Best Draft Bargains of Past 20 Years
After Brady shared starting duties at Michigan with Drew Henson, most scouts didn't believe he had the physical tools to be a starting NFL quarterback. He was too thin, ran a slow 40 at the combine and didn't have a strong enough arm. The Patriots saw some upside, but even they had to be surprised at how successful Brady was after taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Brady became the first QB to start and win three Super Bowls before age 28.
After a lackluster college career in which he transferred from Long Beach State to Georgia and missed most of his senior year with a hamstring injury, Davis fell to the sixth round. But he earned a starting spot in Denver his rookie season and provided the answer at running back the Broncos desperately needed. Davis helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl in 1997 and '98 and became the fourth running back to reach 2,000 yards in a season in '98.
An All-Ivy performer at Harvard, Birk has been a fixture at center for the Vikings since 2000 and is considered by some to be the top center in the NFL. He earned his first of five Pro Bowl bids in 2000.
Even the Saints weren't sure how good Colston was when they drafted the big receiver out of Hofstra. But the the 6-foot-4, 231-pound Colston proved very difficult to cover in his rookie season. He caught 70 passes for 1,038 yards despite missing several games with an ankle injury.
Seven tight ends were selected before Sharpe in 1990, but no player at that position ever achieved as much as Sharpe did in his 14-year career. He's the all-time leader in receptions (815), yards (10,060) and TDs (62) for a tight end and won three Super Bowl rings with the Broncos and Ravens. Not bad for a player who was barely recruited out of high school, played at small Division I-AA Savannah State and was almost cut by the Broncos early in his career.
Martin was voted preseason All-America his senior year at Pitt, but an injury in the second game forced him to sit out the rest of the season. As a rookie he started 14 games, finishing with franchise records for carries (368), yards (1,487) and rushing touchdowns (14). He played three seasons with the Patriots before moving on to the Jets. He retired as the fourth-leading rusher in NFL history.
Owens was a late bloomer in football, not starting in high school until his senior year. He was lucky to be recruited by Tennessee-Chattanooga, where he split his time with the basketball team. Although T.O.'s size and speed were evident, NFL teams didn't know what to make of his small-school background. The 49ers were looking for an heir apparent to Jerry Rice and hit the jackpot with Owens. He has had his fair share of off-field issues, but he's been great on the field for the Niners, Eagles and Cowboys.
Gbaja-Biamila entered college weighing less than 200 pounds but set the career sack record at San Diego State with 33. Measuring 6-foot-31/2, 245 pounds at the combine, he was considered too small to play on the defensive line. But the Packers were confident he could put on weight and play defensive end. They were right, and Gbaja-Biamila quickly became one of the league's top pass-rushers.
Anderson was not well known when he was selected by the Falcons. The '98 season, though, was special -- he ran for 1,846 yards and helped Atlanta reach Super Bowl XXXIII. The former Utah star used his anger at falling to the 201st pick as a motivating factor throughout his career.
Bruschi tied the NCAA Division I-A sack record as a defensive lineman in Arizona's "Desert Swarm" defense, but he was too small to play lineman in the NFL and many thought he was too slow to play linebacker. The Patriots have developed a keen eye for the intangibles that make Bruschi such an effective linebacker. He has been the emotional leader of a defense that has led the Patriots to three Super Bowl championships.
Out of tiny Emporia State, Lett burst into the Cowboys' starting lineup in 1994 and made the first of his two Pro Bowl appearances that season. One of the most dominant defensive tackles of his time, Lett was a member of three Cowboys Super Bowl championship teams, starting in Super Bowls XXVIII and XXX. Lett's off-the-field indiscretions and questionable plays sometimes tarnished his image, but he was a force during his 11-year career.
Even though McCardell left UNLV as the school's all-time leading receiver, NFL teams weren't interested in the 6-foot-1 wideout. The Redskins picked him up late, which was fortunate for McCardell, who learned from Art Monk and Gary Clark. After bouncing around the league, McCardell landed in Jacksonville and became one of the NFL's most consistent No. 2 receivers. In 2002, McCardell caught two TDs to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl championship.
An all-purpose athlete at Georgia, Ward played quarterback, running back and receiver for the Bulldogs, but since joining the Steelers he's shifted solely to receiver and has been an outstanding one. In eight seasons, Ward has established himself as Pittsburgh's top threat. He is a four-time Pro Bowler and was named MVP of Super Bowl XL.
One of many Buddy Ryan gems, Simmons came out of Western Carolina to become one of the NFL's finest pass-rushers. With little fanfare entering the NFL, Simmons immediately earned his way onto the field and never missed a non-strike game from 1986 to 2000. Simmons joined Reggie White and Jerome Brown to form one of the most ferocious lines in recent league history. Simmons led the NFL with 19 sacks in 1992 and finished his career 11th all time on the sack list, with 121.5.
A classic example of why combine results aren't everything when it comes to drafting quality players: Thomas was a standout at Texas Tech, but scouts considered him too small and slow. But those who saw him on a weekly basis in college knew Thomas made up for his shortcomings with tenacity and outstanding instincts. When he came to Miami, Thomas instantly became the leader of the defense, and is consistently one of the leading tacklers in the NFL.
Teams avoided the Utah product because he's only 5-foot-9, 185 pounds. But he made an instant splash for the Panthers, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie because of his outstanding punt- and kick-return skills. Then Smith developed into a dominant receiver. In 2005, he had 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns.
A little-known prospect from North Dakota State, Braxton was the 334th player picked in the 1987 draft and went on to play 13 seasons in the NFL -- 12 with the Broncos and one with the Dolphins. He was a member of Denver's back-to-back Super Bowl championship teams in 1997 and '98, producing key turnovers in each game.
After playing at Western Illinois, Harrison broke in as a special-teams player and then became a star safety. He was named the Chargers' defensive player of the year in 1996 and '97 and was a Pro Bowler in '98. In 2003 he joined the Patriots and became a leader on a defense that helped New England win back-to-back Super Bowls. Harrison has a reputation for nasty hits but is respected for his nonstop motor and outstanding instincts.
Thanks to a serious knee injury he suffered at Oklahoma State, Thomas slipped to the Bills in the second round. He energized Buffalo's offense and helped form a nucleus that carried the Bills to four straight Super Bowls. He retired in 2001, ranking sixth all time in total yards from scrimmage (16,532) and ninth in rushing (12,074). Thomas said the anger he felt at being bypassed in the first round was a motivating factor in his rise to stardom.
Davis didn't get a chance to work out at the combine because of a knee injury, which explains how he fell to the fourth round. His breakout season came in 1999, when he led the NFC with 1,045 yards. In 2001 he set Washington's single-season record for rushing yards (1,432). Davis went to Carolina in '03, set a personal-best mark with 1,444 yards rushing and helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl.