Part of the magic of the NFL Draft is when teams turn overlooked prospects into one of the best late-round NFL Draft picks of all time.
After all, the final day is when teams get the most value from their draft capital and give their Super Bowl chances a huge boost. Granted, there have been a lot of successful undrafted players as well. But some of the greatest picks on the last day of the NFL Draft are also considered among the best picks in draft history.
Best late round NFL Draft picks of all time
Of course, most fans can think of a few obvious players who went from late-round picks to superstars or Hall of Famers. But we wanted to take an even deeper dive into the late rounds of NFL Draft history. That’s how we came up with a list of the 20 best late-round NFL Draft picks of all time.
20. Stefon Diggs
His career doesn’t need to be over for us to know that Stefon Diggs was an absolute steal at 146th overall in 2015. In 2018, he began a run of five consecutive (and counting) 1,000-yard seasons.
Diggs took things a step further when he joined the Bills in 2020, leading the league in both receptions and yards that season while earning his first Pro Bowl selection.
19. Joe Horn
Even if most people just remember his cellphone celebration, Joe Horn was so much more than that. He actually spent two years out of football until spending time with three different CFL franchises.
It was only after that that he was selected 135th overall by the Chiefs. After some forgettable years in Kansas City, Horn signed with the Saints in 2000 and immediately became a Pro Bowler. He ultimately went to four Pro Bowls, creating one of the great rags-to-riches stories in NFL history.
18. George Kittle
By now, the NFL should know not to wait to draft tight ends out of Iowa. However, George Kittle remained available until the 49ers took him 146th overall in the 2017 Draft. It only took Kittle until his second season to become one of the league’s elite tight ends, leading all tight ends with over 1,300 receiving yards that season.
During his first six seasons in the league, Kittle went to the Pro Bowl four times and remains on the shortlist of the best tight ends in football.
17. Joe Klecko
Ignored until the 144th pick of the 1977 Draft, it only took Joe Klecko until 1981 to earn Defensive Player of the Year honors. As a defensive lineman for the Jets, he earned the nickname of the “New York Sack Exchange,” collecting 78 of them during his Hall of Fame career.
Even before knee problems forced him into retirement, Klecko spent over a decade with the Jets, earning four Pro Bowl selections.
16. Bo Jackson
Despite once being the top overall pick in the NFL Draft, Bo Jackson is also technically a late-round pick. He chose baseball over football after the Buccaneers used the first pick in the 1986 Draft on him. A year later, the Raiders used the 183rd overall pick on Jackson on a whim.
Al Davis then offered Jackson the chance to play both sports, so Jackson jumped at the opportunity. Of course, a career-ending injury prevented Jackson from becoming an all-time great. But he had 28 total touchdowns and averaged 5.4 yards per carry in the 38 games he played for the Raiders. Even by those standards, he was a steal that late in the draft.
15. Matt Birk
It’s amazing how many great offensive linemen like Matt Birk get overlooked in the draft. In Birk’s case, the Harvard graduate was selected 173rd overall in the 1998 Draft.
He endured a couple of years as a backup before becoming a full-time starter and a six-time Pro Bowler for the Vikings, ultimately finishing his career with the Ravens, playing 14 seasons in the league.
14. Robert Mathis
Few people knew about Robert Mathis while he played at Alabama A&M, which is why he wasn’t selected by the Colts 138th overall in 2003.
Of course, the Colts struck gold with that pick. Mathis became a feared pass rusher during his career, going to five Pro Bowls during his 14 years in Indy. He led the NFL in forced fumbles three times, which explains why he owns the all-time record with 54 forced fumbles. His 123 career sacks aren’t too bad either.
13. Jason Kelce
While his younger brother was a hot commodity in the draft, Jason Kelce had to wait until the 191st pick in 2011 to hear his name.
Of course, the Eagles aren’t complaining about that decision. He anchored their offensive line for over a decade, helping Philly win Super Bowl LII while making six Pro Bowls (as of 2022).
12. Donald Driver
Despite being a football player, track star, and Olympic-level high jumper at Alcorn State, nobody drafted Donald Driver until the Packers took him 213th overall in the 1999 Draft.
It turns out the Packers found a preferred target for both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Driver spent his entire 14-year career in Green Bay, amassing over 10,000 receiving yards and going to five Pro Bowls, becoming one of the most consistent receivers in franchise history.
11. Jake Scott
He was so overlooked coming out of college that Jake Scott had to play one season in the CFL before the Dolphins drafted him 159th overall in the 1970 Draft. He immediately became a starter and ended up starting all 126 games of his NFL career.
During that time, the safety went to five straight Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls for the Dolphins. He was even the MVP of Super Bowl VII after picking off two passes in the game, becoming one of the few defensive players to earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
10. Rayfield Wright
Unfortunately, most modern fans aren’t familiar with Rayfield Wright. Of course, when he was the 182nd overall pick in 1967, most NFL teams weren’t that familiar with him either.
