Who Are the Best Late-Round Draft Picks in NFL History?

    Everyone loves an underdog. From Tom Brady to Richard Sherman, we highlight the best late-round draft picks in NFL history.

    The NFL Draft is an exciting time for players and fans alike. As fans, we are all anxious to see where the top prospects will land. For the players, they sit on pins and needles waiting for their dream of playing professional football to become a reality.

    The vast majority of top players come from the early rounds. But every year, without fail, there are unheralded prospects taken in the later rounds that wind up being fantastic players. Let’s celebrate those guys’ accomplishments as we highlight the greatest late-round draft picks of all time.

    Tom Brady: The Best Late-Round Draft Pick Success Story

    There’s a whole lot of subjectivity when it comes to what constitutes a great draft pick. Yet, when it comes to the greatest late-round draft pick of all time, there is no debate. It’s Tom Brady.

    Hindsight is an incredible thing. It would be easy to look back at top late-round draft picks and say the entire league failed. Sometimes, that’s true. NFL teams occasionally collectively miss on an obvious prospect. But those instances are few and far between, and it is certainly not the case with Brady.

    The second-best quarterback to ever play football (Yes, I have Patrick Mahomes No. 1) was not a top prospect. He was barely even a prospect. Brady was projected to be a career backup, at best. That’s why he fell into the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

    The Michigan product was selected by the New England Patriots with the 199th pick. At college, Brady played in 29 games and threw for 30 touchdowns against 17 interceptions combined over four years.

    By no means is that considered top-tier college production. He set no FBS records in college and was never even remotely in the Heisman conversation.

    In an era where quarterbacks weren’t always great athletes, Brady somehow even underwhelmed the low expectations. He ran a 5.28-second 40-yard dash, which was the second slowest among every quarterback who ran.

    His 24.5″ vertical jump was the shortest for any player at the Combine. His broad jump was the eighth worst of any player and second worst of any quarterback.

    Needless to say, Brady did not have great college tape and was one of the least athletic NFL players the year he was drafted. Had Brady gone undrafted, no one would’ve batted an eye.

    The Patriots drafting Brady was a surprise on the heels of the mega extension they had just given start QB Drew Bledsoe. Brady was never considered a serious threat to Bledsoe’s job.

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    Then, the New York Jets’ Moe Williams laid a massive hit on Bledsoe. Brady was forced into action. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Despite not playing particularly well, the Patriots won games, and head coach Bill Belichick opted to roll with Brady for the remainder of the season.

    After Brady rewarded Belichick’s decision by helping the Patriots win the Super Bowl, it was clear Brady would be the starter long term. As it turned out, Brady would go on to be the most successful player in the history of football.

    MORE: NFL All-Time QB Records

    When you think about Brady’s contemporaries, all of them were top prospects and high draft picks. Brady stands out not just because of his accomplishments but because he wasn’t supposed to even be good, let alone the winningest QB in NFL history.

    Brady retired after the 2022 season with seven Super Bowl rings in 10 tries. He won five NFL MVP awards across three decades and went 16-0 in 2007 on what is considered the greatest offense in NFL history. Brady will undoubtedly be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when first eligible in 2028.

    Some Other Late-Round Draft Picks That Changed the Game

    Brady is not the only late-round draft pick to make an impact at the NFL level or even embark on a Hall of Fame career. There have been many players drafted in the final rounds who spent years atop their positions.

    Zach Thomas, Miami Dolphins, (Fifth Round, Pick 154)

    Fifteen years after his final regular season game, Zach Thomas finally earned his rightful spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Miami Dolphins selected Thomas in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft.

    In a true full-circle moment, Jimmy Johnson, the Dolphins’ head coach who informed Thomas the team was drafting him, also was the one to let Thomas know his dream of becoming a Hall of Famer was coming true.

    From 1996 to 2007, Thomas had one of the most storied careers for any middle linebacker in the history of the league.

    Thomas fell in the NFL Draft due to size concerns. He quickly proved teams made a mistake in discounting his abilities. Thomas posted over 130 tackles in 10 of his 13 seasons, leading the league in that category twice.

