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.
2 of 22
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 (getting the ball swiped out of his hands in the Super Bowl and knocking the ball out of the back of the end zone against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving) sometimes tarnish his image, but he was a force in his 11-year career.
3 of 22
Even though he left UNLV as the school's all-time leading receiver, NFL teams weren't interested in the 6-foot-1 McCardell. The Redskins picked him up late, which was fortunate for McCardell, because he could learn from Art Monk and Gary Clark. After bouncing around the league a bit, 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, and even at 34 he played well after being traded to the Chargers midway through the 2004 season.
4 of 22
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 Pro Bowler in '98. In 2003 he joined the Patriots, and became a leader on a defense that helped New England win three Super Bowls. Harrison had a reputation for nasty hits, but was respected for his non-stop motor and outstanding instincts.
5 of 22
Anderson was little known when he was selected by the Falcons and remained that way until the 1998 season - despite having rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of his previous two seasons. The '98 season, though, was special -- he had an NFL-record 410 carries and his 1,846 yards -- the ninth-best total in NFL history. He helped the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII and rushed for 96 yards on 18 carries in the 34-19 loss to Denver. The former Utah star used his anger at falling to the 201st pick as a motivating factor throughout his career.
6 of 22
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. His most productive season was 2004, when he finished with 1,697 yards on 371 carries.
7 of 22
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 landed in the perfect spot. He earned a starting spot in Denver his rookie season and immediately provided the answer at running back the Broncos desperately needed. Davis helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl in '97 and '98, and became the fourth running back to reach 2,000 yards in a season in 1998.
8 of 22
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 kind of intangibles that made Bruschi such an effective linebacker. He was the emotional leader of a defense that led the Patriots to three Super Bowl championships.
9 of 22
Owens was a late bloomer in football, not even starting in high school until his senior year. He was lucky to be recruited by Tennessee-Chattanooga, and split his time in college with the basketball team. Although the size and speed was 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. Although his theatrics sometimes distracted from his brilliance, the perennial Pro Bowler became one of the NFL's elite receivers.
10 of 22
Davis didn't get a chance to work out at the Combine because of a knee injury, which helps explain how he feel 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 setting a personal-best mark with 1,444 yards rushing.
11 of 22
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. Those who saw him on a weekly basis in college knew Thomas made up for his shortcomings with tenacity and outstanding instincts. He came to Miami and instantly became the leader of the defense, and was consistently one of the leading tacklers in the NFL.
12 of 22
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. He is the Steelers' all-time leader in receptions and was named MVP of Super Bowl XL.
13 of 22
An All-Ivy performer at Harvard, Birk was a fixture at center for the Vikings for eight seasons, during which time he was considered by some to be the top center in the NFL. He earned his first bid to the Pro Bowl in 2000 and was selected again in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007.
14 of 22
Gbaja-Biamila entered college weighing less than 200 pounds, but set the career sack record at San Diego State with 33. But he measured 6-foot-3 1/2, 245 pounds at the Combine, too small to play on the defensive line. 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.
15 of 22
Most scouts didn't believe Brady had the physical tools to be a starting NFL quarterback coming out of Michigan. 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.
16 of 22
After dropping out of high school, earning his GED and starring at Cerritos College for two seasons, Houshmandzadeh transferred to Oregon State, where he starred alongside future Bengals teammate Chad Ochocinco. Cincinnati drafted both wide receivers in the '01 Draft -- Chad in round two, T.J. five rounds later. Houshmandzadeh began as a backup but quickly supplanted Peter Warrick as a starter for the Bengals. Over his first eight seasons in the NFL, Houshmandzadeh has 586 receptions for 6,693 yards and 40 touchdowns with Cincy and Seattle.
17 of 22
Mathis set a Division I-AA record with 20 sacks in his senior season at Alabama A&M, prompting the Colts to take him with the 138th pick in the draft. As a rookie, Mathis recorded 3.5 sacks and forced three fumbles, flashing just a hint of his ability. Since, Mathis has been a Pro Bowler twice, averaged 10.5 sacks per season (save for 2007 when he had seven) and helped lead the Colts to a victory over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. He and Dwight Freeney make up one of the most feared pass rush tandems in football today.
18 of 22
Allen spent four years at Idaho State, dominating the Big Sky Conference to the tune of 38.5 career sacks, but scouts wondered whether his production would translate to the NFL. A combined 20 sacks over his first two seasons answered the questions, and Allen, despite off-field issues, quickly ascended to the elite at defensive end in the league. The Vikings inked the three-time All-Pro selection to a monster contract in 2008, including a $15.5 million signing bonus.
19 of 22
An unheralded running back coming out of Northern Illinois, the Chargers took a chance on Turner as a back-up to superstar LaDainian Tomlinson. Turner barely saw the field as a rookie, but became known around the league as one of the best No. 2 tailbacks in football. He signed with Atlanta as a free agent in 2008 and, in his debut, he set the franchise single-game rushing mark with 220 yards on the ground. He went on to break the Falcons' single season touchdown record with 17, and was an All-Pro selection in 2008.
20 of 22
Marion Barber III
Barber shared the backfield duties at Minnesota with future Patriots first-round pick Laurence Maroney, but their respective careers have not played out according to draft position. While Maroney has struggled to keep a starting job in New England, Barber has accumulated nearly 4,000 career rushing yards, over 1,200 receiving yards and 49 total touchdowns. Barber earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2007, as he displayed the hard-nosed running style that has driven fans to call him "Marion the Barbarian."
21 of 22
Rhodes came out of Louisville with little fanfare, but won the starting strong safety job with the Jets in his rookie season and started all 16 games for New York. In his second and third seasons, Rhodes made a name for himself as a playmaker in the secondary, intercepting a total of nine passes, racking up seven sacks, and forcing five fumbles. The Jets shipped Rhodes to Arizona in March in exchange for draft picks.
22 of 22
Central Florida isn't exactly a gold mine for NFL superstars, so perhaps it's no surprise that Brandon Marshall flew under the radar in 2006. But Marshall is now widely considered to be one of the top receivers in the NFL. His rare combination of size, speed and athleticism makes him a nightmare to cover, and near impossible to tackle once he has the ball in his hands. The two-time Pro Bowler totaled 4,019 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns with Denver before the Broncos soured on Marshall's personality and sent him to Miami for a pair of second-round picks.
You May Like
More SI Kids
Sign Up for our Newsletter
Don't get stuck on the sidelines! Sign up to get exclusives, daily highlights, analysis and more—delivered right to your inbox!