With the 2021 NFL Draft upon us, everyone is talking about the players who will be taken at the start. Hype for the star quarterbacks, headlined by Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, and the rest of the elite talent is warranted. However, the selections that are shift organisations the most are the best value picks. The steals.
Biggest NFL Draft steals of all-time
Let’s roll back time and take a look at the five biggest steals in NFL Draft history.
5. Shannon Sharpe – TE, Broncos, 1990
7th Round / 192nd Overall
Starting off with a bang here – a bang and a seventh-round pick. In 2021, Shannon Sharpe is a TV host and Hall of Fame tight end.
Back in 1990, though, he was a nobody from Savannah State University. The Denver Broncos drafted him in the final round, the 192nd selection and had no idea what they were getting. Sharpe played for 14 years, 12 of which were with the Broncos.
The 6’2, 228lb tight end grew into the offense and by his third season, he was a key fixture of the team. Sharpe entered the league long before the era of unstoppable tight ends we see today – and was even around years before Tony Gonzalez – but he was fantastic in the pass-catching role. He had 7 separate seasons with 100+ targets and 9 of his 14 seasons hauled in 750+ receiving yards including three 1,000-yard campaigns.
Sharpe won 3 Super Bowls and went to 8 Pro Bowls, making him one of the most successful TE’s ever. His sheer talent level and his long-term production are what makes the value so great. One of the best to ever play his position and undoubtedly one of the biggest steals in NFL Draft history.
4. Bart Starr – QB, Packers, 1956
17th Round (pre-merger) / 200th Overall
This was before the merger, so there were far fewer teams and many more rounds. They took Starr in the 17th round, with the 200th overall pick. For context, the 2020 NFL draft had 255 picks. The 1956 draft was 30 rounds long and 360 players were chosen.
Five Hall of Fame players were drafted in ’56, but none later or more infamous than Bart Starr. The Quarterback out of Alabama didn’t instantly start for Green Bay, but in his second year, he showed promise and then by 1960 he made his first Pro Bowl.
The Packers were a dominant force in the ‘60s and they won 5 NFL championships. When the merge happened and the Super Bowl era began in 1966, it was Bart Starr who led them to win the two first Super Bowls. They won SB I and SB II and Starr was the MVP in both of those wins. He was also the first MVP of the modern era, in that 1966 season. Starr isn’t just a legend in Green Bay, he is the face of the birth of the Super Bowl era itself. His place in football lore is permanent.
3. Joe Montana – QB, 49ers, 1979
3rd Round / Pick 82 Overall
By far the highest pick in this list, you can imagine how good a player has to be to provide better value at the 82nd pick than Bart Starr at the 200th. Well, how about a player who just a handful of years ago would have been considered the greatest player in NFL history?
That player is of course Joe Montana.
In 1979, Cool Joe came out of Notre Dame and the San Francisco 49ers took him with the final pick of the 3rd round. That selection just happened to be the best pick the franchise has ever done – not to be confused with the greatest trade they’ve ever done, which I wrote about in my last article.
Montana slowly got eased into the starting role, but in 1981 – his first full season – he showed the potential. The Niners went 13-3 and he threw 3,565 yards and 19 TD’s on their way to winning the Super Bowl.
After the player’s strike-disrupted ’82 season, Montana went nuclear. From 1983 through 1985, he averaged 3,731 yards and 27 TD’s with a 63.4% completion rate in that span.
Joe Montana won four Super Bowls total, in ’81, ’84, ’88 and ’89 as well as 3 SB MVP’s. The Hall of Famer retired with 40,551 career passing yards, 273 touchdowns and all of the accolades a player could dream of. He is one of the greatest NFL players of all time and he was taken at the end of the third round, which for me locks him in as one of the biggest steals in NFL Draft history, without a doubt.
2. Deacon Jones – DL, Rams, 1961
14th Round (pre-merger) / Pick 186 Overall
When you are a defensive lineman, your sole objective – above all else – on every single play, is to take down the quarterback.
You might refer to this as a “sack”. I would too. Well, the person who coined that term is Deacon Jones.
Turns out if you’re one of the first/best at doing something, you get to name it.
The head slap by Deacon Jones was all too effective. #75 had complete determination to get to the quarterback! The NFL coined the phrase “sack” because of Deacon Jones pic.twitter.com/Df1XYoc88h
— RAMS ON FILM (@RamsOnFilm) March 26, 2020
That’s why everybody knows of the term today. Jones was the first-ever sack artist, so much so he named the stat. Oh, and the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in the 14th round of the 1961 NFL (pre-merged) draft. Nobody even wanted him in the AFL draft.
Deacon Jones not only came up with the name for a sack, but he was also really damn good at getting them, too. While the stat wasn’t recorded properly – it didn’t have a name, so it’s understandable that they weren’t recording it – football historians put a predicted figure at around 175 sacks in his 14-year career.
If that stat was official, he would be ranked third all-time behind Bruce Smith and Reggie White, two absolutely generational rushers. Jones is one of the best pass rushers ever and, although he won’t ever be a household name as modern EDGE stars are, he is a legend, a Hall of Famer and one of the biggest steals in NFL Draft history.
1. Tom Brady – QB, Patriots, 2000
6th Round / Pick 199 Overall
You don’t need me to tell you this, but we’ve come this far so I will anyway. Tom Brady is the greatest draft selection in the history of sports. He is the Greatest of All Time. The undisputed greatest player to ever play in the NFL – and he was selected with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
This pick completely changed the course of the National Football League and – even more so – the New England Patriots. The Michigan grad was the seventh QB taken in the draft, which seems truly unbelievable because of how it turned out. Obviously, nobody knew at the time, but that’s the beauty of the draft.
Tom Brady, in a partnership with HC and GM Bill Belichick, delivered six Super Bowls to the Patriots organisation, which previously had none. They are now tied for the winningest team with the Steelers. Brady isn’t just a postseason animal, though.
He won the NFL MVP in 2007, 2010 and 2017 and has made it to 14 Pro Bowls. It was in that first MVP year when he was the face of the 16-0 New England team – the only team to ever go 16-0. He led the league in passing TD’s four times and in passing yards three times.
Brady parted ways with the team who drafted him after the 2019 campaign and went on to cement himself beyond any doubt as the GOAT. Winning his seventh individual Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers now puts him in a tier of his own. He’s now more successful on his own than any organisation. He even just beat the guy who had the best chance to usurp him. There’s nothing else that needs to be said.
The Patriots got the best player to ever play this sport with the 199th pick of the draft. Without question, Tom Brady is the best value any team has ever had and it is very possible that nobody will ever top him when it comes to the biggest steals in NFL Draft History.