But the offensive tackle proved his worth and became a fixture on the Dallas offensive line in the 1970s. Wright went to six straight Pro Bowls during his Hall of Fame career and played for the Cowboys in five Super Bowls, helping Dallas win two of them.
9. Mike Webster
The Steelers may not have built one of the great NFL dynasties in the 1970s without Mike Webster. While he was mostly a backup during Pittsburgh’s first two Super Bowl wins that decade after being the 125th overall pick in 1974, Webster became a critical part of the last two.
He was also a nine-time Pro Bowler who started 217 games during his Hall of Fame career.
8. Richard Dent
The Bears were lucky to find a key part of their dominant defense from the 1980s in the eighth round of the Draft. In 1983, Chicago drafted Richard Dent 203rd overall. He quickly became a key pass-rusher and an important contributor to the team that won two Super Bowls.
Dent was even the MVP of Super Bowl XX with 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in Chicago’s 46-10 win after leading the league in sacks during the regular season. Dent also led the NFL in forced fumbles twice and was also a four-time Pro Bowler.
7. Terrell Davis
In the 1990s, the Broncos had a knack for finding great running backs late in the draft. But nobody excelled in their zone-blocking scheme more than Terrell Davis. The former Georgia running back was selected 196th overall in 1995.
Despite playing just seven seasons before injuries forced him to retire, Davis was something special. He won MVP honors in 1998 after racing for over 2,000 yards and helping the Broncos to their second straight Super Bowl win. In both of Denver’s Super Bowl seasons, he led the league in rushing touchdowns and was also MVP of their first Super Bowl win. While Davis lacked longevity, he accomplished a lot in a short period of time.
6. Antonio Brown
Forget about all of the drama and controversy he may have caused during his career and Antonio Brown is clearly one of the best late-round NFL Draft picks of all time. The Steelers found him 195th overall in the 2010 Draft out of Central Michigan and he quickly became a Pro Bowl wide receiver.
Before things turned south for him in Pittsburgh, Brown was Ben Roethlisberger’s main target. He went to seven Pro Bowls during his time in Pittsburgh while leading the NFL in receptions twice and receiving yards twice. Granted, his last few years were ugly, but before that, Brown was one of the best in the league.
5. Shannon Sharpe
Somehow, one of the best tight ends in NFL history was passed on by every NFL team until the Broncos took him 192nd overall in 1990. Coming out of tiny Savannah State, it was probably easy to miss Shannon Sharpe, especially because most tight ends didn’t have his body type.
But with the Broncos, he quickly transformed into a critical part of their offense. On his way to the Hall of Fame, Sharpe went to the Pro Bowl eight times and amassed over 10,000 receiving yards. He won back-to-back Super Bowls with the Broncos and then earned a third ring with the Ravens late in his career, helping Sharpe to solidify his legacy as the best tight end of his generation and one of the best late-round NFL Draft picks of all time.
4. Bart Starr
The quarterback who led the Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowls was once the 200th overall pick, selected by Green Bay in the 17th round of the 1956 Draft. Bart Starr was a backup when he first entered the league, but when Vince Lombardi made Starr the starter, he turned the Packers into a dynasty.
Starr would not just win two Super Bowls but five NFL championships with the Packers. He also led the league in passer rating five times and was undoubtedly the NFL’s premier quarterback during the 1960s.
3. Deacon Jones
It’s almost incomprehensible that a player as talented and influential as Deacon Jones wasn’t selected until the 14th round and the 186th overall pick of the 1961 Draft. Despite being overlooked, Jones turned into one of the best pass-rushers in NFL history. The term sack was coined because of him, and Jones ended up retroactively leading the league in sacks five times while going to eight Pro Bowls.
Nicknamed “the Secretary of Defense,” Jones is a Hall of Famer and one of the all-time greats, even winning Defensive Player of the Year honors in back-to-back seasons. In addition to being a great player, his impact on the game is still felt today.
2. Ken Houston
It took nine rounds and 214 picks for somebody to draft Ken Houston, but when the Oilers did that, they didn’t regret the move one bit. He became Houston’s starting safety as a rookie and then proceeded to have a Hall of Fame career.
Houston played six years in Houston and eight more in Washington, making the Pro Bowl 14 times. He collected 49 interceptions and 21 fumbles during his career while also scoring 12 touchdowns. In fact, Houston is still tied for the single-season record of four interceptions returned for a touchdown, although that record only scratches the surface of what he accomplished.
1. Tom Brady
It goes without saying, but there will never be a better late-round pick than Tom Brady. The Patriots took a chance on him with the 199th overall pick in 2000 and the NFL would never be the same again.
Forced into duty by an injury to Drew Bledsoe, Brady led the Patriots to a Super Bowl in his second season, foreshadowing the greatest career in league history. Somehow, Brady only won MVP three times during his career. But he knew how to win better than any other quarterback, ultimately winning seven Super Bowl rings, being named MVP in five of those Super Bowls, and leaving no doubt that he’s the greatest of all time.