all know I’m here to talk about Steve. Young was a tremendous quarterback for the 49ers, winning 3 Super Bowls, and 2 MVP Awards over the duration of his career. You could have taken Steve 1st overall in any draft, any year, and I wouldn’t have had an issue with it. Getting him in a supplemental draft is ridiculous. If you’re curious about who the 3rd Hall of Famer was, keep reading.
3 Reggie White
Reggie White is one of the most dominant defensive players to ever play the game. He is also largely responsible with being the player that helped raise the appeal of "free agency." White was a fantastic player for the Eagles, and also had several successful seasons with the Packers before retiring with the Panthers in 2000. Over his career, White totalled a ridiculous, 198 sacks and 1,112 tackles. When did he get drafted? 4th overall in the 1984 Supplemental Draft. As you now know, Steve Young and Gary Zimmerman were also taken in this draft and both ahead of White. Hard to imagine any of those 3 teams were complaining with their haul. If you’re curious, the 2nd overall pick in that years draft was Mike Rozier who played for 6 years and earned 2 trips to the Pro Bowl.
2 Deacon Jones
When it comes to defensive ends, one of the barometers of your performance is how many sacks you accumulate. As a result, it can only be fitting to place this player on our list who spent time with the Rams, Chargers, and Redskins. Deacon Jones is not only one of the most entertaining (with some great quotes), but also one of the most effective players of all time. He was selected by the Rams in Round 14, with the 186th pick (keep in mind, rounds were 14 selections long). Deacon is in the Hall of Fame, and also has the unbelievably cool nickname of “The Secretary Of Defense”.
1 Terrell Davis
It is easy to think of John Elway’s career and think that he achieved most of it because he was an outstanding quarterback. You may do yourself a disservice though if you are overlooking the impact of Terrell Davis. Davis was only in the league from 1995-01, but he still won 2 Super Bowls, was a Super Bowl MVP and rushed for over 2,000 yards in a season. Davis also ran hard when it mattered and is 1 of only 6 players in league history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in the postseason. Despite all this success and clear natural talent, Davis fell to the 196th pick in the 6th round of the 1995 draft.
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