The 15 Biggest Draft Steals in the NFL over the Last Decade

Bryn Swartz@eaglescentralSenior Writer IIIApril 23, 2014

Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles in action during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
Michael Perez

The entire football world is focused on the draft right now. Just two weeks and two days away, the draft is where teams look to improve their rosters by filling in holes at various positions of need. 

Some of the best players in the National Football League right now were top draft picks. Just look at the best players in the NFL right now. Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson. Each player was selected early in the first round of the draft. 

But not all great players were high draft picks. Throughout the history of the NFL, players like Johnny Unitas, Tom Brady and Joe Montana have made their mark in the sport despite a mid- or low-round draft selection. 

Here are 15 players over the last decade who have dominated in the NFL despite getting drafted in a later round, or not at all. They are ranked from best to worst in order of most impressive draft steal. 


1. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks (2012-present)

From a long shot to start as a rookie to a Super Bowl champion as a sophomore, Russell Wilson can do it all on a football field. Height, or a lack thereof, dropped him to the third round in 2012, but through two seasons, the Seahawks quarterback has displayed intelligence, poise, awareness and accuracy and ranks as one of the best playmaking quarterbacks in the NFL. Because he plays the most important position, he is the biggest draft steal in the NFL over the last decade. 


2. Jason Peters, OT, Buffalo Bills/Philadelphia Eagles (2004-present)

An undrafted free agent who entered camp as a tight end, Jason Peters was converted to left tackle. He's now likely on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's earned a Pro Bowl selection in six straight seasons, excluding the 2012 season, which he missed with a torn Achilles. Peters was excellent in Buffalo, where he spent his first five NFL seasons, but he's been absolutely dominant in Philadelphia. At 32, he's still one of the elite left tackles in the NFL. 


3. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks (2011-present)

It's inconceivable that Richard Sherman fell to the fifth round in the draft. He has it all: size, speed and the ability to keep up with any of the game's top receivers. He has 20 interceptions and 59 passes defensed during his three years in the NFL. Pro-Football-Reference ranked him as the best player in the league in 2013 and his crucial deflection-turned-interception in the final seconds of the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers is the defining play of the team's dominant Super Bowl run. 


4. Wes Welker, WR, San Diego Chargers/Miami Dolphins/New England Patriots/Denver Broncos (2004-present)

32 teams passed on Wes Welker in the 2004 draft. The Chargers released him after the first game of the season. And the Dolphins traded him to the Patriots after a semi-productive 2006 season. It took Tom Brady for Welker to establish himself as one of the top receiving threats in the NFL and the most dangerous slot receiver in league history. He's eclipsed 110 catches five times, twice leading the league, and he's played in the postseason six times, three times appearing in the Super Bowl. 


5. Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints (2006-present)

The New Orleans Saints knew they had a steal in Marques Colston before the season opened in 2006. Drew Brees's top receiving target over the last eight seasons has been a model of consistency. He's never earned a Pro Bowl selection, and he's probably never been a top-10 wide receiver. But he's caught more than 70 passes seven times and recorded 1,000 yards six times. That's pretty incredible for a seventh-round draft pick. 

6. Jared Allen, DE, Kansas City Chiefs/Minnesota Vikings/Chicago Bears (2004-present)

Selected late in the fourth round, Jared Allen immediately established himself as one of the top defensive ends in the NFL. He's led the league in sacks twice in the last decade, with a high of 22 in 2011. He's missed just three games in his entire career, he ranks second among active players in sacks (and first all time in recording safeties), and he's a few good years away from a legitimate Hall of Fame case. 


7. Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos/Miami Dolphins/Chicago Bears (2006-present)

For some reason, he's not considered to be in the elite category of Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson, but Brandon Marshall is as reliable as they come. He's caught more than 100 passes five times. He's reached the 1,000-yard plateau seven straight years. And he's earned five Pro Bowl selections with three different teams. Not bad for a fourth-round pick. 


8. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants (2010-present)

Cruz made his mark as Eli Manning's top receiving threat during a ridiculous 2011 season in which he caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. His 18.7 yards per catch ranked third in the NFL and his 99-yard catch-and-run against the New York Jets in Week 16 tied the all-time record. Cruz recorded 142 receiving yards in the NFC championship game and added a touchdown in the Giants' Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. 

He's since cooled off, averaging 1,045 yards while posting 14 touchdowns over the last two years, but Cruz is still one of the more explosive players in the game. From an undrafted rookie to a Super Bowl champion and Pro Bowler, Cruz has become one of the better success stories in the NFL. 


9. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (2005-present)

How in the world did Aaron Rodgers fall to the back end of the first round? After three years of sitting on the bench and watching Brett Favre, he's become the most statistically dominant quarterback the sport has ever seen. He ranks first in league history in touchdown-to-interception ratio, interception percentage, adjusted yards per pass attempt and passer rating, and he's third in completion percentage. He led the Packers to a Super Bowl title in 2010 and won the NFL MVP award, unanimously, when he threw for 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2011. 


10. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (2009-present)

From an undrafted rookie making the roster in 2009 to the NFL's rushing leader in 2010, Arian Foster has been one of the league's top running backs since 2010. His status as a starter may be in question but even if he never plays well again, he'll always have the best three-year peak by a running back in Texans history. 


11. Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles (2012-present)

Nick Foles' incredible 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception mark from 2013 will probably never be broken. Ever. A third-round draft pick by Andy Reid in 2012, it was Chip Kelly who turned the pocket passer into one of the league's most dangerous offensive weapons, a player who can throw with deadly accuracy and (yes) keep defenses honest with a modest running ability. 


12. NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers (2010-present)

It's NaVorro Bowman, not Patrick Willis, who is now the most feared defender on the San Francisco 49ers. Bowman, a third-round choice in 2010, has earned three straight Pro Bowl selections and notched All-Pro honors in each of the last two seasons. He's a total playmaker who is looking to return in 2014 from a devastating knee injury suffered in San Francisco's NFC Championship Game loss to Seattle.


13. Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia Eagles (2005-present)

The Eagles got a steal in the fifth round with Trent Cole, who's made the Pro Bowl twice as one of the top sack specialists in the NFL. But he's a master against the run too. He successfully revived his career in 2013, collecting eight sacks in the second half of the season despite switching to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense before the year...a first for him. Even at 32, he's still the best pass-rusher on the team. 


14. Kyle Williams, DT, Buffalo Bills (2006-present)

The former fourth-round pick doesn't dominate the stat sheet, but Kyle Williams has been as productive as any defensive tackle in the league over the past eight seasons. He's routinely ranked as one of the best players at his position including a first-place finish in 2010 (per Pro Football Focus, subscription required).


15. Elvis Dumervil, DE/OLB, Denver Broncos/Baltimore Ravens (2006-present)

The NFL's sack leader in 2009, Dumervil has reached double-digit sacks three times and earned three trips to the Pro Bowl. A fourth-round pick in 2006, Dumervil is still going strong with the Baltimore Ravens, where he's switched to outside linebacker for the first time in his career. 


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