NFL history is full of players taken after the first round who became stars. Look no further than New England's Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick who is now often mentioned in conversations about the best quarterbacks of all time.
And then there is Steve Largent. Taken in the fourth round by Houston and later traded to Seattle, he went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Seahawks.
Here are our top 50 draft steals. These lists reflect players selected since the NFL and the old American Football League merged drafts in 1967. For now, we'll leave off recent bargains such as QB Derek Anderson, WRs Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston, DE Osi Umenyiora and CB Asante Samuel until their impressive early careers play out.
1. QB Tom Brady (Michigan)
Drafted by: Patriots, sixth round, No. 199 overall, 2000
The Patriots weren't really looking for their next franchise quarterback; a solid backup would have suited them fine. The Patriots watched quarterbacks such as Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn come off the board before they selected Brady. The rest is history.
2. QB Joe Montana (Notre Dame)
Drafted by: 49ers, third round, No. 82 overall, 1979
The 49ers didn't exactly have to go off the beaten path to find Montana, but he was far from a can't-miss prospect coming out of Notre Dame. Even the 49ers weren't sure about his future when they drafted him, so much so that he backed up Steve DeBerg for a year and a half before becoming the starter.
3. WR Steve Largent (Tulsa)
Drafted by: Oilers, fourth round, No. 117 overall, 1976
Dealt to the expansion Seahawks before the start of the 1976 season, the Hall of Famer made the most of his abilities and still ranks in the top 20 all time in receptions (819) and yards (13,089) and is one of only seven players in league history with at least 100 touchdown receptions.
4. TE Shannon Sharpe (Savannah State)
Drafted by: Broncos, seventh round, No. 192 overall, 1990
The eight-time Pro Bowler caught 815 passes for 10,060 yards and 62 TDs during his 14-year career with the Broncos and Ravens. He was a pivotal part of three Super Bowl championships with Denver (two) and Baltimore (one).
5. S Ken Houston (Prairie View)
Drafted by: Oilers, ninth round, No. 214 overall, 1967
A star in the soon-to-be merged AFL, Houston was dealt to the Redskins in 1973 and paid immediate dividends. A 12-time All-Star, the hard-hitting defender was always around the football, returning nine of his 49 career interceptions for touchdowns and making countless other plays on defense and special teams.
6. RB Terrell Davis (Georgia)
Drafted by: Broncos, sixth round, No. 196 overall, 1995
Injuries shortened Davis' career considerably, but he still managed three Pro Bowls and four 1,000-yard seasons (including 2,008 yards rushing in 1998), and earned two Super Bowl rings (MVP of Super Bowl XXXII). Not bad for a guy chosen one pick after Dino Philyaw.
7. WR Andre Reed (Kutztown)
Drafted by: Bills, fourth round, No. 86 overall, 1985
A small school from Pennsylvania gave the NFL one of the most productive pass-catchers in league history. Reed still ranks in the league's top 10 in receptions (951), receiving yards (13,198) and touchdown receptions (87). And he teamed with Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly for 65 TDs, the fourth-best tandem in NFL history.
8. DE L.C. Greenwood (Arkansas AM&N)
Drafted by: Steelers, 10th round, No. 238 overall, 1969
In the first round that year, new Steelers head coach Chuck Noll opted for DT Joe Greene with the fourth overall selection. Nine rounds later, Pittsburgh added Greenwood, who proved to be one of the premier defensive ends of his time (six Pro Bowls) and teamed with Greene for a formidable left side of the defensive front.
9. LB/DE Charles Haley (James Madison)
Drafted by: 49ers, fourth round, No. 96 overall, 1986
One of the more fearsome defenders of the mid-'80s and '90s, Haley's versatility made him a terror. In 13 seasons with the 49ers and Cowboys, Haley totaled 100.5 sacks and remains the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls (two with San Francisco, three with Dallas).
10. S Rodney Harrison (Western Illinois)
Drafted by: Chargers, fifth round, No. 145 overall, 1994
The one-time Chargers standout remains one of the more physical safeties in the league and always seems to be in the thick of something. He has 33 interceptions and 30.5 sacks during his stellar career with the Chargers and Patriots.
11. WR Charlie Joiner (Grambling)
Drafted by: Oilers, fourth round, No. 93 overall, 1969
Drafted as a defensive back by Houston, he found his real niche with the San Diego Chargers. The Hall of Fame wideout finished his career with 750 receptions for 12,146 yards and 65 touchdowns.
12. T Art Shell (Maryland-Eastern Shore)
Drafted by: Raiders, third round, No. 80 overall, 1968
The massive tackle was a big part of one of the league's premier offensive lines and helped make the Silver and Black a perennial contender. An eight-time Pro Bowler who helped the Raiders win Super Bowls XI and XV, Shell was enshrined in Canton in 1989.
13. QB Dan Fouts (Oregon)
Drafted by: Chargers, third round, No. 64 overall, 1973
This Hall of Famer led one of the more prolific offenses in NFL history, and his ability to spread the ball around to his many talented targets is what made him so effective. Named to six Pro Bowls, Fouts still ranks No. 8 in league history in passing yardage (43,040) and No. 12 in touchdown passes (254).
14. DE Richard Dent (Tennessee State)
Drafted by: Bears, eighth round, No. 203 overall, 1983
The Bears probably didn't expect to land a four-time Pro Bowler and an integral part of their great 1985 Super Bowl championship defense, but that's exactly what they got from this little-known defensive lineman from Tennessee State.
15. LB Zach Thomas (Texas Tech)
Drafted by: Dolphins, fifth round, No. 154 overall, 1996
Some teams were so concerned by Thomas' perceived lack of size (5-11, 228 pounds) that they drafted linebackers such as Whit Marshall and Percell Gaskins while Thomas remained on the board. Seven Pro Bowls later for Thomas, those teams are probably regretting those decisions.
Russell S. Baxter,
Jon D. Kramer,
Jon T. Stewart,
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Paul Kinney of ESPN research contributed to this report.