    Thomas earned five All-Pro honors and seven Pro Bowl selections. He finished in the top three in voting for Defensive Player of the Year three times. During his era, he was considered the second-best middle linebacker behind only fellow Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.

    Peyton Manning called him the toughest player he ever played against. Brady credited the Dolphins’ defense Thomas led as the hardest he’d ever faced. Hall of Fame center Kevin Mawae questioned in his induction speech why Thomas was not yet enshrined in Canton. There is no doubt Thomas is one of the best late-round draft picks of all time.

    Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (Sixth Round, Pick 195)

    Given the unceremonious end to Antonio Brown’s career, as well as the circus that is his Twitter account, the quality of his play may have been forgotten a bit. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown was just a dart throw, nothing more.

    Brown is the ultimate outlier. He was slow, running a 4.56 40 time at 5’10” and 186 pounds. He was unathletic, with speed and burst scores below the 20th percentile. He was also the best wide receiver in the NFL for nearly a decade while playing alongside guys like Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., and A.J. Green.

    Brown’s run from 2013-2018 is one of the greatest in NFL history. He caught over 100 passes in each of those season. In 2015, Brown posted 1,834 receiving yards, which is currently fifth all-time.

    Brown was selected to eight Pro Bowls and earned four first-team All-Pro honors. He twice finished second in Offensive Player of the Year voting.

    At this point, it’s unclear if Brown will get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If he doesn’t, it will have nothing to do with his on-field performance, which is absolutely worthy of the honors. I have him as a clear top-10 receiver in NFL history.

    Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles (Sixth Round, Pick 191)

    Jason Kelce is a five-time first-team All-Pro selection over his 13-year career, which just ended after the 2023 season.

    He has been to the Pro Bowl seven times and won a Super Bowl against a fellow sixth-round selection, Brady, in 2017. He did not miss a start after 2014 and was one of the most reliable team leaders in the sport. Even in his final year, at 36 years old, Kelce was the best center in football.

    Kelce famously encouraged Jalen Hurts to “own” the team en route to the Super Bowl appearance in 2022, showcasing his own leadership in the process. He has anchored some of the league’s best offensive lines since coming into the league.

    An All-Pro selection in five of the last six seasons, he stands to go down as one the greatest centers of all time and is undoubtedly one of the best late-round draft picks of all time.

    Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos (Sixth Round, Pick 196)

    “TD,” as he is affectionately called, is one of two Hall of Famers the Broncos drafted outside of the fifth round, joining Shannon Sharpe. Why is Terrell Davis on this list and Sharpe not? Davis did more in a shorter period of time.

    He also likely would have done even more if injuries had not stunted his career arc. There is no question he is one of the best late-round draft picks ever.

    His first four years may be the greatest stretch any running back has ever had in NFL history. He ran for almost 6,500 yards and 56 touchdowns, was a two-time Offensive Player of the Year Award winner, helped win a pair of Super Bowls, and was the Super Bowl 52 MVP.

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017 after being on the ballot for 11 years. The only knock on him was longevity, but some players have played for much longer and couldn’t dream of having the accomplished career Davis did.

    Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks (Fifth Round, Pick 154)

    Richard Sherman had quite an explosive career over 11 seasons, mostly spent with the Seattle Seahawks. Perhaps the most recognizable face from the Legion of Boom era, he was a three-time first-team All-Pro selection and five-time Pro Bowler.

    He defined the underdog role as he routinely traded shots with the likes of Brady, Michael Crabtree, Darrelle Revis, and others as he became one of the most dominant corners of his era.

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    With 37 career interceptions and a Super Bowl championship, he has the hardware to warrant Hall of Fame consideration.

    He would have had a second Super Bowl championship under his belt if not for the inexplicable play-calling of Seattle as they were one yard away from the game-winning score when Russell Wilson dropped back to pass rather than hand the ball to the bruising Marshawn Lynch.

    Miss football? The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here, boss. Pro Football Network has you covered with everything from team draft needs to the Top 100 prospects available. Plus, fire up PFN’s all-new Mock Draft Simulator to put yourself in the general manager’s seat and make all the calls — lone wolf or with your friends!

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