The Cleveland Browns certainly didn't need a running back when the 1964 draft came around. Jim Brown had just led the NFL by averaging 6.4 yards per carry in gaining 1,863 yards.
But in the eighth round, the Browns looked to Morgan State in Baltimore for Leroy Kelly, a guy who figured to fight to make the team since the Browns had Brown, Ernie Green and Charley Scales in the backfield. But Kelly's special teams play in the preseason earned him a spot, and Kelly would go on to succeed Brown after his sudden retirement after the 1965 season -- and then to the Hall of Fame. Kelly is the finest late-round pick in Browns history.
In his rookie season, Kelly was a standout punt returner, averaging 19 yards. In his second, he led the league by averaging 15.6 yards per return.
In 1966, Kelly took over as the team's starting running back and ran his way to Canton. His numbers say it all: Kelly ranks second in all-time rushing for the Browns with 7,274 yards, second in attempts with 1,727 and second in touchdowns with 74. Kelly, clearly, was the second-best running back in the history of a team that also once had Hall of Famer Marion Motley.
Kelly led the NFL in touchdowns in 1966, '67 and '68. He led the league in rushing and attempts in 1967 and '68 and was second in '66. And he led the league in yards per attempt in '67 and '68, at 5.5 and 5.1 yards.
He played in nine playoff games, went to six Pro Bowls in a row and was a first-team All-Pro three years in a row. In 1968, he was the NFL's player of the year. In 1971, Kelly ran 234 times and had a 74-yard punt return. He even threw three career touchdown passes on halfback-option plays.
Kelly became known in Cleveland as the "great mudder" because of the way he ran in bad weather. ProFootballReference.com compares players to others at their position based on their numbers and production. The site states that Kelly's career compares to, among others, Eric Dickerson's and Adrian Peterson’s.
Would a team take a Dickerson or a Peterson in the eighth round? The Browns found Kelly in that round in 1964.
Gene Hickerson, OG, Mississippi: Hickerson led the way for three Hall of Famers: Bobby Mitchell, Brown and Kelly. As a guard, Hickerson perfected the art of the pulling guard. Hickerson played 15 years, went to six Pro Bowls and was a member of the All-1960s team. His selection in the seventh round in 1957 remains one of the best in team history.
Brian Sipe, QB, San Diego State: Sipe was a 13th-round selection in 1972. With Mike Phipps on the roster, Sipe was a throw-in draft pick, an undersized but prolific college player. He spent two seasons on the old "taxi squad" and eventually earned the starting job in 1978. Under Sam Rutigliano, Sipe used his savvy to lead the Kardiac Kids in one of the most exciting eras in Browns history. The 1980 NFL MVP will always be remembered for giving up a playoff interception against the Raiders on an infamous play called Red Right 88, but Sipe leads the Browns in all-time passing yards with 23,713 and ranks second in touchdown passes with 154, behind only Otto Graham.